True, the article (I read it, didn't listen) is cursory and a bit dumb, but despite the title (The Evolution of Video Game Music), I don't think they really meant it to be any sort of thorough history. I think they are saying evolution not in the sense of laying out each gradual step, but instead "it used to be this way, now it is this way," with all the unnatural abruptness that that shift implies.
My biggest complaint is with the careless phrase "something resembling real music." That video game music was for a long time limited by its hardware is true enough, but once you have enough polyphony (as opposed to, say, the three-voice limit on the PC Jr.), I don't think that limitation extends to the composition
anymore, but only to the performance, so to speak. Otherwise, we have to say that the genius of Mozart does not exist until his work is performed by a competent orchestra, but I have heard some lousy high school orchestras play Mozart, and I think the genius survives, however much the performance assails it.
Also, even granted initial polyphonic limitations, I think it is condescending to assert that the simplicity of very early video game music therefore robs it of its status as "real music". Is plainchant not "real music," either, because of its stark simplicity?
If we don't want to say either this or the bit about Mozart, then I think we have to acknowledge the possibility that compositional genius can be employed even on a device of beeps and boops.
But this bit in the article is all just sloppy speech that I don't think was meant to have any venom in it. In the popular consciousness (which, let's be honest, often doesn't accord with reality), beeps and boops really did get directly replaced with the CD-ROM, and it wasn't until the CD-ROM was introduced that so-called "real music" was possible. It's annoying to see this popular conception get reinforced yet again, but sadly it isn't too surprising.
Later in the article, Joshua Bell's skepticism about Tommy Tallarico's claim that Beethoven, if he lived today, would write video game music is thoughtful and given in good faith. I do think Bell slightly overstates the current degree to which video game music adapts to the efforts of the player or other external forces from the game. At the moment, I'd say that, for the moment, there is usually less
restriction on the length and the "event-correspondence" of video game music than there is in cinema, not more. With time, that will probably change, since dynamic music like that of iMuse and OriginFX probably really is the logical outgrowth of interactivity.
But for now, most film music has to eschew classical structures because there usually isn't time to develop music in, say, sonata form
, and still stay relevant to the on-screen events. (For an example, the first movement of many classical symphonies are in sonata form, and note how many of those are about fifteen minutes long. Contrast this with the average piece by a film composer (if film music can be properly separated into pieces), which is rarely longer than five*, and in the case of people like Thomas Newman, often closer to two.
In video games, however, music for a level or scenario** can in theory develop for a much longer time than it usually does in practice. (Most game composers have instead chosen to write something shorter and loop it.) The music often doesn't really
need to change in response to the game until something truly drastic happens: the player dies, the level or scenario changes, a scripted event or cutscene begins. And I daresay the standard "wallpaper" wandering music many video games have could therefore more easily use the longer structures of classical music. Lennie Moore's score for Outcast does this to a greater-than-average degree, and I'm sure that's not the only example.
At the end of the day, though, Bell may be correct that if you are interested in music strictly as music, you are probably going to avoid fields that cause you to write music that has to serve any goal other than the listenability of the music itself. That obviously didn't stop composers like Prokofiev and Shostakovich from writing for film, but there is a point there nevertheless. I was listening to a MOMA Hitchcock CD from the library the other day, and Bernard Hermann observed (correctly, in my opinion) that one of the paradoxes of film music is that bad music can still be good film music. In other words, once you start employing music in some other artform (opera, stage, screen, game), you introduce a whole different criterion by which the music can be judged, namely the extent to which it enhances the dramatic effect of that other form (since I don't think it is coincidental that these forms are always to some extent dramatic forms--people don't tend to play music to enhance paintings in art museums, for example).
* I'm not counting film pieces that are medleys of other shorter pieces, like many closing themes are.
** Scenario: A broad term that I'm employing as a catch-all for all the alternatives to "level" that exist in games of other genres. For example, in most adventure games, this is your location. In Outcast, an action/adventure hybrid that I mention later, this would be your location coupled with whether or not you are currently in combat or just wandering.
Okay, that's true re: chiptunes. However, they still skip over that generation music for the most part. I think I was over-emphasizing MIDI because I was hoping to hear SOMETHING about Sierra. But I still feel that they jumped over some really great NES, SNES, Genesis, etc. titles.
Yeah, and although I know relatively little about this, I assume from this site that we could add to console chiptunes the chips in the C64, Amiga, and Apple IIGS as very important, if less mainstream, contributors. Back when FTL's Dungeon Master came out, I was jealous of my uncle's Apple IIGS, because I had to use the parallel port on my computer and output to a receiver in order to get nifty, non-PC speaker music like that (using this proprietary adapter that FTL made). I think that Dungeon Master also supported Adlib, but I didn't own a soundcard at that point.
People forget that there were also MODs for many computer games as well which is basically the same as an SPC (SNES song format) and did sound the same on everyone's computer. The Crusader games were one series, Alien Carnage (Halloween Harry), hmm....can't think of many.
For me, Epic MegaGames products like Epic Pinball, Jazz Jackrabbit, and One Must Fall were a big eye-opener in regard to MODs in games. I had heard some MODs outside of games before that (and SNES music which, as you say, are basically MODs), but for some reason the Epic ones really caught my attention.
I suppose something else worth mentioning is that some redbook scores were just redone MIDI scores, and some were actual MIDI scores recorded (redone = a remake of a previous MIDI score, or a MIDI score that was adapted for CD and never released as MIDI).
Yeah, it's funny when people fawn over those Redbook Audio scores that are just recorded from MIDI devices, while simultaneously bashing the MIDI music of the day. It seems to happen less than it used to, though (either that or I just don't go to those places anymore...), so maybe there is hope.