Sweeping melodies, cascading harmonies, gorgeous animation, and a quest undertaken by a unshakable protagonist. The award-winning hit video game Journey takes the player through a complete sensory experience with a simple, elegant plot built on lore and discovery. Journey LIVE amps up this presentation to create an even more immersive experience, featuring a performance of the game’s score in tandem with live gameplay. On February 24, SFCM’s Pre-College went above and beyond to deliver this production to lovers of Journey from the Bay Area and beyond.
This event was exceptionally special in that the game’s composer, Austin Wintory (on faculty in SFCM’s Technology and Applied Composition program), conducted the SFCM Pre-College Contemporary Music Ensemble for the playthrough with the addition of the Fifth House Ensemble, a professional musical group out of Chicago that relishes in innovative programming. This joint ensemble, which included several collegiate students, as well, followed the twists and turns of six different players (five Pre-College students and one collegiate student) who took turns bringing the character through the game. With a large, overhead projection of the screen above the ensemble on the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall stage, the audience was able to watch and hear the story of Journey unfold live.
Journey’s score is unique among video games. The music blends and vamps according to the actions taken by the player. Beautiful melodic lines are layered over each other and are woven into sonic fabric, changing seamlessly from scene to scene. It’s what makes Journey’s score playable in a live setting: the conductor and musicians are able to react in real time to the decisions made by the player.
SFCM Pre-College Director Michael Roest commented that this wasn’t just a fun event, but that it also served as invaluable training for the young musicians.
“How often do you get the chance to play a video game with a live studio orchestra behind you accompanying your every move?” he remarked. “The musicians not only had to have an incredible command over the music, but they had to have the agility to jump to any section of the score with a quick hand signal from the conductor. This experience gave our students training that goes well beyond traditional orchestral training, and it was a thrill to see them rise to the challenge with such extraordinary success.”
Those who participated, especially the players, couldn’t wait to take part in this collaboration. Hana Bae, a violinist and Pre-College student, was one of the players who controlled the character on screen.
“I already wanted to play Journey in the first place, and I said to myself, ‘This is just a great opportunity,’” she remarked. “I just played as if I was playing at home and I felt a lot more confident that way. In a way, it kind of felt more real because the actual sound was right next to me. That’s cool!”
“Rehearsing with the Fifth House Ensemble members gave us Pre-College students a chance to see what their lives are like as professional musicians,” said Sydney Whipple, a student who performed in the joint ensemble. “The live video game component was an innovative way to engage the audience beyond a traditional concert setting. I appreciate how music lovers and video gamers alike were able to come together and enjoy the performance.”
Clementine Valenti, a Pre-College parent who attended the concert, said it wasn’t exactly what she was expecting. “A lot more orchestral,” she remarked, noting how the sound came through much differently than on the television. “It was very beautiful, very serene.”
The event didn’t entice only local concertgoers, either. Jenny Robertson and Alan Tew flew in from Utah specifically to attend Journey LIVE. Waiting patiently for the tour of Journey LIVE to come closer to home, they decided to book tickets and catch the Conservatory’s presentation.
Robertson, an avid Journey fan, was moved by the touching storyline, a plot she knows through and through.
“I tried really hard not to ugly-cry,” she laughingly remarked. “I think the music worked really well towards the end. It kind of all comes together.”
“It’s really impressive,” said Tew. “When you watch it, it’s interesting to note how the [the music] flows. And it does flow.”
The combined concert experience of video game footage matched with the live performance of game soundtracks has been creeping into the orchestral world for several years now. Orchestras have been created to specifically tour the music of video games such as those in the Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda series, among a number of others. Perhaps classical music lovers and video game aficionados have more in common than meets the eye.