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Context

October 25, 2010

I believe to truly appreciate, understand and analyze video game music critically, it must be experienced in it’s original context. Which of course means, playing the game that the music owes it’s very existence to.

Composers scoring for games are often working from very specific briefs, and ultimately a multitude of non-musical elements will influence the development and creation of the final music and it’s important to understand and be aware of these elements to be able to examine and evaluate the success of the end product. Therefore, I don’t think there’s a lot to be gained by examining the score in isolation – I feel this would not give us the full breadth of vision of the composer’s work or the context(s) that he/she was working within.

Original Sound Version asked three games composers how they would like people to experience their music. Garry Schyman, composer of Bioshock and Dante’s Inferno, answered:

“I suppose if I had to answer it would be to hear it in context of the game and then to hear it on it’s own as music,” replied Schyman. “Not sure I have a logical reason other than intuitively that seems like the proper order to fully understand what and why I have written the music I have written.”

Timothy Wynn, composer of Command and Conqueror 3 and Red Faction Guerrilla, gave a different view:

“Ideally I would like my soundtracks to be experienced on their own, outside of the game. Often times with sfx and dialogue the music can get lost in the shuffle. I always try to create music that is interesting on its own right. If it doesn’t sound good outside the game, there’s a good chance it won’t be effective during the game.”

Joshua Mosley, composer of ‘Splosion Man, had this to say:

“In Context. I personally have always liked to enjoy other composers music in the context of the gaming experience or film first. I like to see how it enhances the game/film experience. Listening to the music in context makes it feel a little more “alive” in that sense. Like another character in the film/game, drawing out different emotions.”

For the most part they echo how I feel. This is not to say that video game music shouldn’t or cannot be enjoyed outside of it’s original context, far from it. I am also interested in what happens when we take this music out of it’s context, does it still retain legitimacy? People who have played the game the music was taken from will no doubt perceive it differently from someone approaching the music for the first time.

I’m going to look at video game music both in it’s original context, as well as looking at scores of games I have never played. How much can the score tell us about the themes and content of the game from the music alone?

Also, video game music is increasing becoming popular as a genre in it’s own right. OST (Original Sound Track) of games are frequently released, and that of course means that the music will stand on its own as its own product, removed from the context of the game it was written for. So this means that to some degree, game music must be able to stand on its own as music, as well as being fitting music for the game it was intended and the two are very different things. What might make great music inside a game may not translate well as good music heard out of this context and vice versa could also be true.

The front cover for the Fable Original Soundtrack (OST):

There is also a massive community and audience for the remixing and arrangement of video game music, which is based at OverClocked Remix, “dedicated to the appreciation and promotion of video game music as an art form”. This completely changes the context of video game music as people reinterpret it and change the context of the music.

I think this community, and the fan arrangements of video game music are important in keeping interest, discussion and enthusiasm in video game music alive. Which is especially important for games that were released two decades or more ago and ensures that the music for these games is kept relevant.

Here is Yearnings of the Wind, from the game Chrono Trigger, the original piece and thus it’s original context:

And here is OC Remixer bLiNd’s remix of the piece, in a Trance style, completely changing the context of the piece. I think this would go down great in a club and most people wouldn’t even be aware that it was ‘video game’ music, yet at the same time people familiar with the game would recognize it’s source material:

Also, increasingly these days, video game scores are being performed live! This is quite amazing that music that was written for a video game is being performed to a live audience, completely removed from the original game. I personally think it’s wonderful that gamers are going to these concerts and sitting in front of a live orchestra (or other ensemble) to hear their favorite game music live. A live performance of this music is a completely different context from hearing it in-game. To reinforce this further game companies like Blizzard are starting to release portions of their game’s music as sheet music.

Here is a live performance from Video Games Live. The music being performed live, with the addition of visuals from games is another context for video game music:

I think live performances are very important for video game music in that they help give it more legitimacy and help show people that are not familiar with video game music that some fantastic work is being done by composers out there, that may otherwise not reach beyond the audience of people that play the video games.

-Documenting my CEP

I will mainly be using this blog as my primary documenting outlet. Using a blog will allow me to link to the things I am referencing, post musical examples, videos and upload pictures. The layout of a blog also makes it easy to manage and present in a neat, coherent fashion, which is important when I’m am going to try and cover lot’s of different angles and context of video game music.

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