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June 20, 2019
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Video Games Live – A Gamer’s Holy Grail of Live Entertainment

by Barnabas Smith on 04/29/16 01:42:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

I love, study, play and thrive on video game music (VGM), and thus I am predetermined to favourably view the Video Games Live phenomenon (disclaimer). This article therefore celebrates the phenomenon that is Video Games Live and reviews the recent Madrid concert.

Part of the 2016 tour, the entire concert experience was intrinsically permeated by seemingly juxtaposed interests. The revered Orquesta Nacional de España on stage was synonymous with the austere Auditorio Nacional de Música setting, while the rock rhythm section and repertoire itself were more strongly rooted in contemporary and modern popular culture.

Somehow however these interests didn’t clash, but rather congruously gelled, reaslising what was originally determined to fail by the ‘haters’ – a live, symphonic concert with rock, pop and electronic music influences. Combine the game music content with rock concert lighting, large screen displays and merchandise, and the whole experience embodies a gamer’s Holy Grail of live entertainment.

A Video Games Live concert is a truly unparalleled experience. Deep Purple, Kiss Metallica and other rock outfits have collaborated with symphonic ensembles for the last 25 years or so, however rock had long been an established genre with a rich history of famous recordings and celebrated artists. VGM could described as approaching its most salient live performance epoch, for while the tradition began in the 1980’s in Japan, the 21st century has seen the greatest celebration, touring and performance of VGM.

Tommy Tallarico has developed a unique concert experience, combining symphonic musicianship with highly engaging showmanship and a rock concert atmosphere. At the Madrid concert the syncronised lighting accented orchestral swells and rock refrains, and Tallarico’s honed rapport drew the audience in with every quip and song introduction.

‘Bleeps and bloops’ era stalwarts such as the Super Mario Bros and Zelda franchises (now among the most treasured of VGM) made well received medley appearances in the programme, as did music from the classic game Castlevania. A particular stand out piece was Tallarico’s arrangement of the theme from Tetris, a respectful pastiche of traditional Russian cultural heritage, which paid homage to the game’s musical origins. The massed choir shone in the piece, and the choral stoicism and versatility it produced resonated within the auditorium. As a soloist, Laura Intravia’s stunning vocals were featured in this piece, while in others her haunting flautist’s lyricism and commanding piano prowess beguiled the audience. A truly talented multi-instrumental musician, Intravia was clearly a favourite of many fans in attendance, and in an age of instant media connectivity she will no doubt only grow in popularity and prestige in the VGM world.

And oh, the fans. Nowhere else could one find a more dedicated, passionate, excitable and supportive concert audience. One could forgive a symphony orchestra member, presumably more accustomed to more measured audience/performer interactions, for smiling at the extemporaneous and invigorating cheers from adoring fans once an opening bar or two emanates from the stage. No such instance was more visceral than the reaction to the appearance of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim game symbol. From out of the darkness, an ominous muffled rumble was the harbinger of one of composer Jeremy Soule’s most beloved themes. Within seconds the Auditorio Nacional de Música reverberated with not only the booming timpani, concert and taiko drums, but the shouts of hundreds of warriors, after a fashion, rallying to their celebrated war cry.

This piece, as with most of the musical items, was conducted by celebrated conductor and composer Eimear Noone. A highly respected conductor in the VGM world and beyond, Noones’ involvement in Video Games Live is synonymous with her work with the enormously popular The Zelda Symphony and career with video game developer and publisher Blizzard Entertainment. A true joy to watch on stage, her baton thrust and flurried to the delight of the audience, weaving a musical tale before our eyes and drawing out each tempo change, dramatic swell and timid cry from the orchestra and massed choir.

Another (tangential) mention of Noone’s involvement in VGM is her association withiDIG2016, the Dublin International Game Music Festival. The festival runs from 29 April to 1 May, taking place in various locations around the city of Dublin, and featuring key industry personnel and musicians.

The festival will also include a Video Games Live performance on 1 May, and the outfit’s 2016 tour will continue thenceforth in the US, China and Europe, with details listed on the videogameslive.com website.

In conclusion, the Madrid Video Games Live concert was one of the most unique and stimulating performances I have attended. What other form of music could result in such a harmonious confluence of symphonic, rock, digital and choral elements? My humble thanks to Tallarico for all that he is doing. Never before has there been such vast opportunity to immersive and involve one’s self in VGM; long may the Video Games Live outfit continue celebrating and innovating this music.

Game over.

Barnabas Smith is a musician and musicologist based in Adelaide, Australia. For a PDF version of this article and other enquiries contact [email protected]


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