Electronic Symphony


Having sold out shows around the world, Video Games Live co-founder Tommy Tallarcio talks to Quinton O’Reilly about music, video games, and fulfilling a lifelong dream

Once upon a time, video games were classed as a niche medium – one that conjured up images of adolescent boys hunched over a monitor, wiping the sweat from their spotted brows as they try to defeat a badly-drawn evil warlord and save the world.

Things changed with the introduction of firstly the Sony PlayStation, and later the Nintendo Wii. Thanks to these, video games have begun to cross the bridge from niche interest into mainstream entertainment. Despite its rapid evolution, the medium isn’t regarded as artistic as film and literature, but it is quickly evolving in different ways, and one idea that brings games and art together is a new show called Video Games Live (VGL).

72637944GC013_Video_Games_LFor those unfamiliar with the show, VGL was created by two video game composers, Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall, and consists of a live orchestra composing music from numerous games from the genre’s humble beginnings to the present day. The event describes itself as having “the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra mixed with the excitement and energy of a rock concert and the technology and interactivity of a video game” and attempts to bridge the gap between the two mediums.

Tommy Tallarico is one of the more prominent names in video game music compisition, having had a long career spanning more than twenty years and over 275 titles. While composing orchestrated music isn’t the easiest task in the world, it’s the idea of converting a video game song from simple bleeps and bloops into a score for a full symphony orchestra that makes this task harder. Tallarico, however, relishes the challenge of converting these tunes into their new format.

“The hardest part as a composer is getting the melody,” he explains, “[but] the hard parts are already done – the melody for Mario is just sitting there, so it’s actually not so much challenging as it is fun. You get to take these amazing melodies and really blow them out where no one has heard of them in this lush environment.”

That wasn’t the only problem the show faced. When the idea was first conceived back in 2002, it was met with scepticism by the gaming industry. Tallarico spent the next three years creating the show, obtaining the rights and licenses to the various pieces, before finally putting on their first show in the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. 11,000 people attended the event, easily dispelling any cynicism and reservations the games industry had about the popularity of the idea.

Since then, the show has become a worldwide success and has played over 150 shows in venues such as New York, London, Beijing, Sydney and Rio de Janeiro. Tallarico jokes at how quickly things changed, saying that video game companies now beg them to put their music on the show. The show’s growing popularity and success means that the show is premiering new games before they’re released – their tour in Paris will host the premiere of Assassins’ Creed II as the game’s creators, Ubisoft, are based in France.

Tallarico’s goal when creating VGL was to show the world that games could be artistic and culturally significant. Discussing this belief, he links the changes of video games to the earlier days of film and television, believing that video games will follow the same route.

“They (film and television) weren’t universally accepted the second they came out,” says Tallarico. “It took 30 to 40 years for the generational gap to close and for the people who grew up on film, it evolved into their culture. The same thing is happening with games… those black and white films? Well, that’s our Pong.”

A trend that he notices at each show is the type of audience the show gets. While you’d be forgiven for thinking the audiences would solely consist of hardcore gamers, there’s also a mixture of casual gamers and families alongside them.

“It’s funny,” remarks Tallarico. “I look out at the audience and I see a grandma sitting in one seat and next to her would be a teenager in a Mario t-shirt, next to some guy dressed in a suit and tie with his girlfriend, next to someone dressed up as Mario.”

It’s an exciting time for the games industry which is currently evolving in more ways than just graphics. While talking to Tallarico and listening to him enthuse about the experiences that came from the show, it’s clear that VGL is a labor of love for him and a realisation of a long-cherished dream – a dream that stems from his childhood, where a ten-year-old Tallarico would record music from video games before splicing them together and inviting his friends over to listen.

“I’d invite my neighbourhood friends over; I’d charge them a nickel, I’d play the cassette tape back as I got up on the television set, I’d grab a broomstick and I’d put my favorite video games on the TV behind me and I’d pretend to put on a show,” laughs Tallarico. “Who knew thirty years later I’d be doing this?”

Video Games Live perform two shows at the National Concert Hall on Sunday 29th November. www.nch.ie