Composers of video game music to get their own top award

For the first time, the prestigious Ivor Novellos are to recognise excellence in a thriving £28bn industry
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Sir Paul McCartney has one, as do Lou Reed, Lionel Bart and Annie Lennox. They hold a prestigious Ivor Novello Award, Britain's tribute to the finest songwriters the world has seen. This week they will be joined by someone whose music has never been near the charts: the composer of a computer game soundtrack.

It goes without saying that the bleepy backings to games such as Super Mario stand no chance. Instead, the leading compositions will feature sweeping orchestral strings, stirring choral harmonies and quickening trumpets which bring pathos and excitement to on-screen battles in much the same way they do for films.

In fact, according to the composers who will be joining Lily Allen and Dizzee Rascal at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London, the computer games industry now rivals Hollywood in terms of music quality as well as income. Last year, £28bn worth of computer games were sold globally compared with the £20bn taken from Hollywood films.

One of those nominated on Thursday is Walter Mair, a 31-year-old composer who lives in London, and who has also worked on Hollywood films such as The Dark Knight. He scored the soundtrack for Empire: Total War in which gamers can bring opposing armies from different periods in history together.

"We use the same musicians, the same level of orchestration and the same studios such as Abbey Road as Hollywood films," he said. "It costs just as much. Even the sound engineers are the same. For a composer it's not as stressful working on computer games as there are not the big names to deal with."

Joris de Man, who is nominated for his work on Killzone, a futuristic war drama game, added that games set composers different challenges.

"A Hollywood film is linear, so you know where the music is going," he said. "A computer game isn't linear. You know there are paths that will be followed, but you don't know when the gamer will take them. So the music for each sequence has to relate to everything that may have gone before. It was more evolution than revolution. Once CD-Rom drives came in 10 years or so ago, there was the space for full orchestrated music and the ability to reproduce it."

Mark Fishlock, the director of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (Basca) which organises the awards, described the inclusion of computer games as a "very exciting development".

"They were a bit off our radar because it's a very specialist area," he said. "But when they were brought to our attention we agreed very quickly to include them. Computer games now have the same budgets as films, the scores are recorded using 80-piece orchestras and yet the composition is very specialised. It's the first year and hopefully it will show how the area has developed and matured since the plinkety plonkety days of Super Mario when everything was done on a synthesiser."

The 55th Ivor Novello Awards are presented on Thursday