Thoughts that aren't about pop culture.

Category: live music

The year of video games as art?

A lot of debate erupted last year with Roger Eberts Twitter comment that video games can not be art.

The obvious complication in the debate over video games as art is rooted in the definition of art and the fact that art is largely in the eye of the beholder. This however has been a year where video games have been thrust into venues and spaces traditionally reserved for art. This shift, at least to me is an affirmation that this medium can be art. Bellow is just a few examples of what I am referring to here.

Video Game Orchestra: The VGO founded by Berklee College of Music alumni Shota Nakama is at its core an ensemble of some amazing classically trained musicians who perform video game music. At first to someone not versed in the medium this sounds a bit cartoonish or childish, but music in games has progressed a long way. Its composition and arangment now reviles motion picture sound tracks. Pieces from games like the Final Fantasy series or even the Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time can stir the same emotional response as modern classical can. Their approach does have some more non-traditional classical elements to it. A lot of video game music is synthesized and incorporates guitar (not traditional orchestral instrumentation). The VGO matches this with their talent and rockestral instrumentation. Watching them play something like the theme to Street Fighter II, a 16bit synthesized and programed track, with out the assistance of sequencers is simply an amazing show of talent.

The VGO for the past few years has been performing mainly to video game fans at venues like PAX East. However earlier this year on April Fools day (not sure if there was a tie in) the VGO performed with a full orchestra and choir at the prestigious Boston Symphony Hall. The Final Fantasy suite from that evening is embedded below for your consideration as art.

Smithsonian Institute Video Game Art Exhibit and List: The prestigious Smithsonian Institute, the US government’s educational and research institution put out a call earlier this year for public voting on what should be included in their The Art of Video Games exhibit now on until September 30, 2012. The curators of the exhibit reserved Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and World of Warcraft to be included but left the rest up to the public. The final list is very interesting and can be found here in PDF form. The curators recognized that a certain granularity was needed to define eras and technical capabilities and broke the list into respective categories and even systems.
Details on the exhibit can be found here.

Video Games Won Their First Grammy: That’s right a Grammy! The track “Baba Yetu” from Sid Myer’s Civilization IV won the first Grammy for any music originally composed for a video game. Now there are some tecnical trickery here in how it won. Civilization IV came out in 2005 and “Baba Yetu” is the opening title track composed by Christopher Tin. In 2009 Tin included the track on his own album and it was later nominated and won for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s). As of the 53rd Grammys there was no specific category that included video game music but that is changing. The categories that were formally listed as “Motion, Television, or Other Visual Media” have now been renamed earlier this year to say “Motion, Television, Video Games Music, or Other Visual Media”.

National Endowment for the Arts: Earlier this month the National Endowment for the Arts changed its criteria for The Arts on Radio and Television to now be The Arts in Media.

“Projects may include high profile multi-part or single television and radio programs (documentaries and dramatic narratives); media created for theatrical release; performance programs; artistic segments for use within an existing series; multi-part webisodes; installations; and interactive games. Short films, five minutes and under, will be considered in packages of three or more.”
More here if you wish to apply!

My point here in the post is not to argue that video games are art, but rather run with the notion that art is art when it is received as art and that video games this year seem to be being viewed as art by some very prestigious groups in that space. The question is a lot less simple but, I do leave it up to you. Can video games be art?

Z-Trip and the Obama mix down

Yes We Can!Last Friday I had the pleasure of seeing one of the best mash-up DJ’s around, DJ Z-Trip. Live at Harper’s Ferry in Alston, MA it ended up being a near 2 hour running mix of some of the best cut from his arsenal. The one draw back came with the opening acts. These ranged from local DJs who weren’t too bad to local hip-hop groups that were really lacking any substance. The best example of this disparity was Master Piece, who while having good lyrical skills they had the odd stage presence with an overweight white thirty-something guy dancing in a tiger mask and waving a plastic ax around. Really you had to see it to understand just how odd this was.

Z-Trip as usual was solid. Opening his set up with The Dropkick Murphy’s “Shipping up to Boston” he began playing towards his audience. He had the crowd at that point and they were delivering drinks dutifully to the stage.

With out getting into all of his set the pre-election opportunity wasn’t lost on Z-Tip. He took the Some of Obama samples. This sort of political mix isn’t new for Z-Trip at all. antiwarmix.jpg” alt=”The Anti War Mix” />In early 2003 he release the “Anti War Mix” tape live from a set at the Root Down in LA. The central elements are all politically oriented and use very clever sampling choices. These includes the slam poetry track from Saul Williams “Not in Our Name” over Audio Slave as well excerpts from the Jello Biafra spoke word album asking if we “really want to end up the winners of a world war III”? Who would be mess with than? The highlight of the mix is the cut and paste State of the Union address were President Bush is heard saying through cut and paste magic “By law and by custom we gather here each year to threaten the world.” Usage of Public Enemy, Rage Against the Machine, and and a whole host of early 90’s politically conscious hip-hop the mix holds it self together as a cohesive message.

That was 2003…

Flash forward to present and Z-Trip is back with another mix, The Obama Mix. And as with the Anti-War mix he is offering this as a free download from his web site as both a regular mix and a radio friendlily mix. The latter being very novel because it opens up the possibility of replay on collage radio stations and other independent radio outlets. The mix of course features a number of Obama sound bites including his “Yes we can speech” and a cleaver opening where Obama is talking about why hip-hop is intelligent.

Unfortunately I feel the mix falls a bit short and has a rushed quality to it since it needed to be out before the election if it was to have and value. It also relies on the recycling of musical element from the Anti-War mix leaves a feeling of distaste for government. Cap that off with Reagan samples declaring “Government is the problem” and you are left with very contrasting political ideals and messages that don’t seem to be cohesive as a whole.

It is this lack of cohesion that has made me reluctant to push this onto others who aren’t into turntablism, but any vehicle that encourages people to vote, take charge of their government, and maybe vote for Obama isn’t terrible.

The two mixes discussed above are available with many more at

antiwarmix.jpg” alt=”The Anti War Mix” />In early 2003 he release the “Anti War Mix”

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