Jason Michael Paul initiated the first ever video game music concert series in the USA. Incidentally, he has also staged concerts around the world for Luciano Pavarotti and The Three Tenors. Next year, he will tour around the world with a game symphony concert series called PLAY!, presenting game music classics to a broad audience, starting in North America. Surprisingly, he had time to talk to us unworthy scallywags.
J.M.P.: I got involved in the video game industry before I began presenting and working on orchestral presentations and concerts with well known opera stars. I originally began working in the video game industry as a production assistant working my way up to associate producer and then producer, working in San Francisco on industrial entertainment for clients such as SCEA, Sun Microsystems, Adidas, etc.
At first, I began entertaining the idea of presenting a music concert of Final Fantasy. One thing lead to another and what started as a “one off” or one time only event sparked a musical revolution. The sole purpose was and is to create an acceptance of this art form of video game music. I wish I could share some of the letters that I received from delighted fans some of whom had never listened to Uematsu’s breathtaking music before to those fans who traveled across the globe to listen to Uematsu’s music. The power of music to bring people together is something that I love being a part of. That is what video game music can do. Bring generations together.
d-frag: How did the idea of a game symphony concert world tour come into being?
J.M.P.: I had been planning a new concert series and thinking about such a series when I was doing the US tour of Dear Friends – Music from Final Fantasy. It was a perfect time to collaborate with Thomas Böcker whom I respect and timing wise it was natural because of the success of Dear Friends.
d-frag: Music in video games is interactive. A symphony concert isn’t. So, on what details do you have to focus when performing this kind of music?
J.M.P.: For the concert, we are focusing on especially memorable music such as main themes, credits themes and so on. Naturally, we cannot perform interactive music on stage, but we can select music and video that entertains our audience. In medleys, we present a very compact version of the game experience that many of the fans will remember. However, I believe that even if you never played a certain game, the sheer beauty of the arrangement will create a very enjoyable experience for everybody. I believe the interactivity comes with being in the audience and interacting with other fans as excited about the music and the games as the people performing on stage.
d-frag: A live concert isn’t exactly the medium this music has been composed for. How do the original composers actually like video game symphony concerts?
J.M.P.: It always is a question of how a concert is done, so I cannot speak about everybody. From Thomas Böcker I know that the concerts in Leipzig received a great deal of enthusiasm from the composers. Their feedback is ranging from “wonderful concert” to “best experience of my life”. I can tell you the same about Nobuo Uematsu’s response on Dear Friends.
Many of the composers we are working with are around 35 years old. How many composers at that age usually have the chance to hear their music performed live by a world-class orchestra and choir? It is something very, very special.
d-frag: During the PLAY! concerts, the scores will be accompanied by game graphics on large screens. Doesn’t this distract listeners way too much from the music?
J.M.P.: I do not think so. Our videos will highlight and complement important moments of the music. We are not limited to that, though. We will show the orchestra performing the music on the big screens showcasing these musicians. This way we also can focus on certain solo instruments to show to our audience. I think it is exciting for the fans to see how their favorite music actually gets created by these instruments. Many of the people attending are coming to an orchestral concert for the first time in their lives. They know the music from the games or CD soundtracks only. So we even offer a kind of educational process while being extremely entertaining at the same time.
d-frag: What are your personal hopes concerning the PLAY! concerts? Apart from becoming a billionaire, of course. :)
J.M.P.: Easy: My hopes are to bring this beautiful music to all over the world, to people who share my love for these compositions!
d-frag: My uncle listens to Beethoven and Brahms, but thinks that video games are rubbish. How do I get him to listen to PLAY?
J.M.P.: I make believers in the music everyday. Classical music lovers often cannot help but love what we are doing. It is all in the presentation. I am sticking with the plan of growing the genre in slow steady steps. I am working with distinguished orchestras to legitimize the music and break down the barriers to open up the acceptance of video game music as an accepted musical form. The focus of our tour is the music, the publishers and the creators of the music solely and of course the fans.
I think your uncle will be surprised! I can say that he will be a new fan just like the millions of others who we intend to reach with our concert series.
d-frag: What’s your personal favourite musical moment regarding game music?
J.M.P.: One of the most memorable moments was hanging with a family of fans who had traveled from Florida to a show in California. I really felt that at that moment I accomplished what I had set out to do. Being able to interact with a family of Final Fantasy music fans or video game music fans for that matter showed me that music can relate to all ages. The father was 55 the wife was 50, the sons were 24, 18, 10, and the daughter was 12. It didn’t stop there. This family also brought their grand parents. So you had a 78 year old grandma with an 80 year old grandpa. Truly amazing! Occasionally I will see fans on the streets in Los Angeles or San Francisco and I will see them wearing a shirt from the tour. That is the biggest reward!
d-frag: Last question: When does PLAY! visit Europe?
J.M.P.: We will launch the tour in Spring of 2006. We are investigating dates, and orchestras as we speak. Basically, we have sales information to guide us but we are looking at the big picture. Our goal is to bring gaming music to wherever it is that there is a good orchestra capable of performing the music to our standards. We are planning on going world wide to US, Europe, Asia, South America, Australia, and New Zealand.
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