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The Video Game Sound

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Image                                     What you see pictured is the cover for the soundtrack to the game Grand Theft Auto,released in 2004. One of the reasons this game received it’s own soundtrack, in the manner as a popular motion picture,is partly because of the inclusion of funk and hip-hop standards by Ohio Players,Lonnie Liston Smith,James Brown,Lynn Collins,Public Enemy,Slick Rick and Eric B And Rakim-just to name some of the artists involved. Through discussions with both my friend Henrique,as well as with  my previous boyfriends,I’ve come to realize the significance of how video games have played a part in shaping my musical tastes. Often without me even realizing it. And I imagine many people have actually had the same effect long before Grand Theft Auto even existed.

                                    It probably began the first time I had any experience with the Nintendo Entertainment System,now more often referred to as NES. The first game I played on this device was called Super Mario Brothers. While definitely a classic game of it’s era,what captivated me most was the electronic back round music on the very first level of the game. While completely synthesized in terms of quality I now recognize the way it’s accents on the rhythm and melodic breaks would be,if played by a live band,classic 70’s funk out of the James Brown school mixing blues based soul music with African boogaloo. I had this revelation after hearing this “theme” from the original Super Mario Brothers played live by the band that my old DJ friend used to play with,during breaks from their regular set.

                       Interestingly enough,the presence of funk in early Nintendo video game soundtracks was no coincidence. During the mid 1970’s George Clinton had a classically trained child prodigy as one of his keyboard players in Parliament-Funkadelic named Bernie Worrell. On songs such as “Tales of Kidd Funkadelic” as well as the famous hit “Flashlight”,Worrell began using highly electronic synthesizers with an almost toy-like sound to them to create unusual,often psychedelic melodic and harmonic textures for the music. As the 1980’s came in,he began to simplify this sound. My friend Henrique referred to this as the “video game sound”. And it’s not difficult to hear that since the synthesizer playing on P-Funk classics such as “Atomic Dog” definitely fit right into place alongside the video game obsessed era that was ushered in at the time. Also of little coincidence is the album this song is featured on is called ‘Computer Games’.

                    Over the course of the 1990’s,the video game style was somewhat on the wane as hip-hop and the new funk hybrids that came along with it began to embrace the “realistic” musical sounds of classic instrumental funk rare grooves through sampling and sometimes even live musicians. Now with the emergence of EDM (electronic dance music) that showcases a more stylized interpretation of the old video game sound,the opportunity has again arisen to find a way to expand that back into a more direct and rhythmic direction that,through musicians such as Worrell in the past,were able to utilize electronics-especially through funk sub genre’s like boogie and electro funk,and re-invent the video game sound for the modern era.

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