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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 July 2005, 07:47 GMT 08:47 UK
Perfect pitch for video game music
By Matthew Davis
BBC News, Washington

The sound of leading orchestras playing the music from the Tomb Raider game, or the scores of Frogger and Pacman, may be heard all over the world if a new venture in the US proves a success.

Screenshot of Halo 2
Symphony orchestras will be playing the music from games like Halo
The dramatic soundtracks of today's video games are a far cry from the time when arcades resounded to the noise of repetitive bleeps and jingles.

Advances in technology mean music can now drive in-game action and stir players' emotions, much like the score of a Hollywood blockbuster.

In the US, two renowned video game composers are trying to tap in to gamers' growing attachment to the soundtrack of their favourite software.

Last week, in the first of a series of nationwide concerts, an audience of more than 10,000 heard the famous Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra playing the hits of the pixelated world.

This is music people really love. It is incredible for the audience to see their games come to life in a different way
Jack Wall
Video Games Live

Against a backdrop of images and lights, classically-trained musicians turned their hand to the themes from sci-fi epic Halo, Tomb Raider, the Mario games, plus a medley of old-school favourites like Pong, Space Invaders and Pacman.

For Video Games Live co-founders Jack Wall and Tommy Tallarico, it is a sign of the ongoing evolution of games, both as entertainment and art.

"This is music people really love," said Mr Wall, who wrote the music for Jade Empire, Myst III and Splinter Cell.

"It is incredible for the audience to see their games come to life in a different way.

"Video games have become a new way of telling stories, and music a fundamental part of that."

'Big market'

Mr Wall began working in the industry 10 years ago, with an eye to the expanding area of game soundtracks.

In the early days, technology was a limiting factor. But as consoles and computers advanced so to did the sophistication of in-game sound.

1978 Space Invaders' panic-inducing bassline
1980 Berserk's voice synth: "Get the humanoid"
1980 Pacman's jingles
1985 Tetris' infectious Russian muzak
1989 Michael Jackson Moonwalker game
1994 Sophistication of Final Fantasy VI
1996 Trent Reznor does music for Quake
1998 Zelda takes sound to new level
2000-1 PS2, Xbox, GameCube offer new possibilities
2003 Tony Hawks Underground, 70 songs in one game
With the emergence of machines like the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube, anything became possible musically, and sound became a fundamental part of gaming experiences.

When Mr Wall composed the score for Myst III, he used a full symphony orchestra and choir.

The soundtrack was packaged on a separate audio CD with 250,000 special editions, while more than 30,000 CD's of the game's music were sold online.

"That's when I realised there was a big market out there," he says.

In 2002, the composer was a founder member of the Game Audio Network Guild (Gang), which now has a network of some 1,000 members.

"Everyone was getting same emails from players asking 'Where can we get hold of the soundtrack?'. The music to games is very much a backdrop to people's experiences."

He added: "With film, the music can't get in the way of the story and the dialogue. You are trying to convey emotion in the score. The main chance to make an impact you have is in the title music.

"With games, what you do is much more fundamental. Music is there to drive the action. There are engaging melodies that have a lot of power to them.

"If all this is implemented into the game properly it has a huge impact."

Last year, LA played host to a concert based around the music from the Final Fantasy series, and game music events have taken place in Europe and Japan.

But the pair say nothing has been done on the scale of Video Games Live.

Mr Wall and Mr Tallarico have arranged 20 dates for the US tour, and are planning international events if their business model succeeds.

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