Video Games in Concert: The maestro behind the music

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Ashlee

For the gamers among us, the soundtrack of our formative years was most often played out in all its 8-bit glory from the glow a 21-inch TV screen cloistered in the coziest corners of teenage bedrooms around the world. From the early days of Sega, to the golden age of Nintendo, and the dawn of the PlayStation empire, the music of video games has left an indelible mark on generations of youth seeking another dimension in which to belong.

The impact of their refrains still lives on in the hearts and minds of that same generation of youth who are now grown but remain young at heart and, also, for a whole new generation who are discovering those same imaginary worlds for the first time. It was with this sense of nostalgia in mind that game industry veteran and superstar Tommy Tallarico came up with the concept for Video Games LiveTM, an immersive concert experience unlike any other.

Hosted at concert venues around the world, it’s a unique musical series that features top orchestras and choirs performing songs from the most popular video games of all time. Its energy can best be described as a rock concert combined with the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra, with some stellar video screen visuals, state-of-the-art lighting, and interactive on-stage elements.

Qatar is set to welcome Video Games LiveTM, back at QNCC this Saturday, March 4, and ILQ was lucky to snag an exclusive interview with its dynamic conductor Eímear Noone. From her Irish roots, to a long and storied career as an award-winning composer and conductor in Los Angeles., Noone has carved in niche amidst the sound of the gaming world’s best loved scores.

ILQ: Coming from Ireland to L.A. you’ve made an established name for yourself in the music industry Stateside. Walk us through your career progression and how you found yourself drawn to the music of video games?

EN: I always knew I was going to be a conductor and a composer.  Likewise, I always loved the arts, literature and story-telling.  My road to games music was almost pre-destined by these facts. 

I didn’t start out saying to myself, ‘I want to write and conduct music for video games.’  All I knew is that growing up I had fallen in love with this magical world of the symphony orchestra and that I wanted to be a part of it. 

The fact that I lived in the west of Ireland in a town of 480 people, nowhere near any symphonies, didn’t matter. I could actually see myself in that world, conducting orchestras, not as if it were my future, but as if it were memory. 

I then spent my formative years dedicated to making this vision reality, educating myself in every way possible to prepare myself for this career, dutifully studying the mechanics and repertoire of the orchestra as musicians have been for hundreds of years. 

The fact that games music has been my focus is really a product of the times in which we live. In today’s world, there’s more substantial orchestral music being created for video games than any other medium.  A film, for example, might have 70 minutes of music – that’s quite a bit, but that doesn’t compare to the nine hours of music that might accompany a new World of Warcraft release.

Add to the sheer volume of music that needs to be created, the brilliant art and story-telling that permeates the games world, and the result is the perfect combination of elements for someone like me to thrive. 

If I had lived 100 years ago I know I’d be composing and conducting for the opera or the ballet. Fifty years ago, I would be immersed in the world of film. But in today’s world, it just so happens video game music has become the place for orchestral composers to thrive.  

ILQ: You’ve carved out a niche for yourself with this genre of video game music and a similar cyber-punk style – tell us about your stage persona and manner of conducting.  

EN:
I’ve often said that Mozart, Beethoven, and Stravinsky were the rock stars of their day. They were far from the stuffy composers as they’re often portrayed, and really knew how to live life.

Meanwhile, I grew up with a different collection of rock stars, such as Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Metallica.  I love their music just as I love the classics. I have often told the story of how I listen to AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’ during my countdown to going on-stage in order to centre myself and get in my performance mode.

I also love the showmanship, energy and celebratory nature of heavy metal and rock music. And being surrounded by gamers and cosplay all the time has opened myself to the joys of that art-form.  I only wish audience members would come to a classical concert dressed as Beethoven’s ‘Fate Theme’ if the 5th Symphony is on the program.

With all this in mind, and in collaboration with a brilliant Irish designer, Clare Garvey, I developed a series of costumes that reflect a synthesis of these influences.  Wearing some type of tuxedo for me just isn’t in the cards.
 

As for my conducting style, that is purely classically focussed and follows a lineage back to the great conductor Igor Markevitch, through his protégé Gerhard Markson, my most influential teacher.  I then tailored their styles to my own with a focus on absolute clarity of motion – where there is a one-to-one relation between my gestures and the music.

 

ILQ: In your opinion, how do concerts such as the Video Games series help open up the world of live orchestral music to new audiences?  

EN: For many of the Video Games LiveTM concert attendees, the concert might be their first exposure to a live orchestra. They may have been hearing the games music for years, but sitting in a theatre and experiencing it live, for many, is a life-changing experience. Once they’ve had this experience, they become life-long fans of the orchestra. 

With this understanding, last December we launched a new concert, Video Games ClassicTM, a programming idea I’ve had for years. In this concert we split the program between the game music favourites of Skyrim and World of Warcraft, with the music of Debussy, Stravinsky and Mozart. The most enthusiastic applause was for ‘The Firebird’, after I explained how the story of the ballet could just as easily have been a theme from The Legend of Zelda.

ILQ: Will this be your first time conducting in Qatar with the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, and what can concert-goers expect from the repertoire for this performance? 

EN: No, I actually had the pleasure of conducting the orchestra last year in a similar concert that was so successful and well-received that we knew we had to come back again even before the intermission.

For anyone who saw that concert, one of the unique things about a Video Games LiveTM show is that, with over 200 outstanding game music pieces in the VGL library, our brilliant leader and host, Tommy Tallarico programs each show based on what has been played before, so the program is never the same. I can’t reveal exactly what the program will be (sworn to secrecy) except to say the music will be bold, brash, and exciting.

ILQ: Over the years that you’ve been performing the music of video games, what continues to be some of the most popular selections that resonate with audiences? Ex: Final Fantasy, Legend of Zelda etc.

EN:
Often the resonance of certain pieces is tied to the life experiences of the audience at the time they were playing the games. I’ve heard so many stories from gamers, such as how they may have played Skyrim with their Dad, and now that their Dad has passed, the music from the game brings back so many great memories of that time. That’s the power of music, when combined with these life experiences.

ILQ: How does video games music differ from that of film or television series in terms of composition and how the arrangements are performed?

EN:
The biggest difference is level of exposure and the ability of the games music to be more dynamic and expressive. Let me explain these two elements:
 

Level of exposure: In a film, you might, over the two hours of the film, hear the full theme once or twice at key moments. If you really like the music, you might seek it out on CD or on YouTube. But if you’re playing a game, you might hear the themes for hours on end, adapted to the game-play as you go along the virtual journey. The music becomes part of your DNA. 

As for the music itself: Film music often finds itself limited by its support and timing of the image. Often it can’t breathe or move at its own evolutionary pace, but has to follow the ebb and flow of the movie. By comparison, game music, especially ‘in-game’ music, is not bound by the constraints of a film, and can develop at its own pace, allowing for a more dynamic and expressive musical experience. For me this can be more satisfying. 

ILQ: What’s next in the pipeline for you in terms of touring, performing, and song-writing – will you continue to focus on video game music or will you be exploring new genres?

EN: Right now I have a few new games in the pipeline where I’ll be composing, in addition to continued work with Video Games LiveTM and Blizzard Games. I’m also happy to be a part of Tommy Tallarico’s next great adventure, ‘Rockmania’, where he and the Rockmania team are bringing the music of Led Zeppelin to the concert stage. Finally, I’ve been asked to headline a concert of Sword and Sorcery music at the upcoming Tenerife Film Music Festival. With all these great multimedia concert opportunities, along with the classic concerts scheduled, it’s going to be a well-rounded and exciting year.

Tickets for Video Games LiveTM are currently available online here.

Which video game soundtrack has resonated with you the most over the years? Drop us a line in the comments below and share your musical memories. Also, don’t forget to give us a like and a share – it keeps us going!