IncGamers caught up with another industry legend this week, music composer and co-founder of Video Games Live, Tommy Tallarico. In this first part of the interview, he tells us all about the phenomenal success of Video Games Live. What’s the story behind Video Games Live? Why did you decide to bring video game music to a live audience?I’ve been a video game composer for over 18 years and my partner in Video Games Live, Jack Wall, has been doing it for over 12 years. My goal in creating Video Games Live was that I wanted to prove to the world how culturally significant and artistic video games have become. I didn’t want to just put on a show for hardcore gamers, I wanted to do a show. Not necessarily even a concert, but a celebration of the video game industry and so the way we designed the show was with everyone in mind.To describe Video Games Live quickly: it’s all the greatest video game music of all time played by a full symphony and choir onstage. What makes it really unique is that everything is completely synchronised – the music is synchronised with the big video screen and the rock n’ roll lighting and the stage show production and interactive crowd elements.  It’s all the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra combined with the energy and excitement of a rock concert mixed together with interactivity, cutting edge visuals, technology and the fun that video games provide.You don’t have to know a thing about video games in order to come out to the show and be blown away and have a greater appreciation for video games in general and specifically game music. Most of the letters and emails we get after a performance are from non-gamers. Parallel to that, it’s also ushering in a whole new generation to come and appreciate a symphony which wasn’t our goal and plan from the beginning.It’s having an effect all over the world which is great – we’ve played to sold out audiences in Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand and a seven thousand seat bull ring in Mexico. We’ve done three or four weeks at time down in Brazil and we’re on our way to Portugal this week. We played Spain, Scotland, Paris and London.So, it’s a real world tour…  Sure, and that’s the amazing thing. Think of it in terms of this: take a big band in the US, like the Dave Matthews band. They’re huge here but couldn’t necessarily be big in England. It’s interesting to see the effect that video game music has globally. It really is something when we can go to Brazil or Korea and people hum along because they know the songs.
Do you tailor your show to the different audiences?Sure, we change the setlist depending on the countries. We’ve created over 50 segments for Video Games Live, but we can only play about 20 per night so we’re always changing the show. We’ve never played the same show twice, in fact. We’ve done over a hundred performances around the world and we’re always mixing it up and updating it. When we go back to a city – we’ve been to London, for example, three times now – every year it’s different. You’ve got to play Mario, your Zelda, Halo unless they’ll lynch you. But you can change it also, and change the way you play the songs.  Thinking back to your first Video Games Live gig, did you have any idea that three years later you’d be embarking on these huge world tours?It was always the goal to do this, so it didn’t surprise me as much as it put a smile on my face knowing that our dream had become a reality. I never doubted it, but it was a lot of hard work, especially trying to convince people that we’re not crazy. So, from that standpoint, to see it come to fruition is very satisfying. {PAGE TITLE=Page 2}How do you go about recruiting your musicians and do they know what they’re letting themselves in for?[Laughs] Well, they’re starting to find out. We like to use local musicians so wherever we travel, we use a different band every time. We try to use the most prestigious and talented musicians from that area, and this is for two reasons. First, it helps to make a link with the local audience. Secondly,  it also adds to the legitimacy of the whole thing too. The first two years we played London, for example, we used the London Philharmonic and this year we used the English Chamber Orchestra. If we’re in LA we’ll use the LA Phil. Wherever we go, we make sure we get the best musicians.As to how the musicians react – I’ll walk you through the process for when we play somewhere for the first time. A lot of the musicians we use have been classically trained, some are more advanced in years and probably not avid video game fans. So we walk on stage and when we do our first rehearsal, there’s definitely some apprehension there. They’re leafing through the music and thinking “Sonic the Hedgehog? What the hell is World of Warcraft? This isn’t Stravinsky.” And then they play the music and you see them nodding to eachother and thinking “hey this is actually legitimate music.” And the reality is that all of us, as video game composers, draw inspiration from the masters. The Beethovens, the Mozarts or even the modern day heroes like John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith. A lot of that music, in that style and influence, come out in our music as well. So, when the musicians hear the music  – and let’s bear in  mind that some people still think video game music is all bleeps and bloops – and they play the music, they warm up to it.But then, the performance happens – then there are three or four thousand people cheering and clapping like it’s the second coming of the Beatles or something and that’s when the magic really happens. By the 20 minute intermission, musicians will come to us offstage and say “I’ve been playing the oboe for 40 years and I’ve never heard a reception like this. When are you guys coming back?” All the early apprehension turns into excitement. Any musician performing on stage feeds off the audience and unfortunately classical music – for some unknown reason – is thought of as boring.  You think upper class, sipping wine, staying 100% silent. And the reality is, that back in Beethoven’s time, if you read his diaries, his greatest moments  came from when he was conducting and the audience couldn’t control themselves any more. People were overwrought with emotion and would cry out in approval.Isn’t that how it should be? Absolutely.  So what we’ve done is take all of the cool things that we grew up with  – and I turned 40 years old this year, but I was the first generation to grow up on video games and Star Wars and computers and interactivity. Just because I turned 40 doesn’t mean I have to stop doing all of the things that I love. The whole video game industry is evolving into our culture. Now my generation is having kids, it’s becoming a family thing now. What we did, is we took all those things that we grew up with and combined it with a symphony. But we’re not afraid to use other sounds – I’ll play electric guitar, there’ll be electric percussion. There’s all kinds of ways to enhance the sound onstage.How important is the visual element of the performance? Okay great question. First up, the music is strong enough to stand on its own, 100%. The proof of that is the Video Games Live album, Volume One. It came out this summer in the US and it debuted at number 10 on the Billboard Chart.That must have felt good…[Laughs] Oh it did. And it’s just further proof of how important video games have become in our society. So the music doesn’
t need the visuals but Video Games Live is all about bringing the live experience of a video game. You know, hence the name. And there are three elements that make up a video game: the visuals, the music/sound effects and the gameplay, the interactivity. We bring all three of those things to the live stage.And how do you decide on what to show?I actually cut together all of the videos in the show in my studio, but I’ll work together with the composers and game designers too. We’ll talk about which scenes we want for certain sections of the music. After we put a music arrangement together I start thinking about the video. On Metal Gear Solid, for instance, I’ll sit with Hideo Kojima and we’ll talk about what we want. He’ll come up with great ideas and help me get the footage. If we’re doing Starcraft, Diablo or Warcraft we’ll get together with the folks at Blizzard or if it’s Halo then we’ll work with Bungie. I think it’s really important to have that dialogue with the publishers and designers in the process. For one, I want their blessing and approval and, also, I want to be able to tap into their creativity.

How difficult is it to clear the music and the footage you want to use? Do you encounter copyright/censorship issues?Getting the rights and licenses was the hardest part for us initially. We came up with this idea in 2002, but we didn’t put on our first show until 2005. It took us three years to create the show and a lot of that was spent trying to get the rights and licenses from companies and publishers who I’ve worked with over the past 20 years! I’ve worked with Miyamoto on Metroid and I’ve worked with all these people in the industry over the years and even they thought I was insane! It took a lot of convincing and and a lot of calling up Taito in Japan to say “Hey, we want to get the rights for Elevator Action because we’re gonna play it at the Hollywood Bowl in front of 12,000 people with the LA Phil…hello? Hello?”Read Part 2 of the interview >>

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

    MMO Weekly 02/12/08

    Previous article

    Fallout 3 (PC)

    Next article

    You may also like

    More in News