Major performing arts center puts video game music in spotlight

“It was very important to us that the music we selected from the various games being shown had something that an orchestra could really dig into,” said Brick, who is from the Chicago area.

Brick says that while some video game music is already symphonic from the start, other music requires a complete translation.

Some of the most famous melodies in the genre are fragmented, as they are often designed to be played at specific locations in the game or when interacting with characters.

“Music doesn’t always have to go from point A to point B to point C,” Brick explains.

“We needed an arranger who could recreate the music in a linear way.”

This is where bricks come in.

Game start! The concert will feature “Situation Critical,” an all-electronic track composed by composer and audio director Derek Duke for the eSports shooter game Overwatch.

Bricker said that to maintain the spirit of the original, he consulted Duke when translating the digital arrangement into an arrangement for analog instruments typical of a symphony orchestra.

“I actually picked up a spreadsheet with every note and phrase that I was modifying or arranging so that (Duke) could see exactly what I was doing,” he said.

Other games begin! Brick said songs, including those from The Witcher 3, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Guild Wars 2, were easier to recreate.

The National Arts Center Orchestra in Ottawa is scheduled to perform the Final Fantasy Soundtrack on January 10 and 11, 2025.

The orchestra’s senior manager in charge of artistic planning said that “Final Fantasy” composed by Nobuo Uematsu was particularly effective for NAC’s first video game concert.

“I think the integrity of the music, especially the rich fan base around the music, is perfect for a concert hall environment,” Burt said.

She said she was curious about the kind of crowd Final Fantasy would attract.

“The age group of the audience is becoming more diverse. People are attending as families,” she said of the total audience.

Carleton University musicologist James DeVille said the shows could provide a much-needed revenue boost for companies struggling to revive ticket sales and audiences that have slumped since the pandemic.

“I think (video game concerts) generally liven things up and show their focus on the younger generation,” DeVille said.

However, he doubts such events will attract younger generations to subscribe to the quarterly magazine.

“From what I understand, they tend to be one-offs, and there’s not necessarily a strong correlation between subscribing and attending these concerts,” he said.

The performing arts industry has been particularly hard hit by pandemic restrictions, with concert halls temporarily closing and limiting attendance. Financial difficulties have forced the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra to cancel its 2023/2024 season.

DeVille noted that orchestras are also increasingly performing contemporary music and works by Canadian composers.

“You find people are used to getting music for free during the pandemic, but it’s hard to get people into the halls,” DeVille said.

Forays into commercial programming are certainly nothing new – so-called “popular” series have long been a staple of symphonies eager to reach beyond their core constituencies.

The head of a production company for another video game music tour says most people watching Stardew Valley: Seasons will be experiencing live orchestral music for the first time.

Based on the farming simulation game, the concert features new musical arrangements performed by a chamber orchestra, complete with lighting and visual displays to immerse the audience. Earlier this year, performances in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver were sold out.

“This is really an opportunity for everyone in the community to come together,” said Gaetano Fazio, CEO of production company SOHO Live.

“We hear comments online and we love hearing them say that going to a concert is like being in a room with a thousand friends.”

Bricker said video game music has become as much a part of current music consumption as pop, jazz and hip-hop.

The Grammys are launching an award in 2023 to highlight the genre.

Bricker predicts that the gaming and symphonic worlds will intersect even more as video game music evolves further and orchestras open up to more types of music.

“It’s going to take some time because we need to see the composers, arrangers and arrangers in the video game industry continue to mature in order to create consistently high-quality music,” he said.

“There’s no question that this is happening.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 25, 2024.

Alex Goudge, The Canadian Press

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