Over the years, music as mere sound effects in the gaming industry has evolved into a full-fledged artform. Gone are the days of 8-bit blips and bleeps. Or…not according to indie game studio Sabotage’s Martin Brouard. The young and dynamic team from Québec City has experienced working with 8 and 16-bit sound. Their retro approach to video game sound took on a new orchestral form for the first time yesterday at L’Odyssée musicale du jeu vidéo.
The Montreal Orchestra Company’s near-60 musicians and choristers performed music from Sabotage’s The Messenger among a slew of other game soundtrack music created in Québec and beyond.
Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed and Sony’s God of War are popular game franchises, and their scores fared very well under the direction of Adam Johnson. The young but already accomplished conductor is currently Kent Nagano’s assistant at the OSM. Johnson’s stage presence is a little different than the image some people might have of the stuffy orchestra master. A lover of electronic music, he is most comfortable at the podium in more casual attire. His baton seems to move on its own, with a vibration similar to the fluttering of butterfly wings.
He told the audience of the St. Denis Theatre, that as a kid he played ColecoVision video games. Who better to conduct a program of video game music? Especially when considering the piece from Sabotage, as well as longtime favorite, Mario Bros (Nintendo). The retro theme song known by gamers young and old was a fun, playful way to get the evening rolling. The choir sang the familiar notes of the normally instrumental piece while red and green blocks floated across large projection screens. (For those of you unfamiliar with the franchise, blocks are representative of the entire Mario universe, and red is the Mario character’s color, while green is Luigi’s).
Johnson had his orchestra stand and face the crowd after every piece with a local connection. Montreal’s Ubisoft has been a leader in game developing, with their products well known worldwide. Eidos Montreal’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider received quite the applause. Composer Brian D’Olivera was present, and probably smiling proudly somewhere in the audience.
There was another wide smile in attendance. Composer Paul Dubreuil was welcomed to the stage after winning the contest En Route vers l’Odyssée. The contest was held by La Guilde des développeurs de jeux vidéo indépendants du Québec in collaboration with Loto-Québec. The young musician, who currently studies at Faculté de Musique de l’Université de Montréal, said it was “écoeurant!” (this Québecisme loosely translates to amazing! in English) to be able to hear his piece performed with a full symphony. The contest rules required Dubreuil to create a 2 ½-minute piece with a beginning, middle, and end, keeping in mind a video game environment. Dubreuil cites Soulcalibur (Namco) as one of his game inspirations, and says he had to work quickly. He did everything on his computer rather than use real musicians, so this was the first time hearing the track fleshed out. He was a little nervous but clearly pumped to witness the results of the short but sweet piece, There’s No Falling Back.
Johnson gave thanks to the arrangers who made the whole affair possible. One of which, the appointed pianist at La Cinémathèque Québécoise for the last 30 years, Gabriel Thibaudeau, was responsible for 4 pieces including 2 from The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo). Like Dubreuil, he had certain time and requirement constraints. Amazingly, he achieved the arrangements without partitions. He did the whole thing by ear, and worked on his smart phone rather than in a studio or at a computer.
Yes, there were Mario Bros and Zeldas, and an appropriate Final Fantasy XV (Square Enix) finale, but the inclusion of certain pieces was interesting. Nintendo’s Journey (composed by Austin Wintory, who participated in the FMF earlier this year) was a more reflexive piece. Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Microsoft) which is as yet unreleased, and Nier: Automato (Square Enix) were very beautiful, melancholic inclusions.
With all the work that went into L’Odyssée, it was very satisfying to see a lot of youngsters in the audience. Orchestral music is historically not what entertains the kids. Wouldn’t they rather watch TV or play football? The modern age has opened a new world to these impressionable people. Through their love for electronics, gadgets, and video games, they are becoming more and more open to classical music, even if by accident.
Editor’s Note: Though the stage was exceptionally tight for such a large ensemble, the sound was relatively good. It is rather unfortunate that the percussion was a bit buried among other sounds. Some of the more bombastic arrangements would have benefited from a bit more punch. That said, the overall effect was one of enjoyment for all who attended.