Tommy Tallarico Interview with Stephen Dare

January 30, 2013 2 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Video Games Live and Tommy Tallarico, its industrious impresario will be stopping here in Jacksonville as part of The Artist Series for the first time this Thursday Night at the Times Union Center for the Performing Arts. Through the offices of the excellent Sarah Roy, the intrepid Artist Series Publicist we arranged a congenial little interview with Tommy and Stephen Dare before hand. Join us after the jump!

Tommy Tallarico is an energetic and enthusiastic speaker, you can tell there is a certain amount of mischief and boyish appreciation of toys and games going on with him.  Both in the way he describes things and in the things that he chooses to discuss.

It is no surprise that he has composed the theme music for some of the most popular and iconic video games in the history of the past twenty years.

He is also one of the creators of "Video Games Live", an internationally touring music and video stage production that has been selling out around the world.

Tallarico and Jack Wall, another legend in the video game industry, spent three years conceptualizing the show (In order to mount it, the technology that makes it possible also had to be created) When the first Video Games Live opened in 2005, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra performed to a huge audience in excess of 10 thousand people.

The next year, (2006) they re-launched but this time as a world tour with 11 shows, with each concert being performed by the local orchestra for each city.

In 2007 they expanded to 30 cities and 47 cities in 2008.

By '09 Video Games Live was performed 70 times (almost twice a week)

The performance itself features music from video games from all eras: Final Fantasy, Halo, World of Warcraft, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Legend of Zelda are featured right alongside music as retro as the themes from Tetris and Asteroids.

Tallarico himself is probably the best man alive to create such a show.  Since 1991 he's worked on more than 300 games, including the Earthworm Jim series, Color a Dinosaur, Treasures of the Deep, Messiah, MDK, Flip's Twisted World, Wild 9, Unreal, Cool Spot, RoboCop versus The Terminator, Maximo, Pac-Man World, Another World, Prince of Persia, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, and Advent Rising.

Along the way, he has won over 25 awards for best video game audio.

Both Video Games Live and its industrious impresario will be stopping here in Jacksonville as part of The Artist Series for the first time this Thursday Night at the Times Union Center for the Performing Arts.

Stephen Dare:  I wonder why you created this show, Tommy?  Was it sheerly for profit or was it more for artistic reasons, if you had to choose between the two?  I noticed from the website that you seem to be selling out shows all over the world. Congratulations!

Tommy Tallarico. Thanks!  I guess that you would have to say it was for artistic reasons. I wanted to show that the music from these video games is culturally significant and this is a great way to prove to everyone how much work and thought goes into the productions.  You know this show is selling out by performing this music that we all grew up with and what makes it special and unique is the rock and roll power of the local symphony orchestras that perform it.  Thats what I wanted people to hear.

I guess I wanted this to be a new  show that would help usher in a whole new generation of people into the majesty of Symphony and orchestrated music.  That more than anything.  Ive worked on over 300 video games over the years and I definitely make a lot more money selling these works than performing them!

But I just want people to get caught up in the music and the great orchestrations especially against the stereotypes about video game culture.  Almost everywhere you turn it seems like you will hear negative about video games,  And there is so much skill and artistry that goes into the music.

And thats exactly whats happening with these shows.  Everywhere we perform I get tons of parents that call about the show, and its stories like one I got recently where they wrote to say that their 8 year old daughter wants to take violin lessons to learn the legend of zelda--and that was from seeing the show!

This is often times the first time that people connect with a real symphony.  They know this music already but to hear it performed by a real orchestra?  And with the lights and video and all that comes along with the show?  Its inspiring for the first time to a lot of young people.

Stephen Dare:  You know I think that we are just now beginning to recognize that every generation has a voice through which they tell the creative narrative of their times.  For a while it was the concert hall, for centuries it was books and theatre, for several generations Movies have carried forth the great cultural narratives and provided the characters and narratives that tell the story of those decades.  But it seems like a few years ago, a large part of the creative class has passed into the narrative provided by video games and they have created their own metaphors and cultural markers.

Imagine the disadvantage you have when people reference The Umbrella Corporation or Raccoon City if you are ignorant about video games.  You miss the metaphors and part of the language of every day conversation is invisible to you.  Do you think that the same thing is happening musically?  Is there a new musical vocabulary that comes solely from Video Game origins?

Tommy Tallarico:  Definitely feel that way.  You know how I got inspired to compose music? I was a kid and I went to go see a movie called Star Wars.

Stephen Dare: O my God yes.  The music of John Williams!

Tommy Tallarico:  Yes!  John Williams' amazing inspirational score!  And you know from there, I went to so many other movies and that music really provided the whole emotion and meaning of orchestrated music for me.

Stephen Dare. Superman, and the Krypton Theme.  It was just so sad and moving to me and my friends.  As silly as Christopher Reeves was as Superman, the music gave it something big, something really huge.  I was always so moved by that piece.

Tommy Tallarico:  And not just Superman, but Raiders of the Lost Ark and all the Indiana Jones movies, Jaws, ET Jurassic Park!  Have you seen the trailers for the new Superman movie.  

Stephen Dare:  Oh yeah.  Can't wait for that to come out.  It seems so stark and dark and catches your throat.

Tommy Tallarico:
 I KNOW!  Right?!  It looks like is going to be great!

Stephen Dare:  Yeah, seeing him looking lost and homeless looking really just kind of catches your throat for some reason.  The Superman thing really has gotten a lot more complex and interesting over the decades since the Salkinds.  He seems to have gotten more messianic, more sympathetic.

Tommy Tallarico: Yeah, I think Smallville probably had a lot to do with that.  I was always a Marvel Comics kind of guy.  The DC heroes just seemed so, I don't know, kind of stuck up.  I always like spiderman and the superheroes that were also real people with their own problems.  Im really looking forward to this new Superman.  But where was I?  Oh yeah!  Star Wars.  For me that's where it all started.  It was in the context of pop culture. Pop culture inspired me.  It inspired me and you and our whole generation.  For most of us, that music from Star Wars was the first time we connected to serious symphonic music.  That was thirty years ago and the same thing that happened to me thirty years ago is happening with video games.

Stephen Dare:  Of all your work, what was the most financially rewarding, and what work did you like the most personally.

Tommy Tallarico:  Hmm. Well financially speaking Tony Hawk was a huge financial success.  And that was a surprise.  We thought we were working on a project that might generate 20 thousand unit sales.  If we were lucky.  Maybe 30 thousand.  But then it hit the shelves and it turned into one of the best selling games of all time.

If I had to pick my favorite personally, I think I would probably say that my work on Earthworm Jim.

Stephen Dare:  Is there something that I should be asking that I haven't?

Tommy Tallarico.  Just the interactive element.  This is made to be accessible.  Tell your readers to feel free to cheer, yell, scream and call out!  The whole point of the show is to be fun!

There is a lot of interactivity.  The first part of the show is a guitar hero competition on stage

Stephen Dare: Why do you think people care about these themes?

Tommy Tallarico:  Its nostalgia.  When you play a game for 8 or nine hours every day, for months sometimes, it becomes a part of your past.  Hearing them takes you back to your old neighborhood, your old living room, your old bedroom, playing games on the tv.

Stephen Dare:  Yeah I would guess that in a very real way for any kid that grew up after1980 these themes are the soundtrack of your life

Tommy Tallarico:  You know I go to a lot of movies and I went to see a classic example of a linear media blockbuster.  The movie, Avatar.  And you know it was this amazing film, and there is beautiful music, and people talking and all that.

Stephen Dare:  Yeah, an amazing film.

Tommy Tallarico:  Hum me the music to Avatar

Stephen Dare: Wow,  I can't.

For more information about the Artist Series Presentation of Video Games Live, including times, ticket prices etc, check out our article about the show:  There are some great videos of the show being performed live.

After the show, there is a free hangout session with Tommy, we plan on being there.

article by Stephen Dare