Tommy Tallarico’s riding high. Fresh off his third consecutive annual Comic-Con concert, the 42-year-old musician will be seeing a PBS special of his Video Games Live concert tour airing through the summer. The eight-year-old extravaganza delivers orchestral renditions of video game music, touching on everything from back-in-the-day favorites like “The Legend of Zelda” to new classics like “Halo.”
Tallarico himself holds the world record for having worked on the most commercially-released video games, mostly as a composer. He’s done soundtracks for, by his count, nearly 300 games. But his most high-profile gig of late has been as the driving force behind Video Games Live. As the PBS special starts airing across the nation, Tallarico took my phone call to discuss the soundtrack of the button-mashing generation. Expect more from our talk as the week goes on.
People identify so strongly with the soundtracks in certain video games, but don’t often know the people who’ve written that music. Who do you think are some game music composers that people should know about?
Well, I think Nobuo Uematsu. He’s the genius behind all of the “Final Fantasy” music. I think he is just as talented and relevant than any film composer or any classical composer. I really do.
For more contemporary stuff, take a guy like Michael Giacchino. He won the Academy Award this year for the movie “Up.” Well, he’s been a video game composer for 15 years. And then he started doing the TV show “Lost.” He did the latest “Star Trek” film, “Cloverfield,” he worked on, too. The “Mission: Impossible 3” stuff. Not only does he still do video games, he’s doing TV and film as well.
Your guys have to turn old-school 8-bit, 16-bit soundtracks into symphonic music. What’s the process been like for you? Are you referring to other recordings that have happened in Japan or how does that come about?
Sometimes, a lot of the “Final Fantasy” music, for example, has been played — it’s so popular in Japan and around the world — that they have released symphonic albums and arrangements. Nobuo Uematsu is the mastermind behind all of the “Final Fantasy” music and he is just as talented and relevant than any film composer or any classical composer.
Work like his has already been adapted for symphonic concerts, then?
Yeah. But we always want to give the audience, even the hardcore fans something a little different. So for example, our version of One-Winged Angel from “Final Fantasy VII”, we actually call it the Rock Edition, because we kept the orchestra going, but then we had — I play guitar, electric guitar in the show, so we kind of rock it out, more of like the “Advent Children” [movie] version, if you are familiar with that, but our own flavor and our own taste to it, more bass guitar and drums.
And the older games?
All I have to do is take my favorite or the most popular melodies from each of the games — “Sonic The Hedgehog,” the “Mario” and the “Zelda” themes — and kind of put them all together, and then get an orchestra to make them sound even better than the originals. I get to take everybody else’s amazing work and present it to the world. So, to me, I get the fun part. The challenging part-composing this awesome music-has already been done by true masters.