While I apologise to our readership for what is probably going to be surmised as an “off-topic rant,” I also don’t apologise, because it is a topic close to my heart. You see, I’ve been agonising over it for weeks. Indecision has surrounded me and I’ve been unable to reach an internal consensus with the different points of view in my head. Do I go with the status quo, ensuring that familiarity and stability within the ranks remains, or do I put my faith in something new and radical? Either way, it’s time to act before it’s too late, and I’ll be damned if I miss my opportunity to make my voice heard.
I am of course talking about voting in the Classic FM Hall of Fame, which closes its public vote at the end of Saturday. For me, it has become an important yearly tradition, combining two of my favourite things – my passion for playing video games, and my love for music. After all, music has played a large part in my life. I grew up around it thanks to my family playing various instruments, going on to train on the violin from an early age, and later teach myself to play guitar in my teens. I even studied Music at A level and in higher education after that. With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I have a strong appreciation for soundtracks, especially those for video games.
So it has delighted me to see that, over the last three years, soundtracks for games and their composers have been given the recognition they deserve for their talents. A campaign led by industry PR Mark Robins has come on leaps and bounds, with support for the movement in the millions. In fairness, the appreciation was always there by the fans – you only have to look at the sell-out concerts around the world which exclusively feature music from games to see that – but the campaign to get them into the chart was more about legitimacy. After all, if movie soundtracks could find their way into the chart, why couldn’t video games?
Naturally, this has caused concern for, for the lack of a better term, the “old guard.” Calls of the pieces being boring, unimaginative, and not right for the chart have been slung around for years, with some even going as far as to suggest that “they should go and form their own chart” elsewhere. While for now I will forgo the fact that segregation never solved anything, let’s instead focus on the fact classifying something as “classical” is a pointless endeavour, when we should be referring to the term “orchestral.” In that regard, large numbers of video game music rightly qualify.
Then there is the suggestion that, because they are pieces of music composed in modern day, none of them should qualify for voting. After all, it’s “Classic” FM. Let’s say for a moment that they are right, and declare that anything after 1900 doesn’t qualify either. The move would get rid of fan favourites such as Gershwin, Brittain, and Prokoviev, alongside other modern composers like Whitaker and Einaudi (which some would call a small victory… sorry, music in-joke there, and I apologise profusely.) In my mind, removing contemporary composers would do more harm than good, and would frankly make the chart a more boring place.
The naysayers are also ignoring an important facet of VG music being included in the chart – it becomes a gateway to the world of orchestral music. While someone may have wish nothing more than to hear the theme from Skyrim playing over the radio (and it’s a majestic thing when it happens) it also means that they get to listen to some of the genre’s most prominent pieces. Who is to say that fans of Aerith’s Theme won’t go on to enjoy The Lark Ascending? Maybe lovers of Halo’s A Capella opening and drum-driven themes will find joy in Beethoven's Symphony No. 5? To halt such a fantastic opportunity to introduce gamers to new musical horizons puzzles me greatly.
In a way, all of these thoughts are irrelevant, because Classic FM do allow video game music in the Hall of Fame, and it’s something that is fantastic for everyone involved. The station gets an increased audience (along with all that delicious revenue, mmmmm), the audience gets to hear a wide variety of orchestral pieces, and the composers of game soundtracks get recognition on a global scale. Gamers have already known the names Uematsu and Soule for decades, but three years ago they found a new audience when they were the poster boys of the initial campaign. Two years ago, British composer Grant Kirkhope received accolades for his Viva Piñata soundtrack, see his work recognised outside of the games industry for the first time. It was an important turning point not just for those composers, or even gaming soundtracks, but games in general. We were seen a truly mainstream form of entertainment outside of the shooty-shooty-bang-bang coverage that is usually the spearhead.
More importantly, it has shown that pieces from games soundtracks hold up without the rest of their source material, transcending the medium and showing exactly what music is – a universal language. Final Fantasy is a series that is regularly brought up in this debate, but you only have to look at tracks like “Rose of May” and “To Zanarkand” to understand exactly why Uemastu is so heavily featured, but there are other examples. Sona Mi Areru Ec Sancituv from Panza Dragoon emotes a sense hope and determination, while Lament of the Highborne from World of Warcraft – a personal favourite of mine – reflects the feelings of loss and sadness.
If there is one thing I am sad about, it is that WildStar will not feature in the Hall of Fame countdown. Regardless of what you think of the gameplay or even the MMO genre, there is no denying that Jeff Kurtenaker’s score was the best game sountrack of 2014, bar none. Perfectly capturing the lands and races on Nexus, augmenting themes depending on the situation, and being able to stand on its own feet when taken out of the game, it’s a shame that due to a lack of commercial release the soundtrack won’t get the recognition it truly deserves.
Instead, I’ve had to go with three pieces that resonate with me that I also consider capable of transcending their source material. Here’s what I’ve picked and why:
Final Fantasy VII – Nobuo Uematsu
Yes, this will almost certainly mean Classic FM will play Aerith’s theme, despite the fact I consider the World Theme a far better piece both in terms of progression and technicality, but there’s no denying the power behind the music that accompanies FF VII’s most memorable cutscene.
Journey – Austin Wintory
The game as a whole is an artistic achievement, using its visuals and audio cues to tell an interpretive story. I can’t even hover over the icon on my PS3 without hearing the theme, and it gets me every time. The music used as your character surfs through the sandy ruins? Utterly breathtaking, and I certainly hope Wintory finds greater success in this year’s chart. He definitely deserves it.
Viva Piñata - Grant Kirkhope
There’s an air of calm and beauty in Kirkhope’s score for the sweet-based management sim, and many of its tracks wouldn’t be too out of place in an orchestral suite. Whenever I hear it I’m instantly transported to a colourful countryside… that also happens to inhabited by piñatas.
Of course, those are just my picks, but what would you consider the best orchestral pieces that the game industry has to offer? Do let us know in the comments, but if you’re reading this today we urge you to go vote in the Classic FM Hall of Fame as well! Go on, go support your favourite composers!