Austin Wintory doesn't care to participate in debates about whether video games count as art. But if anyone corners him about it Wednesday when he joins the Pacific Symphony as a guest conductor, he'll have a couple of powerful friends to back him up.
One is the voting bloc of the Recording Academy, which a few months ago made Wintory the first composer to snare a Grammy nomination for a game score. Another is the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which around the same time added 14 games to its collection — including "flOw," a project Wintory co-created while a student at USC.
In recent years, the medium's increasing sophistication has caused many to question whether it can stand alongside novels, movies and other venerable forms. Even the annual Conference on World Affairs in Colorado has hosted at least two symposiums in the past decade on the importance of games. To Wintory, who will conduct his nominated score for the PlayStation 3 offering "Journey" during the symphony's "Video Games Live" concert, history is fast deciding the winner.
"I do think games are ascending the cultural ladder," he said by phone last Tuesday from his studio in Burbank. "I think games are taking their place in the broader culture as eventually the dominant form of storytelling that culture will be consuming. In other words, I think games will be the dominant medium of the 21st century, where films were the dominant medium of the 20th century."
At the very least, works like Wintory's have been infiltrating symphony halls over the past decade. Tommy Tallarico, the producer and host of "Video Games Live," launched the production in 2002 and has toured with it every year since. Wednesday's show at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre will mark the Pacific Symphony's first performance of "Video Games Live." It also represents a homecoming for Tallarico, who lives in San Juan Capistrano and has never brought his enterprise to Orange County until now.
Tallarico, a video game composer for more than two decades, declined to reveal the full playlist for Wednesday but said selections from "Castlevania," "Street Fighter II" and "Final Fantasy" were on the program. The evening will begin with a medley of tunes (or, in some cases, electronic beeps) from the early days of video games.
"The first thing you will see onscreen is 1972 and 'Pong,'" Tallarico said.
In addition to Wintory, scheduled guests include conductor Emmanuel Fratianni, solo vocalist Jillian Aversa and the Glendale College Concert Singers. Russell Brower, the audio director for Irvine's Blizzard Entertainment, and Eimear Noone, who conducted the Pacific Symphony for the soundtrack of "Diablo III," will take the baton along with others. Three Blizzard pieces will also make their live concert debut, according to Tallarico.
Speaking of conducting, how does a video game score, which during a game can repeat endlessly or abruptly change when a player loses or passes a level, translate to a concert rendition with a clear beginning and end?
As far as Wintory is concerned, it means cutting and pasting. The live "Journey" performance features a medley of three sections from the score — which the Los Angeles Times' Todd Martens called "an abstract mix of ambient electronics, Eastern mysticism and unexpected orchestral flourishes" — combined into five or so minutes.
Wintory called the undertaking a unique challenge: taking a linear piece of music that was adapted to a game, where it started and stopped at random, and then reassembling those starts and stops into a coherent piece again.
"For a concert, it's like a game of telephone," he said. "You're translating your original translation of your original translation."
Where: Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, 8808 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine
Cost: $25 to $75
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
More info: (714) 755-5799, pacificsymphony.org