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Video game music coming of age

Grammy-nominated composer will wield the baton as guest conductor with Pacific Symphony for 'Video Games Live' event.

July 14, 2013|By Michael Miller michael.miller@latimes.com
  • Austin Wintory in his studio in Burbank on Wednesday. Wintory will be one of the composers performing his music from the video game "Journey" at the Video Games Live concert in Irvine at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on July 17.
Austin Wintory in his studio in Burbank on Wednesday.… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

Austin Wintory doesn't care to participate in debates about whether video games count as art. But if anyone corners him about it Wednesday when he joins the Pacific Symphony as a guest conductor, he'll have a couple of powerful friends to back him up.

One is the voting bloc of the Recording Academy, which a few months ago made Wintory the first composer to snare a Grammy nomination for a game score. Another is the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which around the same time added 14 games to its collection — including "flOw," a project Wintory co-created while a student at USC.

In recent years, the medium's increasing sophistication has caused many to question whether it can stand alongside novels, movies and other venerable forms. Even the annual Conference on World Affairs in Colorado has hosted at least two symposiums in the past decade on the importance of games. To Wintory, who will conduct his nominated score for the PlayStation 3 offering "Journey" during the symphony's "Video Games Live" concert, history is fast deciding the winner.

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"I do think games are ascending the cultural ladder," he said by phone last Tuesday from his studio in Burbank. "I think games are taking their place in the broader culture as eventually the dominant form of storytelling that culture will be consuming. In other words, I think games will be the dominant medium of the 21st century, where films were the dominant medium of the 20th century."

At the very least, works like Wintory's have been infiltrating symphony halls over the past decade. Tommy Tallarico, the producer and host of "Video Games Live," launched the production in 2002 and has toured with it every year since. Wednesday's show at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre will mark the Pacific Symphony's first performance of "Video Games Live." It also represents a homecoming for Tallarico, who lives in San Juan Capistrano and has never brought his enterprise to Orange County until now.

Tallarico, a video game composer for more than two decades, declined to reveal the full playlist for Wednesday but said selections from "Castlevania," "Street Fighter II" and "Final Fantasy" were on the program. The evening will begin with a medley of tunes (or, in some cases, electronic beeps) from the early days of video games.

"The first thing you will see onscreen is 1972 and 'Pong,'" Tallarico said.

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