For young classical composers, the pinnacle of ambition is no longer the symphony, it’s the video game

Just as the creators of computer games steal plot points from the mythology store around the world, composers shamelessly steal from the great classical composers of the past. One of the best-known examples is Tanaka’s Tetris music, which at one point includes a sampled version of Tchaikovsky’s Sugar Plum Fairy dance. Japanese composer Kow Otani’s most recent score for Shadow of the Colossus has an antique delicacy that you might not expect from a game about a manically destructive colossus, but as the composer explains, it wants to create a sense of prayer. or requiem.

Mood is the order of the day, rather than the simple build-up of tension that was once the main goal of a match’s scoring. The final piece featured in the ball comes from last year’s Battlefield 2042 score, composed by Guðnadóttir and Slater, inset, the husband and wife team known beyond the gaming world for their Oscar-winning score of the Joaquin Phoenix Joker. Their Battlefield 2042 music is equally dark and fraught with doom, evoking a future world ruined by environmental disasters, but it’s the metallic sonic world that delivers the effect, rather than the frantic pace.

Austin Wintory, whose score for Journey catapulted him to fame in 2012, is one of many young, classically trained composers who now find video game music the most exciting field in which to work. “Opera used to be the art that all other arts aspired to because it essentially synthesized all other art forms such as performing art, theater, music, acting, etc. “, he says. “Well, for me, video games take that quality and kick it up a few notches, because there’s this extra element of interactivity between the artwork and the player, and there’s no real precedent for this in all of human history. It’s as revolutionary as the development of wax cylinders and shellac discs over a century ago, which meant that music no longer had need to be made at the same time and in the same space as its audience.

It certainly sounds intoxicating, but I can’t help but feel that game music remains richer in promise than actual achievement. Even the best game scores, to my old ears, pale in comparison to the greatest movie scores. But then, the first steps of any new genre are bound to be hesitant. Just as film music took decades to wean itself off the high-jinks of the music hall, video game scores will surely take time to find their feet.

“We are only at the beginning of this brand new development,” says Wintory. “It’s incredibly exciting but also murky. The possibilities are so vast that we can’t see them all yet.

Gaming Prom – From 8-Bit to Infinity’ takes place at the Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (020 7070 4441;, August 1st. Listen to it live on BBC Radio 3 and for 30 days thereafter via BBC Sounds

Comments are closed.