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10 Minutes with Tommy Tallarico: Part 2

In part one of our interview with Tommy Tallarico, we chatted about the latest performance of Video Games Live. Here’s the second half of our discussion, where Tommy explains how the music found in video games is one of the best ways to prove they are indeed art.

CVGames: I’m sure you’ve heard about Roger Ebert’s repeated comments that games can never be art. As someone who composes music (which is widely considered art) for games, what are your thoughts on his criticism?

Tommy: That’s a great question. You know, you got to feel sorry for the guy. I’m not going to sit here and call him a douche bag and a tool. He just doesn’t know. And what’s sad is he was probably that guy in the 60’s who was fighting against the man, and now he’s become the people that he was against when he was growing up. Or, in the 50’s when rock and roll was the devil’s music and that horrible Elvis Presley guy. The people back then, they thought that about comic books or pinball machines, all that stuff.

He just doesn’t know, so you’ve gotta kind of feel sorry for the guy a little bit, and I wish he’d get educated. Our big news is that we have this PBS special coming out July 31st. It’s going to play in prime time for an entire week and then play in repeats for the next three years. I dare him, I challenge him, to watch that show and tell me that video game music and video games in general aren’t art.

That’s the reason I created Video Games Live. I wanted to prove to the world how culturally significant and artistic video games have become, that’s been my mission this whole time. So when I read stuff like him saying the music to movies is art but not for video games, now that’s clearly a guy who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I match any video game score up against any film score, and I’ll go a step further and say this. If movie music is art, okay fine, and by the way, I believe that. John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman. Heck yeah they’re artists.

They are composers, they are creating art, absolutely, but answer me this question. You guys ever heard of ocremix.org? Ocremix.org is website where thousands of people from all over the world upload their video game remix music. So they’ll remix Mario, you put in Mario, you’ll get heavy metal versions, jazz versions, rock and roll versions, swing versions, bleus versions, techno versions, whatever. There are tens of thousands of MP3’s that you download for free. It’s all just people sharing all this music.

There are video game cover bands all over. In every major city there’s some band, that all they do is do their version, their style, of video game music right? So my question to him (Ebert) would be where’s the film version of all this stuff? You show me the website where thousands of people around the world are remixing movie music and uploading it. Where are the hundreds of thousands of imported CD’s that people are trying to get from Japan? How come they’re not importing Japanese film scores?

But they sure as hell import Final Fantasy, and Zelda, and Mega Man, and Mario and everything else. Where’s The Raiders of the Lost Ark cover band, where all they do is Raiders of the Lost Ark cover music with rock guitars. I can tell you about the Megas, who just do Mega Man music and rock it out. I can tell you about all these places. So again, he’s not educated enough to know what the deal is.

From the outside it’s easy to look at a video game and say “well that’s not art.” Well yeah that’s cause you don’t know what you’re talking about though. So maybe before he insults millions and millions of people, he should look into what he’s saying a little bit more. And that’s we’re you got to feel sorry for the guy and say dude you’re just making an ass out of yourself.

Not one person on the planet, I think, agrees with him. Video games have become the entertainment choice for the 21st century. Maybe he’s just pissed off that we’ve taken over, that games have taken over for film. Maybe he forgets that back in the early 1900’s, when films first started, they were black and white. No sound.

And they weren’t just universally accepted when they came out. When films came out, all the old people were like ugh what is this crappy stuff? Vaudeville is where it’s at. What’s this newfangled film motion picture thing? It’s crap right?

It took generations of people, and (eventually) they got sound, and then they got color, and then they got special effects in 3D, and then they got acting, and all these things kind of happened. It took 30-40 years for films to really evolve into our culture right? Well now compare it to video games. In 1972 Pong came out. What was interesting about it? It was black and white and it had barely any sound right? And then we got color, and then we got music, and then we got 3D, and then we got special effects, and then we got storyline.

It’s the same exact thing happening, and for him to just not even make that connection. Really, are you kidding me? You’re that thick? Okay, well then I feel sorry for you because you’re so far gone, you’re so far into your world that you’re not willing to  look outside the box. You know what? You’ve become the person who you, when you were growing up, were against.

I’ll debate him all day long and I’ll play him a piece of music. I’ll play him the score for God of War and ask if he can tell me if it’s from a film or a video game, you tell me. Let’s see how well he would do. He would lose every time.

CVGames: Do you have a favourite video game sound track?

Tommy: A sound track is a body of work. I’d probably say that Final Fantasy VIII is a body of work, it’s my favourite. Eyes on me, Liberi Fatali. Nobuo Uematsu’s work on that sound track as a whole was definitely one of my favourites.

I’d be remiss not to say Mario, for what it was at the time. You know Beethoven? Three hundred years later people are humming the 9th symphony and the 4th symphony. A hundred years from now, people are still going to be humming Mario music. Think about it. That will happen, that’s not going away. And we don’t realize it now cause we’re so into it.

When those notes play, you’re taken over by emotion. You get a smile on your face, you think back to your childhood and that’s what happens with Video Games Live. A great part about it is that you can’t put it in an ad and you can’t put it in a flyer. It’s something you experience.

When people go to VGL, and Zelda comes up on screen, and they hear those notes...people cry at our show. They’ll come up to me all the time after the show and say: “when Zelda came on...you know my dad passed away a couple of years ago and I remember when I was kid, me and my dad always used to play Zelda together.”

People become emotional over this stuff. And again, coming back to “are video games art”. To have such an emotional effect on people...how can you not call it art, I mean give me a break right? That’s the amazing thing, is you’ll see that in a show. Thousands of people in a room together all feeling that sense of nostalgia, childhood, and the coolness of the new stuff as well. But yeah that’s the magic that happens.

CVGames: What if someone who is not into video games comes into the show?

Tommy: I created it for them. Guys like me, I knew we’d love the show. Put Master Chief up there and play violin and we’re all hooked. But no, that’s who I created the show for and that’s why the video screens are so important, and the spectacle of it all, the interactivity, and the way the set list is tailored to not have everything at once. It kind of grows. Maybe it’s a slow song, maybe it’s a classic tune, then it’s a big thing that’s a big quire segment, and then it’s a soloist. It’s very contrived.

That’s why the PBS thing is going to be so huge for us. Fifty-five million people are predicted to watch our show, eight percent of which have never played a video game. So we’re going to get to an audience who has never before thought of video games as anything else but toys or something  that their kids do too much of. But when they see the show it’s going to hit em. That’s going to be a huge turning point, I think, for our whole industry.

By Mark Melnychuk - 06/24/10

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