A reader offers his review of the BBC’s Gaming Prom and examines how it will affect the mainstream popularity of video game music.
Earlier this month, the 21st gig of this year’s BBC Proms season ended with the first Gaming Prom, From 8-Bit to Infinity, with Robert Ames conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall . In the over 10 years of attending video game music concerts, I have always viewed this event as an unachievable goal, as video game music is looked down upon by the mainstream classical music community as a contemporary oddity. Then all of a sudden, this year, the two Classic FM and the BBC are announcing two gigs less than two months apart – that certainly made me change my expectations very quickly.
Benefitting international Metro audiences, the BBC Proms are an eight-week classical music festival held every summer in London for nearly 130 years, with the BBC taking control of the program since 1927. Its aim is to provide an accessible route for the general public to experience the many forms of classical music, with prices significantly lower than those typically paid for a standard concert (e.g. standing tickets sold daytime at £7).
Concerts are regularly broadcast on both radio and television, establishing this festival as an essential part of the British way of life, whether you consider yourself a patriot or not. Due to the broadcast element of the Proms, views of the orchestra can be obstructed by the heightened lighting effects and constantly moving TV cameras, but I personally found this not to be a distraction .
The concert began with an original piece by classical composer Matt Rogers, commissioned by the BBC, showing his appreciation for the ZX Spectrum and its contribution to many British childhoods in the 1980s. I couldn’t identify the soundtrack for a single game throughout its 10 minute runtime.
It wasn’t until the end that something struck me: a series of buzztones characteristic of a specific musician important to the 8-bit era, ie Tim Follin. My trigger was right, because the piece turned out to be an interpretation of Chronos, an obscure shoot’em-up released on a low-budget label in 1987 with music composed by Follin himself, showing off his talents with material extremely limited. .
With the advantage of being able to discuss it with the composer himself after the performance, I discovered that the original intention was to produce a medley of around thirty stops, but rights issues led to the need to reduce that to one. Expanding a solitary three-minute soundtrack to 10 minutes took a lot of creative freedom, and listening, I can detect the occasional nod to the tape-loading process of these games.
Loading Chronos was the first of two pieces commissioned for the concert, the second being a mix of three soundtracks representing the cartridge era of the 1990s, entrusted to non-binary contemporary composer Cee Haines. Their mix consisted of Pokemon Red/Blue, Ecco The Dolphin and Secret Of Mana and while a somewhat peculiar trio to try in combination, played so well together that halfway through I just seemed be lost in my own imagination.
However, the concept of honoring the original Game Boy sound through an “electronic enhancement” of the orchestral wind instruments (specifically the oboe and English horn) has had mixed results in my opinion: the sound of tweets felt more like a parody, perhaps an insult, to the limitations of console hardware, almost as if the Pokemon theme was played through kazoos. However, that jarring noise added so much to the creepy, uncomfortable feel behind Lavender Town’s background music that I’ve never heard in any other rendition or remix.
It wasn’t the most heartbreaking performance of the night – I have to applaud everything that went into the Battlefield 2042 picks, with its dystopian atmosphere really hammering home the horrors of futuristic warfare. When you’re sitting high up in the cheap seats and you can still feel your chair vibrate from the bass notes, you know you’re witnessing something special.
Other tracks played that night would have been more familiar to those who have attended video game music concerts in the past, such as those from The Legend Of Zelda, Final Fantasy 7 and Kingdom Hearts. These were simple, straight-forward performances that lacked any real depth or extra sweetness that would usually be added, for example a Distant Worlds concert or Video Games Live. But that didn’t matter, since it all sounded… well, appropriate.
Prom 21 really tried to consolidate over 35 years of video game music history into a gig that would appeal to both those who knew video game history and a typical Proms audience that knows 350 years better. of classical music. There would always have been a delicate balance in trying to appease the desires of one side of that spectrum without alienating the other, and for the most part it was successful, with positive reviews from serious classical music journalists at Bachtrack and The Telegraph outweigh the only negative review I could find: a brief, sarcastic review from The Times.
However, the real litmus test for me comes from The Observer’s radio reviewer, an avowed non-gamer who tuned in without any prior knowledge of the games featured – his positive review leaves me confident that this first Gaming Prom was a success.
We’d like to know – how would you like video game music to be presented at concerts in the future? Do you like mixes of different game soundtracks or music from a single favorite video game? Or would you like to hear it alongside its classic inspirations?
So, with this gig being performed, filmed and broadcast nationally on both radio and TV, video game music in the UK has now dipped its toes into the mainstream. So where do we go from here? There are a range of possibilities, such as additional TV and radio exposure outside of niche niches, celebrity endorsements, or perhaps even a commercial release that makes its way up the music charts.
I think that would be going too far and the genre will lose some of its charm but life rarely stands still and now that the BBC has accepted video game music into its list of classical music genres its future is uncertain. One positive thing to realize though is that the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is showing greater commitment to performing something similar to these Proms again in the future, asking their supporters to suggest how they should go about it.
For those unable to attend the Gaming Prom (or want to relive it), TV and radio broadcasts are available via BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds until 10 October. Finally, highlights from the concert will also be broadcast to several countries around the world via BBC World Service shortwave frequencies this weekend.
By GGEuDraco reader (Steam ID/Pokémon Go: 5678-1979-9408)
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