Apr 20, 2015

Video Game Music Compared to Classical Music

I just came across an article on some website trying to compare classical compositions to modern video game music.  I have linked the article here.  This article, while interesting, makes horrible connections to 'similar' classical composers, and honestly represents why I find modern perceptions of classical music so... wrong.  This is so frustrating I'm not even sure how to articulate this well. I also posted this as a comment on Reddit so if you see it there it's me posting.

1) Comparing music that is meant to be the foreground and the focus vs music that is meant to be atmospheric and background.  This is the primary problem I have when people do these comparisons.  Classical music by 'older' composers is meant to be the primary focus, and as such tends to be very focused thematically, personal, and have many layers of meaning.  I mean comparing Mahler to video game music?  The author completely misunderstands the vastly personal and philosophical nature of Mahler symphonies and draws the conclusion that they're similar because of 'heavy orchestration', and completely misses the very personal nature and duality of what makes Mahler... Mahler (this comparison particularly frustrated me).

I have seen composer interviews for video games and it seems like it very rarely contains the same amount of thought as a classical symphony.  The primary thought of composers is to fit the theme of the game, and not make a profound statement through the music.

2) The comparisons aren't just bad, they completely misrepresent both video game music and classical music.  Comparing Zelda with Vaughn Williams?  Vaughn Williams music is nostalgic and thematically based off of English Folk Music.  The structure and style is impressionist and powerful.  Having heard Zelda music as well I can say there is no connection between the two.  It's like saying Hayden and Xanakis are similar because they both use strings players!

3) If you look at video game music at all, it should be how it has evolved and uses new ideas/form to progress the classical music genre, not compare it to old forms. The video game aspect is equally bad.  There is some good game music, but this music should be evaluated on it's progression *from* classical form, not how it is similar in poor comparisons.  There are *some* game which I think is made by brilliant composers because they do something *new*, and not the same old rehashed cinematic crap.

For example, I have a lot of respect for Peter McConnell's work as a composer because of how he evokes emotion very different and unique than the average VG composition.  His music, in my opinion, is effective *as music*, not just in the context of a video game (at least some of it, other parts not as much).

4) VG music relies largely on nostalgia and the game for context, Classical composers use the music as the context.  Look at some of the comparisons this author makes.  Shostakovitch, whose music represents the indomitable nationalist control Russia had over its people, compared to some tune from Fable?  The reason why Video Game music is getting traction isn't because it's better music, it's just more prominent music.  People are listening to it weather they realize it or not, so when they come across it they remember that epic boss fight or manufactured moment, not how the music's themes represent repression of people (Shostakovitch, Tchaikovsky), the jubilation of coming into the light from the dark (Beethoven 5), or even a story of seduction, survival, and cunning (Scheherazade, Miraculous Mandarin).

Will music like Nobuo or the Zelda composers enter the orchestral rep?  Most likely.  They sell really well and there are definitely some good pieces out there.  However, do they stand up to classical pieces?  I personally don't think so, but that's up to individual interpretation.  I have stated my reasons why and hopefully someone else can weigh in as well.


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