In a world saturated by pop culture, it’s inevitable that many of the pivotal moments in our lives are closely linked to cult films, albums and video games. Visiting someone’s home and discovering what they keep in their collection is a telling insight into their life journey. In the same vein, sounds and scents also have the ability to trigger memories.
But according to Tommy Tallerico, co-founder and creator of music concert Video Games Live, nothing is better at creating nostalgia than the music you hear on video games. ‘People have an incredible connection to video-game music, more so than film, TV or anything else,’ he explains. ‘Story is what drives film and TV. A lot of the time, music can’t get in the way of the dialogue, whereas in video games the music is what drives the action.’
On Friday December 14, Dubaians will have a chance to relive that relationship when Video Games Live arrives in the city. This touring show will team up with the UAE National Symphony Orchestra to stage a concert featuring music from the world’s top games.
Though Video Games Live has been entertaining audiences for eight years, Tallerico says the concept itself was initially a challenge. ‘I wanted to usher in a new generation of young people to appreciate the arts and the orchestra. To do that I needed to attract people who normally don’t go to a symphony-orchestra concert, and persuade people who don’t normally play video games to appreciate the art and the beauty of the games.’ He now stages 40 to 50 shows a year across the world.
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According to LA-based musician Tallerico, the set lists comprise two hours of video-game tunes complemented by colourful imagery, including actual scenes from the games. ‘We craft the set list based around the audience and ask the fans through Facebook and Twitter what they want to hear. Video games are interactive, so why shouldn’t our show be?’ says the 44-year-old composer. ‘In Dubai, I find there are a lot of PlayStation fans, so they’re going to love a lot of [games music from] Metal Gear Solid. But the [game soundtracks] I think are universally loved are Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Warcraft and Halo.’
Having spent 23 years in the industry, Tallerico knows a few things about what makes memorable game music. ‘For me it’s emotion. As a player, are we being chased or are we chasing somebody? Those are two very different emotions. The most important thing after that is the melody, creating a memorable motif, something that could live on its own, even when the games shut off.’
He speaks from experience. Not only has Tallerico earned himself a Guinness World Record for being the person who has worked on the most video games (more than 300, to be exact), he’s the man responsible for cool ’90s game soundtracks such as Earthworm Jim, Disney’s Aladdin, The Terminator, Pac-Man, Sonic the Hedgehog and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. He also comes from great pedigree. ‘My cousin is Steven Tyler from Aerosmith – his real name is Steven Tallerico,’ he says. Watching backstage as an eight-year-old as the Aerosmith frontman rocked in front of 20,000 people, he says, opened his eyes to his potential. ‘I never thought of it as an unachievable dream. I thought, “Well if cousin Steven can do it, there’s no reason why I can’t.” That’s the biggest thing he gave to me.’
Years later, he found himself repaying the favour. ‘I hooked Aerosmith up with [game distributor] Activision: Aerosmith was the first band to do its own Guitar Hero game,’ says Tallerico. ‘The band made more money from that game than from their previous album. They have a whole new legion of fans now because of video games.’ And Aerosmith aren’t the only ones to benefit from this pop-culture phenomenon. Celebrities including Ice-T, Jack Black, Seth Green and Susan Sarandon have either voiced characters or appeared as themselves in video games, while many well-known bands today got their big break through consoles.
‘Video games have become the radio of the 21st century. Avril Lavigne and Good Charlotte had record deals, but people heard their music for the first time in video games,’ says Tallerico. ‘Even guys like Snoop Dogg write exclusive music for video games.’ Of course, having Snoop Dogg back up your venture is inspiring, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the game is going to be as good as the soundtrack: he was due to feature in urban-themed game Fear & Respect in the early 2000s, but development of the game itself was cancelled in 2006.
So what does Tallerico think is the world’s best game? ‘I have to go with Super Mario World. But if I was on an island and I could only bring one game with me, I’d bring Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption, because it’s an open world and you can do so many different things in it. That would be the one I would play forever.’
Do you agree? Or has another game won your heart? We suggest you get voting on Facebook: search for Video Games Live ME to make sure you hear your favourite jingle when the show hits town.
Video Games Live takes place on Friday December 14 at Dubai World Trade Centre; tickets from Dhs185. Doors open 1.30pm; show starts 7.30pm. A pre-show festival and post-show meet-and-greet will be open to all ticket holders at no extra cost. www.video gameslive.com, www.timeouttickets.com