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10 Questions for Tommy Tallarico

by: COURTESY OF William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, 
Tommy Tallarico’s composition “Video Games Live,” a visually stimulating show of lights, music, video and the Oregon Symphony, will come to the Arlene Scnitzer Concert Hall Nov. 7 and 8.

Video games have evolved to the point where Tommy Tallarico, famed music composer who has worked on about 275 games, sees the next evolution incorporating 'photo realism.'

Like with the popular NFL Madden football video game, 'you're not going to know whether it's a real football game or you're interactively playing one on a video game counsel,' says Tallarico, 41, of San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

For now, Tallarico helps bring the passion of buttons and joy sticks to life with 'Video Games Live,' a visually stimulating show of lights, music, video and the Oregon Symphony, Nov. 7 and 8 at the Arlene Scnitzer Concert Hall. Tallarico teamed with Jack Wall on the project about five years ago, and 'Video Games Live' has played with symphonies all over the world.

The Tribune caught up with Tallarico as he planned the Portland gigs:

Tribune: Tell us about 'Video Games Live.'

Tallarico: My goal was to create a show to prove to the world how culturally significant and artistic video games have become - a show for everybody, not just hardcore gamers or people who go to the symphony. It's a hybrid form of entertainment. We're also helping to usher in a whole new generation of young people to come out and enjoy the symphony - art and technology colliding. We do about 60 shows a year. It's all original music from video games, some of the most famous games that we play being Mario, Zelda, Warcraft, Halo and Final Fantasy.

Tribune: At 41, you're still fascinated with vids?

Tallarico: I was the first generation of folks to grow up on video games, the '70s and '80s. Video games have really evolved into our culture, becoming the entertainment of choice for the 21st century. Just because I hit 40 doesn't mean I've stopped playing video games. My generation started to have kids, and it's evolving into our culture, similar to how the film industry did. When my generation is grandparents, we'll be playing with grandkids. I didn't think it would change so quickly; think about it, going back 30 years, graphics and sounds consisted of bleeps and bloops and squares moving around a TV or monitor. Now they're becoming epic storylines, and they're making movies about video game characters.

Tribune: How'd you get your start in composing?

Tallarico: In 1972, with Pong, I was there. Space Invaders, Asteroids. When I was 10, late '70s, I used to take my dad's cassette deck, go to the local arcade and pizza parlors and record my favorite game music. I'd invite neighborhood kids over, charge them a nickel, put our favorite video games on TV, play the cassette and take a broomstick and pretend to play along. Who knew that I'd be doing it years later on stage at the Hollywood Bowl?

Tribune: You were also influenced by 'Star Wars?'

Tallarico: When it came out, I stood up and paid attention, 'Wow, what is that, symphony and orchestra? That's what I want to do.' I read interviews with (Star Wars' composer) John Williams, and it got me into Beethoven and Mozart.

Tribune: What are some games you've worked on?

Tallarico: I'm in the Guinness Book of World Records, being the person who has worked on the most video games, 275. Some of the more popular ones: Earthworm Jim, Disney's Aladdin, Spiderman, James Bond games, Tony Hawk Skateboarding, Metroid Prime, Advent Rising.

Tribune: Your cousin is Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith, how has he influenced you?

Tallarico: He's really proud of my accomplishments. Probably the biggest influence wasn't musical, but psychological. I'd go to shows as a younger kid, see him on stage performing in front of 15,000 or 20,000 people and I'd think, 'What a cool job, that's what I want to do.' Because cousin Steve was doing it, I never thought that it was an impossible dream.

Tribune: Have you worked on Wii?

Tallarico: Yeah, I've done a couple Nintendo games. It was a great honor for me when Sega of Japan called me and asked, 'Would you do music for our next Wii, Sonic the Hedgehog?' It's rare that a company calls an American composer for one of the big things. I came up with three songs for Sonic and the Black Knight.

Tribune: How do you compose video game music?

Tallarico: I go for emotion. I'll sit down with the designer, and they'll show me images, the game or graphics. What's the emotion of the scene, are we being chased or is somebody chasing us? Searching for a key, or perplexed, or scared because the monster's around the next corner? Some guys will write on the environment - if it's snow, make it sound cold; if it's lava, sound hot. It's a lot different than film and TV scoring, where 80 percent of writing music is underneath dialogue. I consider what we do foreground music, we get the scene every time, we're not limited by that linear media. . . . If Beethoven were alive today, I think he'd be a video game composer.

Tribune: Do kids play too much video games?

Tallarico: It's the parents' responsibility to make sure they have well-balanced lives. Yeah, you'd hate to think some 10-year-old is playing video games 80 hours a week. You don't want that; you want them to get outside and get on the computer to learn and not play. ... Video games aren't bad. You read press, saying it's destroying people's lives and all that, but there are a lot of positive things about it, like people communicating and resource management.

Tribune: What's the future of video games?

Tallarico: We are so close to photo realism. The community is going more mainstream, you see things like that with Nintendo Wii and parents playing now. You take something like iPhone, and show me somebody with an iPhone without a game on it - new games or older like Pacman and Frogger. Online experiences will have much faster responses, as they lay the pipeline for faster Internet connections - it's probably five to 10 years away; World of Warcraft, as great as it is with 13 million users in the world, you're still restricted by what your Internet cable connections can do at home. And, with things like Facebook, you see people playing Farmville - 50 million people play that every day, that's unbelievable, and it's essentially a video game.