There are many aspects of video games that make them an amazing experience. It could be the graphics, the gameplay, the story or an epic final boss fight. However, each of these components wouldn’t be as good as they are without the music behind them. And in most cases, it is the music that elevates the experience beyond words. And whilst some of these games have a score that you can listen to outside of the game, the options to relive these tunes are limited.
So, when Orchestra Victoria, in association with VicScreen, Creative Australia and Creative Victoria, announced a special evening of Indie Symphony: Videogames in Concert. Held at the stunning Hamer Hall, I relished the opportunity to attend.
Hosted by Meena Shamaly from ABC Classic’s Game Show and conducted by Vanessa Scammell, the evening’s program consisted of Indie games from both home and abroad. However, little did I know, the evening’s entertainment would begin well before doors even opened.
As I was patiently waiting at my door, I heard a thunderous applause from the lower level of Hamer Hall. I quickly ran downstairs to see a pre-show talk that had been arranged. Also hosted by Meena Shamaly, the discussion had American composer, Austin Wintory, famous for his works on games such as Journey, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and most recently, Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical. Also in attendance were two members from Tripod, Steven Gates and Simon ‘Yon’ Hall, who co-wrote the music and lyrics along with Wintory on Stray Gods. Rounding out the panel was Christopher Larkin, Adelaide born composer famous for his work on Hollow Knight. The panel provided some wonderful insight into how video game music comes to life and focused on the creative process behind Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical.
By the time the concert was ready to start, I was excited to hear some of the music the pre-show panel discussed. It was the perfect appetizer for the main course performed by the incredible Orchestra Victoria, opening with ‘Reach for the Summit’ from the 2018 platformer Celeste to a rousing applause from the audience. Admittedly, I have never played Celeste, nor have I even really seen the gameplay before. In fact, I have only played two games from the list of seven on the program. With the gameplay on the screen, it was a unique introduction to each of these incredible titles. Celeste, with the insane platforming gameplay, gave me major anxiety. A game that I would never actually play (way too hard for me) but the music – my god, it was beautiful. Originally composed by Lena Raine with a mostly digitally created score, it was a unique experience to hear it performed by a full, 60-piece orchestra. This was only the first performance and I was already hooked!
Next up was a score by the legendary Austin Wintory with a suite consisting of ‘Nascence, Apotheosis & I Was Born for This’ from Journey. Introduced by Shamaly, he mentioned that Journey has absolutely no dialogue and the story is told completely through music. Not only were we lucky enough to experience such a stunning score, but we were also treated with a surprise appearance by none other than Austin Wintory himself as guest conductor, and a stunning vocal performance from Dimity Shepherd.
Continuing with the vocal duties, Shepherd remained on stage for ‘The Mourning Tree’ from ‘Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture’. With original score by Jessica Curry, this game is one that I had seen before, but never noticed how beautiful score was until now. The music was that good, that I’ve added the game to my wish list to hopefully play sometime in the future.
Rounding out the first act was a selection of pieces from two titles from Supergiant Games. Transistor and Hades. Having played several hours of Hades, I was extremely excited to hear what an electric guitar heavy rock score would sound like with an orchestra. With Tripod’s Steven Gates on vocals, ‘The Lament of Orpheus’ did not disappoint. Gates’ vocals were stunning and together with the orchestra, they absolutely smashed it.
Gates was then joined by Jude Perl for a performance of ‘We Are Become & Paper Boats’ from Transistor. Another game that I have never seen or heard of before, but after this performance, I am keen to check it out. The final performance had Tripod’s Simon ‘Yon’ Hall joining Perl for an incredible rendition of ‘In the Blood’ from Hades. Easily my favourite performance of the first act. I couldn’t help but nod my head and tap my feet along to the beat. Yon’s falsetto was spine tingling and the harmonisation together with Perl was perfect.
The second act was an absolute treat. Consisting of purely Australian produced games, it kicked off with Stray Gods: A Roleplaying Musical. with its music co-written by Austin Wintory, Tripod, and in collaboration with Montaigne, the performance consisted of ‘Adrift’, ‘Challenging a Queen’ and ‘Stray Gods Suite’. For those that missed the pre-show panel, Wintory, Gates and Yon came out on stage to briefly discuss what the game is about and how the music came to life.
In a brief summary, as the title of the game suggests, you roleplay a character through the theme of musical theatre. After a short segment of a song, you are presented with three choices that result in another part of the song that then leads to another three choices, and so on. Each pathway creates a unique fingerprint of music with seemingly infinite possible results. No result will ever be the same as another player and even the performance I experienced will likely never be replicated ever again. This game sounds cool as hell!
Not only is Stray Gods created right here in Melbourne, with local talent behind the song writing. The actual score is performed by Orchestra Victoria and to have the orchestra perform this suite live was something truly special. With vocals by Jude Perl and Madison Green, this segment had me yearning to play the game, forge my own pathway and musical score.
Following on from Stray Gods was another local game called Necrobarista. A title I had never heard of until now. With music by British-born Australian composer, Kevin Penkin, Scammell conducted the orchestra through two beautiful pieces of music; ‘The Bittersweet Taste of Death’ and ‘The Chimes of Midnight’. Whilst the game doesn’t seem like something I would play, the music certainly has me interested.
The final performance is what the whole crowd of gamers were waiting for, Hollow Knight. Created in Adelaide, the game skyrocketed across the globe. With the incredible platforming games style and even more incredible music by local talent, Christopher Larkin, Hollow Knight gained a huge cult following. Having only played a small amount of the game before giving up because I found it too hard, I watched many streamers on Twitch play this game through to completion. One thing that stuck with me is the score and to hear it live was an absolute delight. The suite showcased the hard hitting, adrenaline inducing score behind some of the bosses, including The Hollow Knight themself. But it also showcased some of the more mellow and calming tones from areas around the Hallownest, including a stunning suite from ‘The City of Tears’.
Just as I thought the night couldn’t get any better, Orchestra Victoria surprised us with a teaser for Hollow Knight’s long anticipated sequel, Silksong. Performing a short suite from the score of the forthcoming title, the audience erupted in applause. Hopefully we will finally get a release date soon.
Indie Symphony: Videogames in Concert was a truly unique experience, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to attend. If you did miss out, Meena Shamaly hinted at something happening around Melbourne International Games Week. Perhaps an encore performance? Maybe something with a different program? Who knows! I also couldn’t help but think this would be the perfect opening night concert for PAXaus that is happening this October. Either way, whenever it is, I would love to experience something like this again.
Indie Symphony: Videogames in Concert was performed at Melbourne’s Hamer Hall on Friday the 8th of September. Even though this was a singular performance (let’s hope it is not and makes a return), you can check out the digital programme here: https://www.orchestravictoria.com.au/blog/indie-symphony-concert-program
For more information and ticketing on other Orchestra Victoria performances, visit: