My Favourite Game
The classical musician on working with Austin Wintory, catching Pokémon, and the link between Atari and cheese
Musician Tina Guo explains the link between Atari and cheese
Tina Guo is a cellist, composer and published poet. Alongside her own creations, Guo has made a name for herself performing on a wide variety of TV, movie and videogame soundtracks, including Diablo III, the Call Of Duty: Black Ops games, and Journey. More recently she has released Game On, an album of videogame covers. What led you to create Game On? Videogaming has always been a part of my life. My first experience happened when I moved from China to America. I was five years old, and my little brother – who was already in America – had an Atari system and we played this Tarzan game. Actually, I remember the day I first played that, I also tried cheese for the first time! After that my brother had a SNES, and we played a lot of Zelda, Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country, and the music in those games is so iconic, so that’s always stuck with me.
Anyway, I grew up and moved to LA, and I started working on a lot of scores – movie, TV and videogame soundtracks. It just kind of happened naturally, like everything fell into place. Over the past ten years I’ve released a lot of different albums – originals and covers – and I previously did an album of covers of music from TV and movies. So naturally the next thing to do was videogames. How did you choose the compositions you wanted to cover when putting the album together? We had a hard time because there’s so much awesome music from so many games. Originally we were only going to do ten tracks, but it just expanded and we settled on 14. I tried to pick a variety, because game music really encompasses every genre that’s out there, and I didn’t want it to all sound the same. And then we had to figure out how to do them all in a way that sounds different enough but still respects the original.
The whole process took a couple of months to finalise. When we started planning the album I was on tour at the time with Hans Zimmer, and I wasn’t able to start recording or arranging straight away. There were some compositions that I knew I had to do – you know, Zelda, Pokémon and Mario are the games I played growing up. And most of the songs on the album are actually medleys because I couldn’t choose just one track. We kind of mushed it all in, even if it was just a few seconds of something [laughs]. You worked with Austin Wintory on the score for Journey. How was that? I did Flow as well. Austin and I actually met in college, so we’ve known each other since around 2004. We recorded it in his studio, which was just a room at the time; no fancy equipment. We spent quite a few days recording the music, and then when it became such a big success it was really a pleasant surprise.
That was an amazing experience, and I always wanted to do my own version of it. We’ve added more electronics to it, so that it grows in a similar, but different, type of way. I was so nervous to show it to Austin, because I was scared that he would hate it. So I was very relieved when he liked it – and I don’t think he was pretending because he’s usually very honest with me [laughs]. Have you had similar trepidation with any of the other tracks? Well, I’m friends with Jeremy Soule, the composer of Skyrim’s score. I was very scared to play him my cover. Originally it’s an all-male vocal choir thing, and we worked in a little bit of male vocals, but – and this is going to sound ridiculous – I also sang on that using a growling, animal man voice. It was me, my co-producer, the assistant... we kidnapped random people in the studio, dragged them into the room and said, ‘Here, chant these words in a really masculine voice.’”
“I tried to pick a variety, because game music encompasses every genre out there”
What kind of games do you tend to play these days? I’m a workaholic, so it’s difficult to find time to do much of anything, including playing videogames. I’m more a casual gamer, now. I play Pokémon Go – this morning I caught two Pokémon from my bed in the hotel – and Tetris a lot. Tetris is my longest relationship with a game. It’s easy, it’s fast and I can play it anywhere. And how about your favourite game? My favourite game of all time, even though I haven’t played it in quite a few years, is Pokémon Snap. It was so much fun! I’m fantasising about a VR version of Pokémon Snap. That would be epic.