Video game music: The soundtracks moving from consoles to concert halls

Composers are increasingly in demand to soundtrack video games. Claire Jackson hails the work that goes into completing the mission

Back in Beethoven’s time, being a composer meant writing works that would be performed in concert halls (such as symphonies), cathedrals (oratorios) or stately homes (chamber music). While those formats continue to thrive, composers now work across a wide variety of media, including scoring for the small and silver screen and, more recently, for video games.

Console capabilities have developed apace, from the six voices once available on a Sega Megadrive to the dense orchestral scores now heard through streaming facilities. The soundtrack to games such as Medal of Honor and Final Fantasy are a far cry from the earworms created by Koji Kondo for Super Mario Bros (still heard in my household on a retro Nintendo ES).

Games are, by their nature, interactive, a composer must account for the player’s decision-making processes.

Video game music is quickly becoming a respected art form in its own right. This is entirely justified, given the complexity of the task. Because games are, by their nature, interactive, a composer must account for the player’s decision-making processes. Music is generally cyclical and must be able to loop in a variety of ways in order to cater for the player’s unpredictability.

This unique structure poses new challenges to composers, who often must write in real-time alongside developers, unlike film and television, which is generally scored once a final piece exists.

In the last few years, soundtracks have moved from console to concert hall, with orchestras and choirs performing arrangements, often with interactive segments. London Video Game Orchestra is a new ensemble that has formed specifically to showcase this repertoire and make the most of the new performance style, offering game play-throughs with live accompaniment. On June 15, the orchestra will perform music from Fallout, Legend of Zelda, Mass Effect and Skyrim, among others (Theatre Peckham, Camberwell).

Video game music also features prominently in composHER, an event at EartH Hackney held to celebrate women composers who score for media (June 12). The New York Times recently reported that out of 250 top films in 2018, 94 per cent were scored by men.

This concert has been put together to support female composers as we work towards improving gender inequality within the industry. The programme includes work by Carly Paradis, who wrote the soundtrack to Line of Duty, Alev Lenz (Black Mirror), and Jessica Curry, who scored Google Daydream games So Let Us Melt, Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Curry has also presented High Score, a series about video game music for Classic FM.

The show returns from June 22 with new host Eímear Noone, composer of World of Warcraft.

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The Royal College of Music (RCM) Opera Studio takes us to a time before Pac-Man in its special summer double bill. Director Stephen Unwin lifts the net curtains on 1950s suburbia, with a rare chance to hear Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, paired with Berkeley’s comedy A Dinner Engagement (June 26, 28, 29 and July 1).

Bernstein wrote both the music and libretto for his 1952 satire about a claustrophobic marriage, which centres around Sam and Dinah, who attempt to overcome their lack of a meaningful connection through the fantasy of a romance movie.

Lighter relief follows in A Dinner Engagement, which sees Lord and Lady Dunmow host a disastrous party that descends into farce. These productions feature two casts, to give as many singers as possible the chance to perform. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is a typical student production: RCM concerts are highly accomplished and offer an opportunity to see world-class music at a snip (tickets start from £10).