It sounds like the premise to a big budget sci-fi blaster: one man, caught between two alien worlds colliding in bombastic fashion. “That makes it sound very dramatic, ” laughs Croydon composer Andrew Skeet, who in 2011 began reworking classic video game themes into thundering symphonies with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. “But yes, they’re two worlds that traditionally have remained quite separate.”
Classical music, he acknowledges, is widely considered high culture, while there’s still a “stupid” stigma surrounding video games as belonging to trashy, low-brow culture. “It wasn’t something we actively set out to do, but as someone who grew up around video games, I’m happy if we did address those very old-fashioned ideas.”
Before episode three of RBMA’s Diggin’ In The Carts series drops on Thursday – and two years on from the last installment of Skeet’s series, The Greatest Video Game Music, which spanned two CDs selling more than 200, 000 copies – we caught up with the composer to hear how he turned 16-bit bleeps-and-beats into huge orchestral works.
Where did your affinity with video games begin?
I used to love Sonic the Hedgehog – that was a major one for me. I had a Sega Master System, then a PlayStation, but I was surrounded by games even before the advent of consoles. My dad taught computer science so was always bringing home text-based adventure games and so on. I’m not much of a gamer these days unfortunately – I had to stop after I got hooked on World Of Warcraft. I had to delete it. You start playing it then all of a sudden six hours have disappeared. I’d never get anything done.
You’ve tackled both music from modern blockbusters like Call of Duty and Halo and classic Sega and Nintendo themes. How do you choose what themes to rework into orchestral epics?
I try to pick the music I think I’d have the most fun rearranging, but also you have to think about what gamers would want to hear, why there’s stuff like Halo’s theme on there. I got a lot of emails from Halo fans wanting an entire CD of just the Halo music. In fact, I get a lot of emails from all sorts of video games fans about the series. They’re very, intensely devoted tribes of people.
Which do you prefer getting to grips with, the older themes or newer, already fairly orchestral scores?
The older themes are definitely more fun. Modern video games have got more visually sophisticated, with all these very lush textures and huge worlds, so demand bigger, cinematic scores. Which means with something like Call Of Duty, it’s just a case of trying to replicate the music as it is. Something like the Sonic The Hedgehog suite I arranged involves being a bit more creative. I wish I’d been able to do the Street Fighter music, but we couldn’t get the rights.
Do you think you opened the door for video game fans to classical music with the series? Or vice versa?
I hope so! We did a number of concerts around the series which were attended by lots of people who said they’d never been in the same room as an orchestra before.
Since the series proved a hit, have you been approached by any video game publishers about doing an original score?
Not yet. I wouldn’t want to do a big action game score, but I’d certainly entertain the idea if the right game came along. They’re quite repetitive, though, and you have to compose so much music – games are really long nowadays.
Any plans for another installment?
I’d absolutely love to. They’re quite expensive to produce, by the time you buy the rights to the music and pay for the orchestra’s time, so maybe the next time I’ll compose for a string quartet. There’s loads of game themes I’d still love to do, so fingers crossed. Watch this space.
Check back here on Thursday, September 18, for episode three of Red Bull Music Academy’s Diggin’ In The Carts.