Ode to Joystick: Video Game Music Earns Points with Orchestras, Composers

Thursday, February 07, 2013

'Zelda: Symphony of the Goddess' at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles 'Zelda: Symphony of the Goddess' at the Greek Theater in LA (Andrew Craig)

For the first time a soundtrack for a video game has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the category usually reserved for movie scores. The composer Austin Wintory's score for the wildly popular PlayStation 3 game "Journey" has been given a nod for "Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media," pitting him against film-score giants like Ludovic Bource, Howard Shore, John Williams and Hans Zimmer.

The awards take place this Sunday in Los Angeles.

The nomination comes as video game scores play increasingly well with symphony orchestras. Concerts of music from "Final Fantasy," "Halo" and "Zelda" are staples of pops concert programming. In the past year, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Montreal chamber group La Pieta have released albums of game music, the former of which debuted at No. 23 on the Billboard 200 chart. One of the most popular violinists on YouTube is Lindsey Stirling, whose interpretations of video game scores have received hundreds of millions of views.

All of this is possible because video games often feature full-length orchestral scores. Composers who once specialized in film music, including Danny Elfman and Howard Shore, are also applying their talents to the game medium. There are many potential benefits, said writer Dan Visconti. "One of the ways that orchestras can stay relevant," he said, "is engaging the same level of sensory stimulation that a lot of video game players are accustomed to already."

The game scores also raise questions about the medium's artistic merits and its potential to build new audiences for classical music.

In this podcast, host Naomi Lewin puts these questions to three guests:

  • Austin Wintory, composer of the Grammy-nominated score to the game "Journey"
  • Tanner Smith, a program director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, which will be presenting a concert of music from the game “Final Fantasy" for the second time in June.
  • Dan Visconti, a composer and writer who has covered the game music phenomenon for Symphony magazine

Weigh in: Do you listen to video game scores? Do you find them as valid as traditional concert music? Leave your thoughts below.

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Comments [3]

Yen from Bournemouth

I listen to tracks from Dragon Age, Oblivion, Skyrim, Mass Effect, Final Fantasy's, How the Universe Works, Firefly, etc. There are some really good tracks in games and TVs. However I don't think game soundtrack is comparable to old favorites from giants like Brahms, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky, whom I also love to listen to. I listen to each for different things - the new scores have new sounds that bridge new instruments, ethnicity, and effects that the Old Masters' weren't aware of. The Old Masters have a certain complexity and depth that came from an extreme long periods of focus, that is difficult to match these days.

But I don't study music, I just listen to what makes me happy, so I could be pretty wrong!

Feb. 10 2013 12:21 PM
Dave from Tuckahoe

I've been a fan of video game music for many years. Having played the game, I was excited to hear about Journey receiving a Grammy nomination. The people behind video game music are long overdue for some recognition in the mainstream.

I think some of the Final Fantasy and Journey pieces would be great to have on WQXR as a starter. I wish they would have one of those Final Fantasy concerts in the NYC area. The closest it came was Hartford, CT in '05(?). I want to see another performance and I want to bring some friends along.

Feb. 08 2013 01:27 AM
Michael from Staten Island

Video game music can be especially moving! The games experiences complement the outstanding musical scores that these great composers are creating. For examples, look at the score for Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic which follows in the Williams' style. Also listen to the scores for the Total War games, composed by Jeff Van Dyck and L.A. Noire's jazzy Miles Davis sound.

Feb. 07 2013 07:23 PM

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WQXR looks deeper into the issues affecting the classical music landscape. 

Conducting Business is hosted by Naomi Lewin and produced by Brian Wise.

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