From Bleeps of ‘Pong’ and ‘Mario,’ Game Music Comes of Age

The electronic bleeps and squawks of "Tetris," "Donkey Kong" and other generation-shaping games that you may never have thought of as musical are increasingly likely to be playing at a philharmonic concert hall near you.

From the "ping ... ping" of Atari's 1972 ground-breaking paddle game "Pong," the sounds, infectious ditties and, with time, fully-formed orchestral scores that are an essential part of the sensory thrill for gamers have formed a musical universe. With its own culture, sub-cultures and fans, game music now thrives alone, free from the consoles from which it came.

When audiences pack the Philharmonie de Paris' concert halls this weekend to soak in the sounds of a chamber orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra performing game music and an homage to one of the industry's stars, "Final Fantasy" Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu, they will have no buttons to play with, no characters to control.

They're coming for the music and the nostalgia it triggers: of fun-filled hours spent on sofas with a Game Boy, Sonic the Hedgehog and the evergreen Mario.

"When you're playing a game you are living that music every day and it just gets into your DNA," says Eimear Noone, the conductor of Friday's opening two-hour show of 17 titles, including "Zelda," ''Tomb Raider," ''Medal of Honor" and other favorites from the 1980s onward.

"When people hear those themes they are right back there. And people get really emotional about it. I mean REALLY emotional. It's incredible."

Dating the birth of game music depends on how one defines music. Game music scholars -- yes, they exist -- point to key milestones on the path to the surround-sound extravaganzas of games today.

The heartbeat-like bass thump of Taito's "Space Invaders" in 1978, which got ever faster as the aliens descended, caused sweaty palms and was habit-forming.

Namco's "Pac-Man," two years later, whetted...

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