Miami University Symphony Goes To The Video Arcade

May 4, 2017

The Miami University Symphony Orchestra opened its centennial season earlier this school year with what many consider to be one of the most important pieces in history, Beethoven's Eroica - Symphony No. 3. The orchestra closes the year Thursday night with something a bit more modern, and certainly unusual.

Arcade Variations is an original work celebrating video games.

Conductor Ricardo Averbach wanted something different, something original, to cap the Miami University Symphony Orchestra's centennial.

"That's why I asked Per (Bloland) to do this. He has a language that is very contemporary in his normal works," says Averbach.

Music Composition Professor Per Bloland holds a copy of his work, Arcade Variations during a rehearsal for Thursday's premier.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

In talking with his students, Miami University Music Composition Professor Per Bloland noticed many seemed drawn to video game music. Today's games favor sweeping cinematic scores over simple electronic ditties. Though not a gamer himself, Bloland researched the genre and decided to give it a shot.

Arcade Variations borrows themes from 16 video games ranging from Space Invaders and Pac Man to Halo and Final Fantasy XIV.

Scroll to the bottom to see the entire list of feature video game themes.

"I started out by finding... the best video game themes of all time, and then I made a timeline of when all these themes occurred, " Bloland says. "I decided I was going to start in the middle of that timeline and then combine themes, working both forward and backward."

He wrote the music by ear. He says this rather matter-of-factly, causing Averbach to declare Bloland is too modest.

"It's not only that he made a sequence of themes from video games, he does counterpointal work with them, puts them together and separate, and manipulates the themes. It is a composition. It is not just an assembly of various themes."

Bloland says, "If you are looking for the themes, you have to listen to individual lines not just the whole of the piece. You have to make certain adjustments in your mind. Listen to what the woodwinds are doing as opposed to what the brass are doing because one might be playing something from one game whereas the other might be playing something from a different game. The themes are often chopped up."

Lydia Jasper is a first year viola performance major from Cincinnati.

"It's really interesting since it's a journey through video game music and it's also our celebration piece for the centennial of the orchestra," Jasper says. "I think the journey through time is very representative of also the journey through time and the orchestra."

"However," she laughs, "maybe not in the same context."

The musicians won't be the only ones playing something Thursday night, Bloland is designing the performance as an interactive experience.

"We're running a contest," says Bloland, "to most accurately pinpoint the entrance of every given video game theme. We're going to hand out sheets of paper listing the themes in the order in which they enter and we're going to have a clock on the wall, so whoever is at the concert can write down the time in which they hear a particular theme enter and then turn that sheet of paper in."

Bloland says there'll be a prize for the person with the most accurate score sheet.

The program also features former Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra cellist Ronald Crutcher and winners of Miami's Concerto Competition.

The free concert is at 7:30 p.m. in Miami's Hall Auditorium.

Here are the 16 featured themes:

Theme Name – Game Name (year)

Entity - from Ico (2001)

Kotake and Koume - from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

Scars of Time - from Chrono Cross (1999)

Halo - from Halo: Combat Evolved (2002)

Separation With Despair - from Shadow Of The Colossus (2005)

Air Man - from Mega Man 2 (1989)

A-Type - from Tetris (1985)

Screen Theme - Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (1994)

Prayer - from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)

Theme of Tara - from Metal Gear (1987)

Prelude - from Final Fantasy XIV (2009)

Journey to Skyhold - from Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014)

Berzerk (1980)

Donkey Kong (1981)

Space Invaders (1978)

Rally X (1980)

Pac Man (1980)