The mu­sic of gam­ing

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Music - By JOHN LE­ICES­TER

THE elec­tronic bleeps and squawks of Tetris, Don­key Kong and other gen­er­a­tion-shap­ing games that you may never have thought of as mu­si­cal are in­creas­ingly likely to be play­ing at a phil­har­monic con­cert hall near you.

From the “ping ... ping” of Atari’s 1972 ground-break­ing pad­dle game Pong, the sounds, in­fec­tious dit­ties and, with time, fully-formed orches­tral scores that are an es­sen­tial part of the sen­sory thrill for gamers have formed a mu­si­cal uni­verse. With its own culture, sub-cul­tures and fans, game mu­sic now thrives alone, free from the con­soles from which it came.

When au­di­ences pack the Phil­har­monie de Paris’ con­cert halls re­cently to soak in the sounds of a cham­ber or­ches­tra and the Lon­don Sym­phony Or­ches­tra per­form­ing game mu­sic and an homage to one of the in­dus­try’s stars, Fi­nal Fan­tasy Ja­panese com­poser Nobuo Ue­matsu, they will have no but­tons to play with, no char­ac­ters to con­trol.

They’re com­ing for the mu­sic and the nos­tal­gia it trig­gers: of fun-filled hours spent on so­fas with a Game Boy, Sonic the Hedge­hog and the ev­er­green Mario.

“When you’re play­ing a game you are liv­ing that mu­sic ev­ery day and it just gets into your DNA,” says Eimear Noone, the con­duc­tor of the two-hour show of 17 ti­tles, in­clud­ing Zelda, Tomb Raider, Medal Of Honor and other favourites from the 1980s on­ward.

“When peo­ple hear those themes they are right back there. And peo­ple get re­ally emo­tional about it. I mean RE­ALLY emo­tional. It’s in­cred­i­ble.”

Dat­ing the birth of game mu­sic de­pends on how one de­fines mu­sic. Game mu­sic schol­ars – yes, they ex­ist – point to key mile­stones on the path to the sur­round-sound ex­trav­a­gan­zas of games to­day.

The heart­beat-like bass thump of Taito’s Space In­vaders in 1978, which got ever faster as the aliens de­scended, caused sweaty palms and was habit-form­ing.

Namco’s Pac-Man, two years later, whet­ted ap­petites with an open­ing mu­si­cal chirp. For fun, check out the 2013 remix by Dweezil Zappa, son of Frank, and game mu­sic com­poser Tommy Tal­larico. Their take on the tune speaks to the sub-culture of remix­ing game mu­sic, with thou­sands of re­dos up­loaded by fans to sites like ocre­mix.org – ded­i­cated, it says, “to the ap­pre­ci­a­tion and pro­mo­tion of video game mu­sic as an art form”.

Based on the Rus­sian folk song Korobeiniki, the mu­sic of the 1984 game

Tetris has sim­i­larly un­der­gone umpteen remixes – in­clud­ing Tetris Meets Metal, with more than 2.2 mil­lion views on YouTube.

By 1985, the can’t-not-tap-along-to-this theme of Super Mario Bros., the clas­sic ad­ven­ture of plum­ber Mario and his brother Luigi, was bring­ing fame for com­poser Koji Kondo, also known for his work on Leg­end Of Zelda. Both are on the bill for the Ret­rogam­ing con­cert in Paris. Kondo was the first per­son Nin­tendo hired specif­i­cally to com­pose mu­sic for its games, ac­cord­ing to the 2013 book, Mu­sic And Game.

Noone, known her­self for mu­si­cal work on

World Of War­craft, Over­watch and other games, says the tech­no­log­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions of early con­soles – tiny mem­o­ries, rudi­men­tary chips, crude sounds – forced com­posers “to dis­till their melodies down to the ab­so­lute ker­nels of what melodic con­tent can be, be­cause they had to pro­gramme it note by note”.

But sim­ple of­ten also means mem­o­rable. Think “da-da-da-duh” – the open­ing of Lud­wig van Beethoven’s Fifth Sym­phony.

“That is part of the rea­son why this mu­sic has a place in peo­ple’s hearts and has sur­vived,” Noone says of game tunes. “It speaks to peo­ple.”

She says game mu­sic is where movie mu­sic was 15 years ago: well on its way to be­ing com­pletely ac­cepted.

“I pre­dict that in 15 years’ time it will be a main sta­ple of the orches­tral sea­son,” she says. “This is crazy to think of: To­day, more young peo­ple are lis­ten­ing to orches­tral mu­sic through the medium of their video game con­soles than have ever lis­tened to orches­tral mu­sic.” – AP

— AP

Video game mu­sic has come of age, with its own culture, sub-cul­tures and fans.

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