Cultural lag aside, video game stories, music, vocal acting and artwork have enjoyed a steady climb in sophistication and critical consideration this side of the year 2000. In many ways, video games, their characters and their universes stand alongside comic books and cinema to jointly comprise a sloppy, incomplete but utterly compelling mythology for our time. Producer Jason Michael Paul, who brings his Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses to town Saturday, has both been a beneficiary of and contributor to the serious consideration that game franchises are enjoying. I spoke to Paul last week, over the phone from a tour stop in Chile, about his career, video game music and Symphony of the Goddesses.
Paul recalls a time in 2004, while working on live productions for folks like The Three Tenors, when he first envisioned a video game symphony as an epic production.
"I was listening to a Final Fantasy: One Wing Angel CD on the PA before a show in Costa Rica, and I had an epiphany that I could really make something fantastic out of this music. It wasn't entirely new, I had heard of people doing video game symphony productions in Japan before, but there really was never a visual aspect to them."
Following that vision, Paul soon found himself touring behind the Dear Friends and, later, More Friends productions, which featured orchestra and choral performances of the music from Final Fantasy with representative visuals. Capitalizing on the success of these shows and their marketability to classical music audiences as well as gamers, Paul ended up producing Play! A Video Game Symphony, which was met with considerable acclaim.
In 2011, Paul and company were invited to plan a series of one-off shows for the music of Legend of Zelda, one of Nintendo's most beloved franchises, to coincide with the game's 25th anniversary. The shows — in New York City, Tokyo and London — were so popular, that they "are basically, over 150 shows later, still touring them." Now, 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the Zelda franchise, and fans have a chance to see a reworked and expanded version of Symphony of the Goddesses (called Masterquest), which includes material from more of the post-2000 games and, most notably, Tri Force Heroes, the most recently released Zelda game.
The show is a spectacle of sound and visuals. The music — beautiful, haunting, dreamlike and triumphant, all at once — was originally composed for the games chiefly by Koji Kondo and has long been one of the most endearing aspects of the franchise. Paul considers this music "every bit as compelling and artistic as any other non-video game music can be." For these productions, Paul works with local musicians' unions all over the world to bring in players unique to each city. That's a 66-piece orchestra and a 24-person choir to be hired in each city on the tour, a task more difficult than the infamous Water Temple in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
When I asked whether he felt he had contributed to the critical acceptance that video game music has slowly started to enjoy, he was humble but aware of his contribution.
"We stay true to the franchise, which appeals to fans of the games. The way we use the orchestra is truly first rate, the musicianship is on par with the best you can find, the conducting as well. I think I have contributed tremendously to people taking this music seriously, with, of course, the huge support from these gaming companies. Music is vital to any story, and it's no different than video games. It was only a matter of time."