GAMERS get to control a lot of things in the videos they play. They choose their characters, their weapons, where they go and what they do. And Wednesday, during "Video Games Live" at the Hollywood Bowl, they will get to control something new — the L.A. Philharmonic. For a portion of the two-hour video game music concert, the actions of two gamers playing live on stage will actually direct the 105-piece orchestra.
This "interactive symphony," as the event's founders call it, is one of the more intriguing segments in an already groundbreaking show. A conductor, watching the video game play out on a screen on the Bowl stage, will lead an orchestra that has rehearsed five musical sequences based on the action of the game. The music is for a vintage arcade game called Frogger.
Video clips, laser effects, costumed characters and stunt men will also share the stage as the Phil performs 20 other pieces of classic video game music, including Donkey Kong, Halo and EverQuest II.
"Some people might scratch their head and say, 'What? Am I going to see the L.A. Phil perform a lot of bleeps and bloops?' " said Tommy Tallarico, who co-founded and executive produced "Video Games Live" and composed the music for many video games, including Advent Rising. "That is not the case at all. This music is just as good as any film score out there. It's not just an orchestra playing merry-go-round melodies."
Video game music has come a long way in the 33 years since Computer Space and Pong first entered arcades. It's evolved from monotone bleeps to simple one-line melodies to full-blown orchestral, choral and opera arrangements today, yet popular perception lags; for nongamers, it's still the blippity bloops of Asteroids and PacMan that define the genre.
"We have become Hollywood as far as audio [goes]," said legendary game designer David Perry, creator of the classic Earthworm Jim and Matrix games. "We use the same talent in the same studios with the same conductors, and it sounds just as epic."
If nongamers find it odd that the Phil's signed on for such an unusual show, video game fanatics don't think it's such a stretch. It's actually building on the success of the Phil's "Final Fantasy" performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall last year. That show, which featured selections from the first 10 games in the top-selling adventure series, was the first live concert of video game music in the country. Tickets sold out in a day, and some later sold on EBay for $800 a pop.
"It was an incredible demographic in the hall," said Hollywood Bowl General Manager Arvind Manocha, who saw the show. "There were kids and gamers and families of gamers. We had a great concert and a great time, and it stuck in the back of our mind: There's this new art form that's emerging of video game music."
So, when Tallarico and his co-producer, Jack Wall, approached Manocha about hosting the show, it meshed perfectly with the Bowl's plan to "do something that would be a little bit different this year."
And then some. "Video Games Live" is a multimedia musical retrospective. It's a carefully choreographed tribute highlighting the best games and their best features, whether it's the full choir accompanying Halo or the light show complementing Tron or the montage of archival and future video clips for Zelda. Legendary Japanese game designer Hideo Kojima is even making his first live U.S. appearance at the event, introducing his game Metal Gear Solid just before the orchestra launches into its percussion-heavy soundtrack.
Marrying the cerebral, high-brow art of classical music with the adrenaline-filled, mass-appeal interactivity of video games actually furthers the agendas of both sides. For the L.A. Phil, it brings a new, younger audience to live orchestral music. For gamers, it takes the music out of its isolated, electronic context and humanizes it.
Instead of hearing the music as a driving force in the game, they get to sit back and see live human beings performing it. It also socializes the gaming experience by drawing players away from their computer screens and into a flesh-and-blood community.
Hard-core gamers who get to the concert early can also enjoy the free video game festival that begins 2 1/2 hours before the show. More than 40 video game designers and composers will be on hand to greet fans, including the creators of classics like Crash Bandicoot, WarCraft and Lara Croft Tomb Raider. The Videotopia traveling museum will lay out the history of video games and offer arcade classics to play. And there will be a costume contest for attendees who've gone to the trouble of dressing up like Mario, Lara Croft or another favorite video game character.
That's why Tallarico refers to "Video Games Live" as a concert event instead of a concert.
"It's a celebration of the entire video game," said Tallarico, who is bringing the show to 18 other cities this summer. "I want 'Video Games Live' to be the Barnum and Bailey of our generation. I want it to be the Woodstock of the 21st century."
`Video Games Live'
Where: Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Price: $4 to $92
Info: (323) 850-2000 or http://www.hollywoodbowl.com <252>