An electric night of the best video game music

Jane Hardy

Video game music’s very sophisticated now, inviting comparisons with the best film scores. Radio 3 does a regular item, and long gone are the days of ‘chiptune.’

Electric Arcade, the Belfast International Arts Festival’s tribute to this exciting area of music at the Grand Opera House on Saturday night, featured the Ulster Orchestra in rare form and was conducted by a world authority in the genre, composer and engaging guide Eimar Noone. She’s been involved with mega-successful franchises like World of Warcraft and was the first woman to conduct at the Oscars last year.

We heard the Halo Trilogy, with quasi-religious chants leading into some sinister big rock and orchestral sounds courtesy of Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori. Michiru Yamane’s Castlevania Uncharted showed why Japan takes a sparkling leading role in game music.

Christopher Tin, the first Grammy-winning composer in the genre, revealed a different influence with the infectious Babar Yetu, delivered with conviction (and apparently ok Swahili) by tenor Shane Barriscale. You sensed a musical theatre crossover here.

We also got the star turn, Zelda, whose haunting melodies were familiar to fans. In fact, for much of the time we were in big tune country. Take Greg Edmonson’s beautiful, melancholy Uncharted as an early template. There was a definite Romantic undercurrent to many of the iconic video game scores that made the near capacity audience yell their approval.

But the music wasn’t 100 per cent large scale. Gareth Coker won an Ivor Novello award this year for an original video game score, Ori and The Will of The Wisps. He says to write game music well, you need to play. This was almost whimsical, with delicate writing for the orchestra and band and female voices (Sorcha Fenlon duetting well with Ms Delaney), including a ringing bell in the background which ended the piece.

Later, Russian-American composer Alexey Pajitnov provided us with some serious Kossak rhythm and a folksy solo violin. Plus some extremely high vocals too from excellent soprano Andrea Delaney vanishing into the stratosphere. As one gamer put it, this music makes the hairs on your neck stand on end.

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