Video Game Music in the Twin Cities

Last night, I had the opportunity to host a panel of guests involved in the video game industry as part of the Paper Darts Pop-Up series.

I use the word ‘opportunity’ quite deliberately, since the Paper Darts team is magically adept at connecting strangers in the arts community of the Twin Cities.

Game Informer‘s Tim Turi, Gravek’s Matt Gravelle and McNally-Smith’s Sean McMahon kindly fielded my questions and gave us all insight into the universe of video game music.

We filled the SooLocal space on Nicollet Avenue (30 chairs for more than 30 attendees), where the audience heard Tim, Matt and Sean talk about the impact of game music, how it’s changed, why it’s great and how it can get even better.

I was honored that Paper Darts invited a gamer like me to participate in the Pop-Up, considering their mission to expose art and literature in our community and beyond. But Jamie Millard, Courtney Algeo and Holly Harrison are gamers in their own right, and cannot be pigeonholed, a fact to which I attribute much of their success (which has been as impressive as it’s been explosive).

Some highlights from the evening include Tim singing entire loops from 8-bit games (there’s a recording floating around I intend to find), Sean explaining how baffled his California friends were that he’d move to Minnesota to continue work as a composer and Matt handing out tablets so audience members could try his new project, a game called “Strata“.

The conversation touched on games as art, favorite game scores from different eras (8-bit, 16-bit and the present), and great film music that influenced game soundtracks of today. It was especially delightful discussing great games with terrible music and horrible games with amazing soundtracks.

The three panelists come from wildly differing backgrounds, and have equally differing involvement and roles within the game community. That diversity brought so much to the discussion, and I cannot thank Sean, Tim or Matt enough for their insights and participation.

Forgive me for fawning, but the Paper Darts crew (Brian and Meghan included) is doing invaluable work for the arts and culture of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Keep in mind, they volunteer, and most of them have full-time jobs in addition to pouring their hearts and souls into Paper Darts.

I look forward to whatever they bring our way next.

Maria Schneider Never Conforms (Thankfully)

I am so thankful Maria Schneider writes for orchestras of all sizes these days, not just the jazz-shaped ones.

When I was a trumpet player (those days are pretty much gone), I focused heavily on jazz, but balanced my listening between classical and jazz. Miles Davis, Dave Douglas, Ingrid Jensen and Kenny Wheeler are a few of my favorites.

I went to college in the mid-nineties, right about the time Minnesota-native Maria Schneider released her first album, Evanescence. The record features compositions by her, performed by the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra.

My friends and I went NUTS for this record. Our jazz director was a fan as well, and we ended up playing several of her pieces, like “Green Piece” and “Wyrgly“.

I found her music so refreshing and so utterly different than anything I’d ever played in a jazz ensemble in my life, most closely resembling the boundary-pushing Stan Kenton tracks from several decades earlier.

Performing Maria’s music always seems like an adventure, rather than a task. Like the difference between spending time outside mowing the lawn and spending time outside in a chair with a glass of lemonade.

I’ve become equally smitten by her recent work, Winter Morning Walks, featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

Maria’s music is a constant surprise, and just as refreshing as ever. She utilizes each chamber orchestra in unique ways, creating beautiful colors and combinations of sounds. Much of the piece “Winter Morning Walks” sounds improvisational. Maria is a master at this type of writing – she’s able to create the sound of freedom in her music.

I think part of that sound might be in the mixing and mastering of Winter Morning Walks, too, which was done brilliantly.

It’s difficult to classify this particular album, though. We get lulled into assuming it sounds “classical” or orchestral based off of the artists on it, like the SPCO. And SPCO’s contribution to Winter Morning Walks, a piece called “Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories”, is more orchestral in tone than “Winter Morning Walks”.

I can only hope Maria Schneider writes more for the classical stage. It’ll probably be a while until her next recording comes out – she rarely takes less than three or four years between an album release.

That gives us plenty of time to enjoy Winter Morning Walks.

Minnesota Opera: Mozart meets Méliès

Here’s a dazzling trailer of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” as you’ve never seen it. Unless you saw it at the Berlin Comic Opera, that is. And you’ll be able to see it at Minnesota Opera next season. The projections make it look like Mozart meets Méliès (Georges Méliès, the experimental film maker memorialized in the movie “Hugo”). Toss in some Tim Burton too, along with William Kentridge,the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and the Brothers Quay. Spectacular!

On the Air This Week

Highlights from June 4 to 11

Wednesday, noon hour: Music with Minnesotans: Architect Sam Olbekson.

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: Duo pianists Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung, from a Chopin Society recital in St. Paul.

Saturday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Live from the Ordway, the closing concert of the season, including music of Berlioz and Beethoven.

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Nor’eastern Winds.

Sunday, noon: From the Top.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The Minnesota Orchestra, with violinist Viktoria Mullova.

Sunday, 5 pm: Regarding Broadway: Part 2: The Golden Age Begins (1940s and ’50s).