YSU to host conference on video game music

Youngstown State University will host the first conference in North America devoted to video game music.

Steven Reale, an assistant professor in music theory and composition with the Dana School of Music, said research on game scores usually is presented at conferences primarily devoted to film music, but there are significant differences in the two art forms. A movie always plays the same way from beginning to end while the score for the video game must work with the ever-changing action of a player-controlled story.

“I’ve wanted to do this for some time now but didn’t because I thought someone else has to be working on it,” Reale said. “It was so obvious.”

A conference devoted to game music started in the United Kingdom two years ago, but the North American Conference on Video Game Music on Jan. 18 will be the first in the United States.

Papers by scholars from Harvard University, Yale University, Eastman School of Music, University of Chicago and other institutions will be presented during the day-long conference. Because of the subject matter, Reale said the conference may reach a broader audience than similar affairs.

“What I’ve noticed is a lot of interest outside of the academy,” he said. “Most of the time, what one of these conferences looks like is 40 people come, each person gives their paper to the others, and then 40 people leave.”

Reale already has heard from some of his own students who are interested in attending as well as a teacher at Cardinal Mooney High School, who wants to bring some of her students.

The cost to attend the conference is $75. Registration can be done at 8 a.m. Saturday at Bliss Hall or in advance online.

Video game music has evolved dramatically over the industry’s history, Reale said. The graphics required so much of the space for those early games that the music tended to be rudimentary and an afterthought.

“Those early gaming soundtracks are interesting but terrible,” he said.

Nintendo in-house composer Koji Kondo is well-respected for creating sophisticated music within the limits of the games, and more recent games have been accompanied by full orchestral scores and / or sound cues that are triggered by and accompany the actions of the player.

In turn, some contemporary composers are experimenting with creating music using the limitations of those early 8-bit games.

Reale is working with colleagues from two other universities to present this inaugural conference. Based on the initial response, he expects it to become an annual event, either rotating to the schools of the other organizers or staying at YSU.

“I’m excited that Youngstown is able to host a conference of this kind,” Reale said. “It’s exciting to bring something innovative and fresh and new to the Valley.”