8-Bit Beethoven 

“Video Games Live” somehow turns “Pong” into a symphonic piece and gives guitar heroes an actual stage, God help us.

click to enlarge art16_music_videogames_200.jpg

Video gaming, which began as a pastime for loners and is still a pursuit for singles, doubles and online circles of competitors, seems an unlikely candidate to be transformed into a concert spectacular. But it has, in “Video Games Live,” a road show that in four seasons has turned into one of the hottest tickets on the schedules of symphony orchestras.

The show, which the Richmond Symphony brings to the Landmark Theater this weekend, features the orchestra performing excerpts from the soundtracks of about 20 popular video games, from vintage titles such as “Pong” and “Pac-Man” to newer fare such as “BioShock” and “Jade Empire.” In many selections, the orchestra plays in sync with gamers plucked from the audience. Pre- and post-concert extras include game demonstrations and competitions and a costume contest. Usually, the “Guitar Hero” winner gets an onstage cameo with the orchestra.

In addition to the general gamer merriment, “Video Games Live” is a showcase of one of the fastest-growing media for new music, says Jack Wall, a game composer (for “Mass Effect”) who conducts the show. Composing for games is a lucrative gig — Tommy Tallarico, who joined Wall in creating the show, told The New York Times that composers can earn $1,000 to $2,000 per minute of music in a game.

“All types of musicians are getting involved,” Wall says. “I got into it after working as a record producer. Others come into the field from writing music for films. Some studied composition in music schools and do symphonic orchestrations. Others are guys who just sort of wing it, composing on a computer and taking a more sound-design approach.

“Game music is the ultimate hybrid,” he says. “Some pieces are purely orchestral, but most are mixes of the orchestra and something else — electronica, guitars, bands, sound effects, you name it.”

Like film and television soundtracks, game scores use music to help tell the on-screen story. Since many games emphasize action, their music tends to be more energetic; but, Wall says, “you might be surprised how many, even shooter games, have love themes and other less aggressive music to illuminate a character or give the storyline or setting of the game some context.”

“Video Games Live” made its debut four years ago with a handful of performances; this year, Wall expects it to play more than 70 dates. The show is a work in progress, he says: “We're constantly evolving, always reinventing ourselves. What we're bringing to Richmond is almost a new show compared [with] what we toured with just last year.”  S
The Richmond Symphony presents “Video Games Live” on Saturday, April 25, at 8 p.m. at the Landmark Theater. Tickets are $14-$60. Call 788-1212 or visit www.richmondsymphony.com

Style Weekly music critic Clarke Bustard produces Letter V: the Virginia Classical Music Blog, at www.letterv.blogspot.com.



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