GP Q&A;: Video Game Music Grows Up

Play! is a traveling symphony of video game music, on the road from San Jose, CA (May 26) to Singapore. GamePro speaks with Jason Paul, promoter and organizer, about what it takes to put on a world-class concert starring world-class games.

GamePro: What kind of concert is Play! ?

Jason Paul: Play! is an immersive concert experience that's all about the music of video games. We use a full orchestra that ranges in size from 66-75 pieces with a 24-32-person voice choir all led by Grammy-award winning conductor Arnie Roth, with associate conductor Andy Brick, actually the first conductor to conduct a game music concert outside of Japan. Additionally, Play! presents visuals from the games with their music.

GP: Where did the idea for a show like this come from?

JP: The idea for Play! actually came about after we saw the success of Dear Friends, another video game concert we took on tour to various cities in the U.S.

GP: What do you think draws gamers to your shows?

JP: There's nothing like hearing the soundtrack of these video games live. It's one thing to hear the music from your console system through a home entertainment system, but it's another thing to take it all in with a live orchestra. We wanted to recreate what you heard at home, but do it in a bigger context.

GP: How did you put together the music for Play! ?

JP: We had to take the original midi files, most of which were not intended to be played by a live orchestra, and create arrangements of that music. So now, the original Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda for NES have fully orchestrated scores.

GP: Do you work with the original composers?

JP: Yes. We collaborate with the original composers to present the music they always intended to create. They have always envisioned having their music performed by a live symphony. The shows complete their visions. It's becoming more of a trend for big blockbuster games to feature music created by a full orchestra, so our instrumentation matches theirs. It's really not a far leap for them to work with us.

GP: Much of the music is by Japanese composers.

JP: In Japan, they've been doing video game music concerts in a similar format for over 20 years. Nobuo Uematsu for Square and the Final Fantasy concerts were really ahead of the curve on this. And Koichi Sugiyama with Dragon Quest's music did concerts from the beginning.

GP: So Play! is a concert similar to those?

JP: Except the Japanese presentations did not have the visual component we have in Play! We wanted to create an aural and a visual experience.

GP: How do you orchestrate the music?

JP: We create suites of music. So we play Mario Bros. with Mario World. Chrono Cross goes hand in hand with Chrono Trigger, and the same thing goes for Final Fantasy VI, VII, and X.

GP: Play! shows are scheduled around the world this year. Do you present a set program of music?

JP: We like to keep the audience guessing and hopefully entertain and sometimes surprise them. For instance, at the San Jose [California] concert, we'll present the world premiere of the music from Lair [by Sony for PS3], Lost Odyssey [by Mistwalker for Xbox 360], and The Darkness [by 2K Games].

GP: Who's in the audience for the shows?

JP: It's an anomaly. We've been doing concerts like this since 2004. You would think a video game symphony with some of the composers there, too, would be a huge draw for video game fans, but our biggest audience to date was at Wolftrap, Virgina with the National Symphony. Six thousand people showed up and not one single composer participated. It was everyone from hard core video gamers to families to older couples who had subscriptions to concert performances. What was the draw? It's been really hard to pinpoint.

GP: There must be a lot of gamers who show up.

JP: I think that it's the more hard core gamers that come to the concerts. RPGs have a very loyal following. The best scores are coming from the RPG genre.

GP: Are there other activities that take place at the shows?

JP: We try to create excitement in and out of the actual show. We do a lot of giveaways including limited editions of posters and other merchandise from game companies. We also display a lot of game videos. We usually have meet-and-greets with composers, too.

GP: What do you hope your audience gets out of your concerts?

JP: We want people to enjoy themselves and enjoy the music, of course, and then tell other people about the experience.

[Editors Note: Check out www.play-symphony.com for Play! dates.]