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[by Danbee Kim '09] Music from Sonic, Donkey Kong, Final Fantasy, and more!

[by Danbee Kim ’09]

It’s familiar. It’s even more familiar when a dark screen flashes the large bulky letters at the same time, or when it’s associated with it’s mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog. But instead of sitting in front of a television watching an 8-bit blue hedgehog in snazzy red sneakers run into gold rings, I’m sitting in a dark concert hall watching a 40-piece orchestra, a rock band, and a chamber choir perform music from not only Sonic the Hedgehog, but also Donkey Kong, Silent Hill, Myst, Metal Gear Solid, and Final Fantasy, just to name a few.

Last Thursday night, Berklee College of Music hosted an audience that ranged from moms and dads with small children to local college students to dred-locked thirty-somethings in Grateful Dead t-shirts. The sold-out show, hosted at the Berklee Performance Center, was a swirl of demographics all brought together by a common love: video games. And it was this crowd that, upon the request of producer and musical director Shota Nakama, yelled the opening sounds of every Sonic game—”SEEGGGGGAAAAAAAA!”

The Video Game Orchestra was put together by Shota Nakama, an alum of Berklee College who works as a developer at MIT GAMBIT. He and co-director Kari Juusela, Dean of Berklee’s Writing Division, worked with a number of video game composers in order to arrange and perform these songs with a live orchestra. Nakama and Juusela were both present at the performance; in fact, Nakama played in the rock band as its nylon (acoustic) and electric guitar player. Even more exciting was the fact that a number of the composers themselves were also present. They all seemed surprised when asked to come to the stage and say a few words before their songs, meaning that unfortunately the audience didn’t really get any juicy behind-the-scenes details about the music itself.

The performance began with the excellently dramatic and epic “Bombing Mission” from Final Fantasy VII, followed by “Theme of Laura” from Silent Hill 2, another driving combination of traditional orchestra and more edgy rock instrumentations. After a deep dive into the past with medleys of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Donkey Kong Country (those catchy jungle drums just don’t mean anything else in my mind), we returned to more plot-driven action with a stirring performance of “Snake Eater” from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. The vocalist, Rio Hara, gave a performance that was almost a perfect match to the style and tonality of the original; I could close my eyes and imagine I was playing the video game, hearing the music as I’d originally heard it.

After pieces from Chrono Cross (“Time’s Scar” and “Radical Dreamers”) and “The End Begins” from God of War 2, conductor Yohei Sato took a quick break to let guest conductor Keith Zizza take the stage for the performance of a medley from the computer game Caesar IV. The music was appropriately sweeping and dramatic for a game set in ancient Rome, but I was ready to get back to the more up-tempo and driving sounds of action games.

The rest of the evening was filled with evocative and immersive music from Brothers in Arms, Advent Rising, and Myst, interspersed with more Final Fantasy. But ever since getting my hands on a program, I was waiting for the last piece, a song easily considered one of the best-known pieces of music in video game music: the theme music of Cloud’s final confrontation with Sephiroth, the “One Winged Angel.” Originally written as a stylistic fusion of Igor Stravinsky and Jimi Hendrix, the Video Game Orchestra played their last piece with gusto, style, and infective musical pleasure.

The night was a pleasant reminder of the days when spending hours at a video game was even feasible—hearing the music live was an excellent way of remembering and recapturing my gamer days in a compressed fashion. The concert dragged just a little; small speeches were made between numbers, and while the Video Game Orchestra and the composers are excellent and skilled musicians, not all the speakers had quite the right stage presence or audience dynamic. But no wrong can be said of the musical performance—these excellent musicians, recruited not only from Berklee but also from the New England Conservatory, swept me off my feet and into the land of video games.

This article can also be found in Issue 12 of The Tech (Vol. 129).
Photos taken by Ramya Sankar for
The Tech.

9 responses to “SEEGGGGGAAAAAAA!”

  1. Jesse says:

    Awesome blog post! I wish my school band provides that =)

  2. Emily says:

    Wow, I’m so jealous! What an awesome program of games, escpeically with Time’s Scar from Chrono Cross. That tune doesn’t get enough love. =P

    I’ve always wanted to perform videogame music for school band/orchestra! Not enough of the musical people in my school are into games to organise that though.

    MIT sounds like such fun.

  3. Chris Praley says:

    I loved this when I first heard about it. I’m dying to see them in person.

  4. Jean says:

    holy shit.
    this should be an annual activity.

  5. Julio ('14?) says:

    Chrono Cross’ music is amazing! Yasunori Mitsuda made such a good job for that game’s soundtrack, specially Time’s Scar and Another Voyage(this last piece sounds really good in piano)! They are beautiful compositions. I hope that someday I get to see (more like hear XD) an orchestra playing video game music.

    ~Julio (’14?)

  6. Narce says:

    Do people reference 8-bit Sonic just for the effect of saying 8-bit? He was actually in 16-bit FIRST ^_^”

    But anyway, yay, awesome video game music is awesome.

  7. Kickass! Neat concert, but it definitely needs some more Nintendo stuff.

  8. lucas says: