Saturday, April 6, 2013

Behind the Scenes: Video Game Music Class

Despite the fact that I've been working on this goal for over a year, I can hardly believe it's happening: I'm teaching a video game music course in the fall.  The course is going to be a sort of general music/music appreciation class, but through the lens of video game music instead of traditional classical or popular music slants.  (Is game music popular music?)  I'm really pleased with how I've set it up-- there's development of aural skills through listening, a historical aspect as we'll trace the evolution of game audio, and a composition component as well.  The best part is, with simple computer programs like GarageBand, etc, anyone can make their own music these days without even needing to read standard music notation.

Although I've spun the composition part as creating "game music" this lead me to think: what is game music?  Couldn't a person play acoustic guitar and sing, record themselves, and call this music "game music" for a certain scene in a game?  Sounds very similar to Red Dead Redemption to me.  And forget the singing along, how about guitar playing and some synthesized instruments supporting it?  Diablo Tristram theme.  At the most basic level, drop some garageband loops together and (perhaps) put a melody over it, and you've got something like quite a bit of FF XIII.  Or make something heady-- maybe something like granular synthesis??-- that might be similar to some moments in the Twilight realm of Twilight Princess.  More atonal/synthesized compositions?  We're far away from home, earth, normal.  More traditional audio sounds?  More life like, perhaps depicting concerts, sporting events, etc.  Basically, the composition of game music is just a chance to be creative.

In lieu of formal written papers, I'm going to create a listening blog for the students to post and react to game audio and class readings of their choice.  That's very 21st century music education!  One of the things I anticipate loving about teaching game music is that I can give students a wide latitude with their readings and still get good comprehension.  One thing I've already learned from working on this blog and reading game music literature is that it's less important that the reader of most scholarly articles is experienced with music and more important they've been exposed to the game music that the article is discussing.  I supposed the same is true in the classical area, but I think about it less because many of the examples I read about are so standard they come to mind immediately.  So while I was a little lost a few months ago reading about race in the radio of Grand Theft Auto, a person who's played that game and knows the audio wouldn't have much trouble digesting that reading.  So as long as I can present students with a wide variety of readings that deal with a wide variety of games, it'll be win-win.

This class is going to be a blast...  But for now, I'm watching the enrollment and hoping to get students hooked!    

On a blog related note, I'm going to be reviving the "Playing Games" heading that I used occasionally early on in the blog to represent quick snippets of thought I have when I'm currently playing a game-- as opposed to the more researched "Analysis" segments.  Also, Video Game Music Class will become a regular series where I muse about where I am in the process of creating the course.