allisonholz: Here I am in my writing cave, aka my basement (Default)
I missed my Friday post this week because my husband and I went to a concert, and we’ve been working the rest of the weekend on remodel stuff. Normally I’ll do a book review once a week, but I haven’t been doing much reading what with everything going on in my life, so this week I will review the concert instead.

We saw Play! A Video Game Symphony at Wolf Trap in Virginia. This is one of three traveling video game concerts that we've seen with the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap (we’ve actually seen Play! twice now, but the performance was very different this time). The others were Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy, and Video Games Live. Distant Worlds, as its subtitle suggests, is a concert devoted to the music from the Final Fantasy game series. If you want a gaming experience devoted to story and characters, you could do much worse than Final Fantasy. And the music and gameplay are also fantastic throughout the series (my husband is taking a break from the remodel to play FFIV on his PSP so I’m listening to some of the music right now). There is also a cohesion to the Distant Worlds concert because all of the music was composed by the same person, Nobuo Uematsu. There have been other composers attached to the series, but Uematsu is by far the fan favorite. My husband and I loved every moment of the performance when we saw it last summer.

The summer prior to that, we saw Video Games Live. One of the things I liked about Video Games Live was a deeper commitment to the technology than I’ve seen in other game-related concerts. The creators of that concert understand the unique position of video games as a multi-sensory media experience, and they did their best to recreate that in their concert. They put together some amazing game montages edited to match the music, showed interviews with video game developers and composers, and even had the winner of their Guitar Hero contest come on stage to play the game live with the orchestra on Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion.” It was a very innovative and engaging performance.

Play! showed some video and screenshots, but that part of the performance was disjointed and not timed well. They also made the decision to structure the concert chronologically, which is only unfortunate because my husband and I don't have much interest in the newer game scores. With a few notable exceptions (the Final Fantasy series is one of them), twenty-first century games just don't compare musically with the games from the 80s and 90s. Play! did have one musical advantage: they commissioned new, 25th anniversary arrangements of those older game scores. In Video Games Live, they used the same arrangements that have been around for ages. I’m not saying that it was boring, any more than going to see a favorite and well-loved symphony performed is boring, but Play!’s new arrangements allowed for an element of the unexpected.

The Super Mario and Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross arrangements were particularly sublime. I was impressed by the Super Mario medley because the arranger followed the spirit of the music rather than being tied to the original, synthesized songs. Sometimes symphonic arrangements of video game scores sound almost false because they try too hard to recreate computer-generated sounds. The arrangement for Metroid suffered from this problem a little, because the music was never intended to be melodic; the composer was more interested in creating soundscape than score. But the Metroid and Legend of Zelda medleys were still enjoyable. The arrangement for Castlevania, on the other hand, should have been good but they made odd choices in the themes for the arrangement, overlooking some of the stronger and polyphonic themes in favor of weaker melodies.

And that brings me to one of the big problems I had with the Play! concert in general. The musical experience suffered because their arrangements focused on the melodic themes almost exclusively. In the older titles, they ignored or downplayed some of the beautiful harmonies and counterpoint that the composers originally envisioned. That choice may be a reaction to the pop-music sensibilities of the majority of the audience, who are force-fed monophony and homophony by the music industry. But it’s a little disappointing from the perspective of someone who enjoys complex music. In the newer game scores, the lack of polyphony is more endemic, originating with the music itself rather than the arrangements. That's one of the reason my husband and I prefer the older scores. Video Games Live, performing music from similar sources, suffered from this same problem, but was able to disguise it with a much more engaging production.

All of that being said, I would heartily recommend any one of these concerts if they come to your area. Despite its problems, we had a good time at the Play! concert and would go again. It’s also a nice way for gamers to come together en masse and celebrate the games they love. Many people had brought their families to Wolf Trap, including children, reminding us that a new generation of gamers is getting ready to embrace the controller. ^_^ My husband is already teaching our three-year-old to play Super Mario.

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allisonholz: Here I am in my writing cave, aka my basement (Default)
Allison Holz

October 2011

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