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Summer pops 2: Video games aim at orchestras

In Wednesday's Washington Post: Video game music: more than a blip on orchestras' radar? by Anne Midgette.

I was not prepared to get so interested in this particular topic. This is a field with a lot of creative potential, where the future is open, and where orchestras are actually playing a role. There are worse ways to expose kids to live orchestral performance.

There's an interesting issue about rights that I didn't get into this story. A lot of this music is treated as if it were in the public domain. The university gamer symphony I spoke to had tried repeatedly to figure out how to get rights to perform it, but were met with silence from the video game companies. Most video game orchestras make their own arrangements of these tunes. This is certainly not an incentive for serious composers to go into video game music -- or at least, it suggests a new copyright model for this area.

Similarly, the musicians' union in the United States ultimately worked out a new contract for video game recording, because it was tired of seeing all of the work go to Eastern Europe due to the prohibitive costs associated with recording and broadcasting rights in the U.S. Within four months after the new contract went into effect, union members made something like $2 million from video game revenue.

I didn't even touch on the use of existing classical music in video games, from the radio station that plays opera in Grand Theft Auto III to the composers who have uploaded their works to Rock Band (including Michael Gordon, David Lang, Evan Ziporyn, and, soon, Julia Wolfe).

There are some interesting aspects to this field, which, unlike other forms of crossover, involves music that its audience -- gamers -- has heard over and over and over, as they focus on the games for several hours at a time. Arnie Roth, who conducts the concert of Final Fantasy music that's coming to Wolf Trap on July 30, is convinced that one reason Final Fantasy fans are so passionate about the music is that it's written with leitmotifs, so that some of the themes associated with certain characters have been developing over many years. When the orchestra plays Aerith's Theme, associated with a character who dies unexpectedly in Final Fantasy VII, “literally people [in the audience] are crying and sobbing,” he said.

By Andrea Browne  |  July 28, 2010; 2:00 AM ET
Categories:  national , news  
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Next: Symphonies perform video game music (Video)


My college roommate once asked me if people still wrote new classical music, other than movie scores. This was an academically very smart kid, also an avid hip-hop fan whose partner is a classical trombonist. But somehow there was this major gap in awareness. I think it's all good if we can add video games to movie scores as a popular entry way into the orchestral sound, and maybe even contemporary classical music, whatever that is.

Posted by: Brian_H | July 28, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

A husband of a friend makes a very nice living writing video game scores. Its such a strange field to me.

The fabulous and highly addictive game Civilisation IV had an extraordinary score of existing music that changed depending on the current era of the game, from plainsong to John Adams' violin concerto via Bach and Dvorak.

There does seem to be a trend recently of using live musicians to record video game scores, which is pretty neat.

Posted by: ianw2 | July 29, 2010 8:05 AM | Report abuse

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