The perfect meeting of the worlds
"It’s the perfect meeting of the worlds. It’s analog meets digital. It’s nature and technology. It’s tradition and future."
Videogame composer and world-record holder Tommy Tallarico was talking about a new album he’s working on with EDM artist and pioneer BT.
We were sitting in the middle of an empty recording studio at Skywalker Sound and talking about this new cross-genre album – it’s called Electronic Opus, by the way – but to someone just walking in who knows Tallarico’s resume, the conversation could’ve easily been mistaken for Tallarico describing himself.
After spending some time with Tallarico, who’s spent the last decade of his life working on his Video Games Live (VGL) concert series, which takes world-class orchestras from all over the world and has them perform the most widely recognized videogame tunes, and BT – an icon in his own right – the two seem like the perfect pair for the project.
Two worlds collide
Electronic Opus is a complete re-imagining of BT’s most well-recognized songs from the past 20 years, performed with a live orchestra. It started as a kickstarter project in November 2014, and raised $250,000 (about £162,000, AU$320,000) in just over two weeks.
"Typically for a Kickstarter project the average pledge is around $40-$50. BT’s was $120. That was the average [pledge]," Tallarico says.
The money they collected is going to two places: the record and a live concert set to take place in Miami, Florida on March 29.
This orchestral-meets-electronic mash-up show, believe it or not, will be number 321 for Tallarico.
"I actually own two world records. One is for the person who has worked on the most videogames in their lifetime – not just the music – but the most ever. [I've done] over 300. And the second world record is for the person who has performed the most symphony shows of the same show. We’ve done over 320 shows of the same traveling, touring symphony show. No one’s ever done that."
Tallarico describes Electronic Opus as being in the same vein as VGL. It’s a symphony for everybody he says, "not just rich, old white people."
Combining dance, electronic, pop and trance music – what you’d find in BT’s repertoire – with a live symphony and thousands of dollars of electronics and special effects, the two have created a show that takes the whole performance, not just the music, to new heights.
"The incredible thing is that the visuals we’re doing, from a technology standpoint, has never, ever been done before. Especially with a symphony."
Electronic Opus is Tallarico’s latest project, and certainly one of his most involved, but his roots are in games.
Twenty years and over 300 games later, his career shows no signs of slowing down. Check out the interview below for his take on the games, the music and his ideology on breaking into an always-evolving industry:
TechRadar: What was it like creating Video Games Live?
Tommy Tallarico: Everybody thought I was crazy. They told me, "Look, people that listen to music and symphonies don’t play videogames. And people who play videogames don’t go to the symphony, so you’re like totally screwed. No one’s going to show up." But I took a risk. I put everything I had into it from my whole videogame career. I believed in it. They said, "At the Hollywood Bowl you’ll be lucky if 500 people show up." Eleven thousand people showed up for that first show and all of sudden I wasn’t so crazy anymore.
It’s been incredible. We were on the cover of Symphony Magazine last year where they were saying that Video Games Live has helped to save symphonies around the world because we’re out there ushering in a new generation of people.
Bringing people together
TR: So it’s all about bring people together – people who haven’t ever belonged together into the same room?
TT: Exactly. And to be honest with you, we have no idea if people are going to stand up and dance or watch and chill out … we won’t know what they’re going to do until the night of the show. I think it’s going to be a little bit of both. It’s the perfect meeting of the worlds. It’s analog meets technology. It’s nature and technology. It’s tradition and future. It’s both things coming together. And the music’s beautiful.
TR: What’s it like working on Electronic Opus in particular?
TT: You know, there are certain projects that work on where it’s kind of like magic going on … a lot of times when you’re mixing, it’s all serious and there’s people fighting over it. It’s uncomfortable and awkward. You can always tell when the music is going to be amazing and the project’s amazing just by the attitudes and the vibe and the atmosphere in the mixing booth. I think it translates. The love comes out right through the circuitry right into the album.
Believe it or not you can hear it in the music. You hear it in the mix and hear it in the performances. So it’s different. We don’t want to jinx ourselves but we think this is going to be a big one. A big record…uh, album. [laughs] You can see I’m from the ’70s.
TR: Are you guys doing E3 this year?
TT: I think we’re going to take a year off from E3 this year. But, and we haven’t announced this yet so I might get in trouble, we’re going to be doing three shows at GamesCom in Cologne, Germany this year.
Last year we did E3 and Comic-Con. We were in San Diego, right behind the convention center. In fact, we were the first people to play videogame music with the San Diego orchestra. That was seven or eight years ago.
The San Diego show was really amazing. We did it with Amazon Games, who was our partner, along with Twitch.tv. It was a free show for people at Comic-Con. This was actually before Twitch was bought by Amazon. I was actually the guy that introduced Amazon to Twitch.tv. And then it was $1 billion [deal] and I said, "Where’s my commission?" One of the first projects they had worked together on was Video Games Live.
TR: You said people doubted you when you were talking about starting Video Games Live. How did you deal with those doubts – especially when you were just starting?
TT: That’s a great question. Before I start something I’m all-in. It will not fail. I don’t care. BT was freaking out towards the end of the project. He said, ‘Man, we’re not going to make it." I told him, "Don’t worry about it. Trust me." That’s just the way I was raised. We all have it in us.
People always ask, "Before you go on stage, do you ever get scared?" For me it’s always the opposite. I’m like a tiger in a cage. I’m uncomfortable because I’m not on stage yet, and I have to wait. And that comes from my cousin, Steven Tyler from Aerosmith. His real name is Steven Tallarico.
When I would go and see an Aerosmith show when I was eight years old, and this is in the late ’70s, he would always be ‘Cousin Steven’ to me. He wasn’t a rock god, he was just my cousin. I saw him on stage in front of 30,000 people and going nuts and doing all of the crazy stuff he does. To me, it’s never felt impossible or strange to do this. I remember thinking to myself, "Wow, look at him out there having so much fun. That’s what I want to do when I grow up."
TR: What are you working on next?
TT: My next project that’s coming out is Video Games Live: Level 4, the fourth album for Video Games Live, which is always touring. That’s the immediate future, meaning like this week, and then it’s Electronic Opus. We’re launching that tour and album on March 29. I cannot wait for people to hear this. It’s going to be something people have never heard before. It’s really special.