Game music worth a listen: More than random sounds

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    I don’t try to hide it, and I don’t try to deny it. I’m a nerd through and through, and I actually enjoy my nerd-dom.What makes me a nerd, you ask? Well, many things. But one of the foremost factors would have to be my love of video game music.

    Wait, what’s that? Video game music? As in the bleeps and bloops from your kid brother’s Pok‚mon game on Game Boy?

    Well, yes and no.

    Video game music – or VGM as most fans call it – has evolved along with the electronic entertainment it accompanies.

    Video games themselves have been around since the late 1970s. In those days, games like Pong, Space Invaders and Pac-Man had little more than those bleeps and bloops most people associate with the medium.

    Then, in 1985 – yes, that’s right, 20 years ago – along came Nintendo, a company that had been producing Japanese playing cards since the 19th century, with its now-classic Nintendo Entertainment System and, of course, Super Mario Bros. Not only did this game resurrect what was, at that time, a dying industry; it also revolutionized the music that accompanied video games.

    The soundtrack to Super Mario Bros. was the first instance of video games using discernible, memorable melodies more than a few seconds long. Most of the current college generation grew up being exposed to Nintendo in some form or fashion. As a result, few would hear the main theme to this classic game and not know where it came from.

    Over the years, video games have evolved and improved with technology. They have moved from 8 bits to 16 bits and beyond, from cartridges to CDs to DVDs. Along with better graphics, longer stories and more complex game play, this evolution brought about an improvement in sound quality.

    As developers became able to put better sounds into their games, they also began to devote more time and resources to the soundtracks of their games. They hired composers – mostly Japanese composers like Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda, Koji Kondo, to name just a few – to write orchestral scores. Although very few of these scores are actually recorded by real orchestras even today, the synthesizers that video game composers use are of the highest quality. And many video game soundtracks even feature two or three tracks actually recorded by live musicians.

    For example, Final Fantasy VIII, which came out in 1999, featured an opening cinema with Uematsu’s “Liberi Fatali” playing in the background. This piece was recorded by a full orchestra and choir; not a note was synthesized. The game’s love theme, “Eyes On Me,” featured vocals by Chinese pop star Faye Wong with a full pop band, and the ending theme brought Wong together with the full orchestra from the opening theme. This was the first installment of the popular role-playing game series to utilize recorded music in addition to synthesized material. And it certainly was not the last.

    In addition to games that use live musicians for recording their soundtracks, many developers with popular games and soundtracks produce CDs with arranged versions of the music from those soundtracks. Nearly every game in the Final Fantasy series has at least one arranged CD. Most have at least two, and the company that makes Final Fantasy, Square Enix, has produced several CDs of music that spans the entire series. The music on these arranged albums runs the gamut from orchestral to solo piano to Celtic to hard rock. So honestly, there’s something for almost anyone who likes music of any genre.

    Sticking with Final Fantasy, orchestral concerts featuring music from that series have started to make a tour around the United States. At the 2004 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, the first such concert in America debuted. The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra played orchestral arrangements of various selections from the Final Fantasy series, conducted by none other than Miguel Harth-Bedoya, the music director and main conductor of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. The concert featured movie screens with cinemas from the games to accompany the music, and several other orchestras around the country gave similar concerts. On July 1 the FWSO played Final Fantasy music for a full house at the Bass Performance Hall downtown, and received positive reviews from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, as well as other sources. From what I understand, other orchestras that participated in the tour received similarly positive reviews.

    Game publishers are not the only ones getting in on the act. OneUp Studios, a music production company based in Fayetteville, Ark., is dedicated to spreading its motto, “It’s Okay to Listen to Game Music.” Led by producer, director and co-founder Mustin (he legally has only one name), OUS has produced several albums that feature licensed arrangements of music from throughout video game history. Its house band, The OneUps, has played gigs all over northwest Arkansas, as well as in Los Angeles and Dallas. The OneUps play jazz, funk and rock sets, and have recorded one album, with another on the way. Check out OUS and The OneUps at www.oneupstudios.com.

    So am I a nerd for liking music from video games? Probably. And I don’t really care that I’m a nerd.

    But anyone who’s not afraid of the possible stigma associated with listening to something unpopular should at least give it a try. Who knows? You might hear something you like.

    Associate Editor Jarod Daily is a senior news-editorial journalism major from Keller.