Wednesday, July 26, 2017 This Week's Paper

Arts & Entertainment: Concert will showcase video game music

Tommy Tallarico sees a direct connection between Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” and, say, the score of Halo 4. “Some say Video Games Live is kind of the opera of the 21st century – a new way to present what, basically at its root, is very classical-like music,” the composer said last week, checking in from a tour stop in Canada. Tallarico is among the most prolific video game score composers of all time, having added musical ambiance to more than 300 games, the likes of Earthworm Jim, Prince of Persia and Sonic the Hedgehog. And on Nov. 9, he and Tacoma Symphony will make the opera/video game connection more clear as they bring dozens of arcade and console hits to life during Video Games Live at Broadway Center’s Pantages Theater. “About 10 years ago, I wanted to prove to the world how culturally significant and artistic video games have become,” Tallarico said. “I kind of describe Video Games Live as having all the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra, but combined with the energy and excitement of a rock concert, mixed together with cutting edge visuals and interactivity … that video games provide.”

Video Games Live 7:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 9 Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma $39 to $94 253-591-5890 or

Do not expect a passive concert experience. Tallarico described several interactive segments, including one that turns an audience member into the gunship from ‘80s arcade hit, Space Invaders. “We hand them a fire button,” he said. “The orchestra plays music in real time and changes it on the fly depending on what the person’s doing. We’re tracking them, so they actually run back and forth.” Then, of course, there is the most obvious intersection between video games and music Guitar Hero. A competition will be held in the lobby revolving around Activision’s console hit. The winner will appear onstage during the show where he or she will try to keep pace with Tallarico playing Foo Fighters’ “The Pretender.” “They have to score a certain amount of points to win a big prize,” Tallarico said. “They’ve got the fog machine goin’ and the rock ‘n roll lighting and thousands of people cheerin’ ‘em. So they do become a guitar hero for that four or five minutes.”

Guitar Hero represents a “full circle” moment, of sorts, for Tallarico. He was able to help Activision connect with Aerosmith – the first band to have its own version of the game – thanks to his relationship with cousin Steven Tallarico. You might know that guy better as Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler, one of young Tommy Tallarico’s early inspirations for going into show business. “I was always interested in rock ‘n roll, seeing cousin Steven playing in front of 20,000 people,” he said. “That always excited me, and I never though of it as a job that was out of reach.” Another seed was planted at age 10, he recalled, when he first heard the orchestral score of “Star Wars.” But his video game aspirations really took off 11 years later, in the late ‘80s, after he moved from Boston to Southern California.

Within a few days of arriving, he scored a job selling keyboards at a Los Angeles music store. And thanks to a video-game-themed T-shirt he was wearing his first day on the job, he said he caught the attention of a producer for Virgin Records, a company that was branching out into video game production.
The chance encounter landed Tallarico a job testing video games for $6 an hour. “So I was in California three days, and I was in the video game industry,” he said. “And I would bug the vice president of the company every day to say, ‘Hey, look, if you need anyone to do music for a game, I’ll learn how to do it on my own.’ And, to their credit, they said we’ll give the kid a shot.”

After a few initial successes, including the popular Earthworm Jim title, he went on to found Tommy Tallarico Studios in 1994. Among his early creative breakthroughs he cited writing the score to Majesco’s Advent Rising. It’s “a game that didn't sell all that well,” he said. “I used a full 100-piece symphony. I used the whole Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and I created a whole Italian opera for the game. So that one I’m probably the most proud of, musically. It took me about two years to complete.”