Canberra International Music Festival Concert 17: Game On! The Digital Revolution, Canberra Youth Orchestra and Topology in association with the Academy of Interactive Entertainment and CBR Innovation Network, Llewellyn Hall, Saturday, May 6, 1pm.
Video game music was initially, like the early games themselves, relatively simple – limited to synthesiser sequences and short, highly repetitive melodies, with the occasional use of more sophisticated melodic explorations. People of a certain age will remember the irritating loops of inane electronic "music" that issued non-stop from Space Invaders machines in pubs and clubs. At the Game On! concert on Saturday, I heard several audience members remarking in relief that fortunately we were being treated to far more sophisticated orchestral versions of this musical genre. The Canberra Youth Orchestra under Leonard Weiss' baton attacked the challenging scores with relish and enhanced the music with their live performance. The projections onto the screen behind the audience recreated the gaming universe and the characters associated with each score – a reminder of the digital-fantasy world in which so many children spend a great deal of their lives.
It had to be Pokémon with explosive percussion, as the opening work – one of the oldest and best loved games and television series, and the creators keep re-enlivening the original concept with new and clever iterations – the latest of course being the smart-phone app. Hikaru Utada's Kingdom Hearts followed, with some delicate glockenspiel to relieve the more turgid themes. The medley of themes from Daniel Kempton's Dismantle had good contrasting mood and pace, but the show-stealer was the combination of Thomas Powels' opening cello solo and Sophie Edwards assured vocal solo for Austin Wintory's Journey. With more sophisticated orchestration and melodic development, this work was memorable.
Koji Kondo's Super Mario provided a good contrast to the preceding performances with a kind of playful samba dance motif, setting the stage for Topology – accurately described as "leaders in musical creativity in Australia, prolific creators of new original work, expert collaborators across genres and art forms and award-winning music educators". The ensemble played a breathtaking medley of themes encompassing Sonic the Hedgehog, Green Hill Zone, Pac Man and Donkey Kong.
A suite of Gary Schyman themes, matched with images, was introduced by an evocative violin solo by Helena Popovic and supported by impressively homogenous-sounding strings. The brass section acquitted themselves well with enthusiastic entries in Send Him Howling Back to Hell, and the suite was brought to a fine conclusion with excellent performances by the first violin, solo piano and first flute.
Tommy Tallarico's score for Advent Rising and the theme from Phoenix Wright – Ace Attorney were rather melancholy offerings, but Kojji Kondo's Zelda restored the epic feel to the program – with more than a hint of John Williams in the thematic material.
Game music is a strange sonic landscape for many of us, but it is essentially carrying on a grand tradition of melodies composed to accompany the sagas of our times.