“Playing Games with Music Theory”
Room 266, Everson Hall
Ludomusicologists generally agree that cinema and television represent the nearest siblings to video games, and so therefore adopt many of the methodologies familiar to film music scholarship in their work—Claudia Gorbman’s influential concepts of diegetic and non-diegetic, for example, feature prominently in many accounts of game audio. Ludomusicologists generally also agree that the interactive nature of video games marks its primary distinction from other forms of multimedia, and so a fundamental point of entry into studying game audio is to examine how composers and sound designers create scores and soundtracks that can account for indeterminate player actions. For theorists, who may be most comfortable examining music that has been fixed into notation in the form of a musical score, indeterminacy raises additional questions and problems: how does one analyze music for which there is no single agreed-upon structure, and which may be realized in a fundamentally different way every time it is heard? In short, many theoretical methodologies are not readily equipped to analyze game audio; existing toolsets must be reworked and new toolsets devised to grapple with this Protean music. This presentation, then, turns a perhaps conventional question, “what can music theory teach us about game audio?” on its head, examining the uses of music in games such as Katamari Damacy, BIT.TRIP Runner, L.A. Noire, Super Mario Galaxy, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Portal 2 to investigate what video games can teach us about music theory.
Steven Reale is Associate Professor of Music Theory at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio. Since completing his dissertation at the University of Michigan on Wagner’s Ring cycle, he has published and presented on calculus and metric dissonance and music and media, especially music in video games. He was a co-founder and the rst lead organizer of the North American Conference on Video Game Music, held at YSU in 2014, and which saw its fourth iteration earlier this year at the University of Texas at Austin. Reale recently published a two-part video series on the music from the Portal video game franchise with the Society for Music Theory’s peer-reviewed video journal, SMT-V, and received the UK Ludomusicology Research Group’s inaugural Award for Excellence in Game Audio Research for his presentation at the 2015 meeting of SMT, “A Musical Atlas of Hyrule: Video Games and Spatial Listening.”