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Video Games Live in Calgary

11/10/07 | by Adam | Categories: Music, YouTube, Calgary

A few posts earlier, I referred to how computer-sourced music -- specifically game music -- was a rather transitory affair. It was therefore with great interest I saw that a roadshow called Video Games Live was making a stop in Calgary, using the Calgary Philharmonic as its orchestra.

The concept at its core is relatively simple: play some of the better tunes from various computer games and use a symphony orchestra to do it. Then you start adding in the extras: fancy light show, video screens, audience participation and so forth. It appears to have worked as according to the tour schedule, with very few exceptions, the shows have sold out. Certainly the two dates in Calgary have.

The audience in the Jack Singer Hall was incredibly boisterous. I've been to several concerts in the hall and I've never heard an audience response like this one. Cheering, clapping, even some rather good natured yelling dominated the proceedings. Sometimes you could even hear the music.

The evening started off with a real-life Ms PacMan game set in New York. I liked the music -- albeit recorded, not from the CPO -- and the video was funny. Ever seen the ghosts do hopscotch before? This was followed with a medley of arcade and 8 bit games music, with the original game visuals projected overhead. I could have sworn there were even some old Apple ][ graphics in there. The intro to the medley was clever. It began with a game of pong shown on screen; initially there was just the bleeps of the ball hitting the bats and the table and then the orchestra slowly came in, plucking the strings to simulate the bloops.

The music, the reason for the evening, was really rather good. Probably due to Nintento and Sega's stranglehold on the video game industry for so long, the programme was quite Japanese in nature, with video clips of the composers being used to introduce their sections. The medleys for "Sonic the Hedgehog" and "Metal Gear Solid" were well-received by the audience although they lacked any resonance for me. A piano soloist did a fine job of playing "Final Fantasy" and "Mario Brother" medleys, and did so with the emoting turned up to 11. The audience ate it up. One thing that really did amaze me about "Final Fantasy" though: of all of the selections played that evening, it certainly created the most audience response. We're talking headline-act of a rock concert type response. Quite stunning really.

"Tron" made an appearance. I've found Walter Carlos' score very hard to listen to in the past given its atonal, synthesized nature. The version the CPO performed was far smoother and much more digestible. "God Of War" was well done but not terribly striking and "Medal Of Honour" was set to real-world war photos which made it just a little too awkward for the light-hearted tone of the evening. The "Myst" medley, through no fault of the orchestra, suffered from being boring. The "Halo" medley was good and although I'm not overly interested in the game, I'm quite tempted to track down a CD of its soundtrack.

For me though there were two highlights. The first was the "Warcraft"/"Starcraft" presentation. I love the music and the CPO did it justice. The better however was the rendition of "Civilization IV" which was simply splendid. As the orchestra played its heart out, the choir and superb soloist made it magnificent. Truly excellent.

Audience participation was spread throughout the evening and was a bit wacky. It started off with a game of "Space Invaders" where an audience member played a human paddle, running up and down the stage with a fire-button attempting to win a game while the CPO played along. After the intermission there was a game of "Frogger" doing much the same thing, albeit with a somewhat better score. I'm not sure it really helped the show, but people seemed to be enjoying it.

One of the funnier sections of the evening was at the end when an encore was requested. Instead of lighters, the audience turned on their cellphones and PDAs and started waving them about. In a dark room it's really quite effective. There were jokes throughout suggesting that people upload their videos to YouTube. Given that the Jack Singer has a strict policy against the use of recording devices, that was a not-so-subtle wink.

There were really only two things about the concert I thought were lacking. The first was that the projector used for all of the visuals was poor. It had low contrast, seemed dim and fuzzy. Given that it was centre-stage and played an important part in the presentation, that wasn't good. The second issue was really out of the control of the presenters: the people sitting next to me just wouldn't shut up and were getting progressively noisier and drunker as the evening progressed. Too bad really.

The presenter, a Canadian and apparently frustrated guitar hero, commented that there are about 40 segments of the show of which they usually present only 20. I'd really quite like to see the remainder as there are definitely other pieces of game music I'd love to hear orchestrated and live.

Anyway, it was a good evening. I'm glad the CPO is doing something other than the standard pops concerts to get people in. It certainly worked -- I've never seen the hall at capacity before and the lobby was a zoo in the intermission. Well worth the price of admission. I'd say "Go See" but the Saturday show is sold out and they're off to Florida next...

(YouTube links aren't to the Calgary performance, but you figured that one out already.)



Comment from: Nimble [Member]  

Now I really wish we could have gone! They will be around next year, no?

11/10/07 @ 14:53
Comment from: Adam [Member]  

As they finished off for the evening, the MC did say “See you next year” so I’d guess so.

11/10/07 @ 15:31
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