Music Interviews
5:45 pm
Thu December 13, 2012

A Classical Musician's Game Theory

Originally published on Mon December 10, 2012 9:46 pm

Though it may not be on any singles charts, the theme from Angry Birds is likely one of the most widely heard pieces of music ever. For Canadian violinist Angèle Dubeau, that's just one reason to take it seriously — even though it originated in a video game.

On her latest album, Game Music — or, in her home of Quebec, Musique de jeux vidéo — Dubeau interprets a variety of video game themes with her string quartet, La Pieta. "I always thought, 'Good music is good music,' " Dubeau tells NPR's Robert Siegel.

The group isn't reinventing the wheel: Dubeau says the Tetris theme, an arrangement of which appears on Game Music, is based on a traditional Russian folk song and a suite by Bach. La Pieta also takes on the cinematic theme music of the Halo series.

"One of my previous albums was music from movies, and when you think of it, it's just the same thing," Dubeau says. "The music has to speak at the same time as the action."

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Here's some music from a new CD by Canadian violinist Angele Dubeau and the string ensemble La Pieta. You probably know this music, but not arranged quite this way. Dubeau founded La Pieta as an all-female string ensemble. If the numbers are right, this piece is one of the most listened to of all time. More than a billion people all around the world have probably heard it so many times that countless millions have probably been driven to turn it off.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: That's right. Think birds in slings, pigs, eggs. This is the music from Angry Birds. The new CD is called "Game Music." And since it's Canadian it is equally called, "Musique de jeux video." And Angele Dubeau, who has brought a little class to entire disc of video game music, joins us now from Montreal. Welcome to the program.

ANGELE DUBEAU: Thank you.

SIEGEL: You have made an album out of the tunes that are the soundtrack of life for adolescents of all ages. Why?

DUBEAU: Well, you know, it's my 27th album and I should say that I push my community to an extreme. We're always - seen my repertoire with no limits, so I always thought a good music is a good music. So going through this hours and hours of listening to video game music, I really discovered very powerful music. And I should say it was evocative enough to be able to take this music from its original frame and just fly with it.

SIEGEL: Well, let's start with what I guess for video game music would be the equivalent of early music, the most primitive game from which you've adapted.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: This is the music from the puzzle game Tetris. It combines a traditional Russian folk tune, a Bach French suite, I gather and - well, let's hear your rendition.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: And as we listen, tell me about the challenge of adapting Tetris.

DUBEAU: First, I should say it was quite easy for me to think of this revisit. Johann Sebastian Bach, of course, is the friend of all classical musicians. And then, you have this tune that we can hear now. It's from the Russian traditional and very instinct, if I can say, instinctive music. So it was a good way for me to explore first the virtuosity, 'cause there's a lot of virtuosity in this piece and very easy to build up.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Well, let's move on to more cinematic stuff and I should say that a lot of video game music is, at least in the game, it's music to kill people by or music to kill aliens by, in this case. Here is some music from Halo 3.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Are video games a great opportunity for composers these days and are they writing interesting things for video games?

DUBEAU: Oh, yes, they are. One of my previous CD was "Music from Movie" and when you think of it, it's just the same thing. The music has to speak at the same than the action. And if you push this way, what is opera? You know, opera is also a music where you can find, you know, liberetto. It's the same thing, you know, when I play "The Four Seasons" by Vivaldi, it's music a programme.

So it's really program music and it was, of course, not inviting the listener to go into the action, like we are now with video game.

SIEGEL: But I find it a little bit hard to get from "La Boheme" or even the score to "Bridge Over The River Kwai," which I love, to Angry Birds. I mean, what's happening for the music there is on a different order.

DUBEAU: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I have also that problem, going just as fast on those two. But if I just to say that as for the composers, in a way, well, sometimes they do have a frame to respect and it's just to say that today also, for example, John Adams, you know, (unintelligible) John Adams music of a game, you know. Another unique signature like Philip Glass is also a composer of video game.

So you have, you know, wonderful composers are writing for video game.

SIEGEL: Well, Angele Dubeau, thank you very much for talking with us about the album you've done with your group, La Pieta, "Music From Video Games."

DUBEAU: Merci. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.