Gaming at the symphony scores sound win for student


Per Bloland's annotated video of his new composition "Arcade Variations," a work based on video game themes, combines images from each of the games with a recording of the work premiered by the Miami University Symphony Orchestra in May. 

The centennial season of the Miami University Symphony Orchestra was crowned by the world premiere of "Arcade Variations," a new composition by Per Bloland, assistant professor of music.

The work was commissioned by Ricardo Averbach, director of orchestral studies, and drew on the most critically-acclaimed video game soundtracks of all time.

The performance was enhanced through audience participation.

Before the concert, a list of all the video game themes used in the piece was published online, including links to recordings of each.

During the performance, audience members attempted to pinpoint the entrance of each game theme, using a timer projected onto the wall as reference.

Alex Danielson, a senior biochemistry and music performance double major from Oxford, successfully identified the entrances of 14 out of the 17 included themes during the production. Danielson, who graduated in May, was pianist for the MUSO.

“The contest was not a straightforward exercise in recognition,” said Bloland. “Many of the themes were fragmented, transposed or otherwise altered to create a coherent sonic entity.”


Per Bloland holds the score of "Arcade Variations" during a rehearsal for the premiere (photo credit Tana Weingartner, WVXU).

Bloland researched the history of video game music and identified the soundtracks recognized as the most innovative and of highest quality. The themes were then arranged along a timeline traversing the history of the genre, from the first game sound through contemporary orchestral soundtracks.

“’Arcade Variations' is a true Frankenstein’s monster," said Bloland. "Nearly every element heard throughout its duration was extracted from the carcass of an existing video game theme.”

Specific themes were selected based on their combinatorial potential, starting in the middle of the historical timeline and moving simultaneously forward and backward.

The first themes to appear in “Arcade Variations” were from 1998-2001, while the last ones hailed from both 1980 and 2014.

After the concert, Bloland created an annotated video of “Arcade Variations,” combining a recording of the concert with images drawn from each of the games. The images are timed to appear and disappear in synchronicity with the presence of each theme.

For his efforts, Danielson was awarded an autographed copy of the score and a $50 gift card to the bookstore.