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A (video) game effort at the Bowl

July 08, 2005|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

Next year, perhaps the Los Angeles Philharmonic will do a salute to classic ring tones.

Well, if the Phil can do a concert of music from video games -- as it did Wednesday at the Hollywood Bowl -- why not?

The very notion of "Video Games Live" invites such jokes. But the bid to afford music from the vast field of video games -- not to mention the games themselves -- some legitimacy as an art/entertainment interface was at times successful.

The presentation (premiered here in advance of a planned national tour involving local orchestras) was clearly modeled on evenings of movie music the Bowl has hosted. Video clips that accompanied the music were often cut to resemble animated movie sequences rather than games, and the musical suites and lush arrangements often sounded like film scores.

"Myst"? "Final Fantasy"? "Advent Rising"? Heck, even the bleeps from "Pong" and the cartoonish sounds of the "Super Mario Brothers" games are the real soundtracks of a few generations now.

"I know that music!" chimed a chipper young boy on the walk up into the bowl, hearing something being played by pianist Martin Leung ("the Video Game Pianist," as he is billed) in the entry concourse amid a few dozen "vintage" arcade games.

The formal show opened with conductor Mark Watters leading the Philharmonic and the John Alexander Chorus in a medley of tunes from the primitive '70s and '80s games. The humorous approach was a nice touch, echoing the knowing laughs and cheers from the audience and remarks at various points in the show by organizers Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall, themselves game music composers. In a few segments, a couple of costumed actors complemented the screened images with live-action scenes. (And it was a "rated E for everyone" evening, appropriate for the large family presence in the audience of 10,000.)

Musically, it was a mixed and derivative bag. Music from "Metal Gear Solid" matched orchestral sweeps with Vangelis-like electronic fusion. A suite from the "Zelda" series echoed the swashbuckling sounds of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's classic "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and "Captain Blood" scores. "Tomb Raider" jumped from Handel-esque counterpoint to thick tonalities evoking Bernard Herrmann.

And there were a lot of allusions to John ("Star Wars") Williams and to the ripe dramatics of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" -- the latter in particular just about any time the chorale was employed, not surprising as its tone has long been a familiar signal of quasi-spiritual mystery/terror in many movie scores.

In an attempt to counter charges of irresponsible use of violence, the music from "Medal of Honor" was matched not with game clips but with newsreel footage depicting the human toll of World War II -- grieving women, fleeing refugees and, perhaps disturbing to the younger ones on the audience, anguished children.

On the other end of the scale, a parent-aged woman and a 13-year-old boy were brought up from the audience to compete on the old game "Frogger" -- as the orchestra adapted the music to what was actually happening on screen. The woman (who said she'd never played a video game) lost badly. There was no doubt whose world it was this night.

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