time to change the way we view music and the arts

Thanks London Phil, for Giving Games a Go

It being the day before Thanksgiving, that American holiday which emphasizes the singularly simple, but profoundly powerful theme of appreciation and gratitude, I thought it might be best to leave you all with something light to digest before many of the large and extravagant meals that are to follow tomorrow –during which time I’m sure much of my reader base will be wither watching football, napping, playing a family board game or recovering from the accidental hangover.

I haven’t really touched upon album reviews in my blogging quest yet, since those from the start, tend to be steeped in opinion without much grounding for stability unless you’re nitpicking at specific styling characteristics, actual pitch problems or technical recording blunders. Other than that, my attempt to base a like or dislike of something would serve little enlightening purpose beyond spreading my own feelings around, which is only one of the goals I have in mind with every piece I write.

However, for this collection I’m making a lighthearted exception, as this CD might just be that perfect thing you think to give to someone on your gift list during the multi-holiday celebrations approaching next month. Why? Well let’s talk about the CD, the track listing, the marketing scheme and heck, even the cover art (seriously, it bears mention) and you’ll see my reason for intrigue.

A little over two weeks ago, the London Philharmonic released a compilation/cover album entitled “The Greatest Video Game Music and it’s available via Amazon with a special bonus track. 22 pieces from 19 separate games across a variety of platforms and release decades have been re-imagined and recorded through the team of the London Phil and famed British composer/arranger/orchestrator Andrew Skeet.

Now, without even getting into the pieces themselves too much (because I can’t post the entire album for streaming through this blog) there’s still plenty to talk about. As things stand, Amazon did provide a video with a sample, which gives you a taste of the London Phil’s exemplary skill and the somewhat “larger than life” sound that has been given to certain themes which originally, didn’t exist outside of 8-bit analog sounds, having no ability to expand, contract or emote any kind of expressive change throughout.

Here’s where most of my sample-less review gets meaty. Take a look at the track list:

1. Advent Rising: Muse
2. Legend of Zelda: Suite
3. Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 2: Theme
4. Angry Birds: Main Theme
5. Final Fantasy VIII: Liberi Fatali
6. Super Mario Bros: Themes
7. Uncharted – Drake s Fortune: Nate’s Theme
8. Grand Theft Auto IV: Soviet Connection
9. World of Warcraft: Seasons of War
10. Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty Theme
11. Tetris Theme
12. Battlefield 2: Theme
13. Elder Scrolls: Oblivion
14. Call of Duty 4 – Modern Warfare: Main Menu Theme
15. Mass Effect: Suicide Mission
16. Splinter Cell: Conviction
17. Final Fantasy: Main Theme
18. Bioshock: The Ocean on his Shoulders
19. Halo 3: One Final Effort
20. Fallout 3: Theme Listen
21. Super Mario Galaxy: Gusty Garden Galaxy

While many of these titles are memorable names in the gaming industry and standouts in pop-culture, since some, like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, have been around since the early days of video game consoles at the dawn of the 80s, I find the title of “Greatest” Video Game Music to be highly biased. The reason acknowledging bias is important in this case? I get the sense that the first expected two way door of consumer appeal the London Phil, Andrew Skeet and anyone else on this project was going for, is the “pop-culturists/classical listeners” exchange.

Fans of the London Phil may collect this out of intrigue or just because they are fans of the group’s performances, regardless of the given repertoire. Flipping things around, non-avid classical fans who are devoted to the games on this list will get exposure to more ornate renditions of their beloved jingles and themes. The optimal hope is for some of each consumer group to take interest in the subject matter of the other. There is a problem though, that’s more likely to arise from the side of bringing orchestral enlightening to the average gamer.

Gamers want to hear what the London Phil “has to say” about their favorite entertainment titles. and that’s a good thing, but if the consumer turns away before picking up the CD off the shelf or clicking “check out” on Amazon’s website, then intention doesn’t matter. The might be tempted to do just that if they feel a crucial title is absent from a compilation which has been deemed the best of the best. This reasoning might have nothing to do with the music itself –nonetheless, marketing to and locking down your target demographic is the line of sale that comes before a consumers actual evaluation of the product.

This in mind, there’s another possible shortcoming I find in this marketing scheme. Many of these game titles are also skewed toward a limited grouping of genres: war games, action, first/third person shooters…Halo, Call of Duty, Mass Effect and BioShock clearly cater to these genres. If the focus of the album is to highlight how digital scores can become orchestral pieces of beauty, then I would find it hard t believe that this limited vein of games could have scores worth converting. Granted, it can be understood that the London Phil and Mr. Skeet were possibly limited in the rights they obtained for scores to use and they wanted to balance the track list with recognizability factor and plausibility factor (as far as the ability to create a substantial orchestral score is concerned) I would also venture to be empathetic to the possibility that they didn’t want to rehash the same lists that have been assembled in the past with piano tributes and other orchestral albums. This stands to debate though, as repeated titles like Final Fantasy are touched upon; the likes of which have been re arranged and recorded by multiple Japanese groups during the franchise’s existence.


Remember my mention of the cover art? The image design doesn’t help appeal to a wide gamer audience either. Me being a girl, there’s enough of a demographic slant away from females with games like the ones chosen, as shooters and war games aren’t designed by game marketers to gain female consumers. (That’s not to say girls can’t shoot ’em up with the best of the boys, that’s NOT what I’m saying. Rock on girls!) A flaming instrument and grayed out war scene with the serious soldier really makes me think this is a cover for an album that could just as easily be mistaken for “The Manliest Video Game Music” or “The Best of Hardcore Games.” I see how the design can give shock effect and grab attention but the whole endeavor seems like a poorly executed mashup of design, marketing, and content. If it didn’t say so on the front, I would not make a connection to the London Phil for any particular reason over any other strong orchestra and other than the cello, there’s little integrative/balanced connection to the surprisingly beautiful music inside this aggressively designed casing. Then again, perhaps the London Phil was going for that hidden identity, as people would be so taken in by what they hear, it would unknowingly make them a fan and the afterthought of, “hey, it’s the London Philharmonic?” would allow for bridging that introduction gap after the consumer hears their talent, not before.

So depending on what spin you personally decide to put on the “reason why I got you this present” when buying for someone else, there are all kinds of people you could potentially share this with. If a gift giver can interest a person enough, the larger, overall marketing faux-paus won’t really matter. An orchestral score aficionado will just have an amusing ice breaker conversation piece when they next ask their guests to pick a CD of the rack to play during a party (perhaps Thanksgiving dinner?) and the disc peeks out between Mozart with Your Morning Coffee and a recording of Handel’s Messiah.

To everyone who celebrates, have a Happy Thanksgiving!
I am thankful for all of you who stop by to continue reading my blog and thankful for any of you who may be new to my site.

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