On Video Game Music

Posted by AJ Harbison at 10:34 am

As a member of the American Composers Forum, I receive their newsletter Sounding Board every other month. I just got around to reading the May/June issue on Friday, and I came across an interesting article (originally published in the LA Times) about video game music. Despite having an awful title, it provides some insights into the composing and recording process, and is worth a quick read:

“Their music for video games depends on play: Composers record seconds of music that can be rearranged in many ways to match the changing action”

Video game music was never a field of composition that I was too interested in; I grew up on Nintendo, Game Boy, Super Nintendo and PlayStation but was never what you’d call a “gamer.” But after reading this article, I have to admit that my interest has been piqued.

I know I have a few gamers out there among my readers, and probably more who have some level of interest and experience. Do you normally notice the score in games that you play? What are some of your favorite game scores? (Guitar Hero doesn’t count….)


Some Thoughts On Guitar Hero III

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:09 am

My younger brother received the Nintendo Wii video game Guitar Hero III: Legends Of Rock for Christmas, and he and I have wiled away several hours since then (well, many hours for him) living vicariously as rock legends. It’s a fun game; he’s better than I am, so he beat me in the Face Off mode, but we preferred to rock together in a co-op career. (We actually beat the game in that mode on Christmas night and were slightly disappointed that it wasn’t more difficult. Of course we could always try it again on the “Hard” setting.) We also enjoyed naming our bands: his solo act is Socratic Method (keep in mind that he’s a Torrey student) and our co-op band was called War In Heaven (based on the title of this book he got me for Christmas). Not bad as rock legend names go. But, as always, there was a nagging thought in the back of my mind: “I could do a TLB post on this!”

Most of the music in the game is not exactly my cup of tea, but since they usually have only one or two songs from a particular artist, they have the liberty to choose good ones. There’s even an AFI song I found tolerable. I’m not a big fan of classic rock in general, which (I think) most of these artists could be classified as, but I do enjoy rocking out to classic rock guitar. There’s something about the tone and style of classic rock guitar that just feels right. And how can anyone not enjoy “Cliffs Of Dover”?

As a musician who’s used to reading music, the “notation” used in the game is difficult for me to adjust to. (If you’ve never seen what the game looks like, click here for a YouTube video.) The rhythm seems so imprecise–there are only gridlines every beat and everything not on a beat falls somewhere in between. It’s hard to understand what the rhythms are in a given song until I hear them a few times–if they’re syncopated, it’s very unlikely that I would understand what rhythm they’re trying to convey (much less be able to play it) until I hear it and can associate the actual rhythm with how it looks as the little colored dots rush toward me. Though I guess any sort of notation that’s more detailed would be impractical.

It’s interesting also to get a visual and tactile perspective on the music. Usually music is just listened to, but playing Guitar Hero associates the audio with your eyes and your hands as well. You start to see patterns in the riffs much more quickly and easily when you can use two or three senses to identify them instead of just one.

And just in case anyone is curious: No, playing Guitar Hero is nothing like playing a real guitar.

Just for fun, here’s a video of “Through The Fire And Flames” performed allegedly by a live person, 100% correct on the Expert level. Superhuman.


New York Times Article On Electronic Instruments

Posted by AJ Harbison at 4:42 am

Peter Alexander, a fellow member with me of the Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers, yesterday brought to the attention of the group this New York Times article (and I thought I’d share it with y’all):

“Turning Guitar Heroes Into Composers”

It talks about a new generation of electronic instruments, with the electronic instrument the theremin for heritage and the video game Guitar Hero for inspiration. It’s an interesting article, and its sidebars include some YouTube demonstrations of the instruments. Check it out.