Saturday, October 25, 2008
Video Games Live has a two-fold mission. Firstly to increase awareness of videogames and their music as works of art, and secondly to introduce the gaming public to the orchestral concert experience. So what better venue for this year's London date than the Royal Festival Hall at the Southbank Centre, the capital's cultural hub? And what of the experience itself? Well, it's like going to a classical concert, but with all the buzz of a rock concert and the audience participation of a pantomime.
The majority of the evening's music was performed by the English Chamber Orchestra, with a passion and vitality inspired by conductor Jack Wall, who's also the project's co-creator and has composed music for games like Mass Effect and Jade Empire. Standing behind the orchestra on stage, the London Chorus performed vocal duties, their voices at their most haunting in the theme to Halo. This piece was enhanced by the guitar work of co-creator and concert MC Tommy Tallarico, himself responsible for innumerable award-winning videogame scores.
In its travels around the globe - stopping anywhere with a big enough concert hall, it seems - the organizers have had plenty of practice, but the show doesn't feel tired or clinical, with plenty of chat and audience interaction, for example in a human game of Space Invaders. Nothing was stranger, though, than seeing a gamer up on stage producing a top-scoring Aerosmith Guitar Hero solo alongside the real-life blistering guitar work of Tallarico. The other main soloist was YouTube pianist Martin Leung, who reproduced his finger-blurring blindolded Super Mario medley live, as well as a slightly less frantic collection of Nobuo Uematsu's Final Fantasy tunes.
Enjoyment isn't hampered by not knowing every piece of music, as a screen shows collated video sequences at the same time, beginning with an early medley of retro hits from Pong to Frogger, the bleeps originally created in lieu of instruments now cleverly reproduced by the instruments themselves. The audience's favourite pieces were no surprise - Final Fantasy VII (a stonking version of "One-Winged Angel"), Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda, Halo, WoW and Metroid - and many were introduced by their composers via video clips, adding to the cheers and whoops of a truly celebratory atmosphere. More than any film score, these pieces of music have been a soundtrack to long period's of people's lives, and it's a privilege to hear them performed live in a grand setting.
There are currently fifty or so pieces in Video Games Live's repertoire, but only around half can be performed at a single concert, so it's worth going again if you get the chance. The concerts sell out quickly, as you'd guess from the fact that the Video Games Live Vol. 1 CD debuted earlier this year at number ten in the Billboard charts. It’s just been released in the UK.
And while a CD can't replicate the live experience, it's another opportunity for Video Games Live to demonstrate the quality of musical talent at work in videogames and its cultural impact on a generation of gamers.