Thomas Boecker Interview: Other Concert Innovations (April 2007)
This is the third instalment of a three-part interview with Thomas Boecker. Thomas is producer and founder of the Symphonic Game Music Concert series, co-creator of the Merregnon trilogy, and advisor and former executive producer of PLAY! A Video Game Symphony.
His experience with such projects has enabled him to assist in the production of Masashi Hamauzu's solo album VIELEN DANK and work as the music producer for games such as S.T.A.L.K.E.R - Shadow of Chernobyl. He has loved game music since he was seven and has worked as producer for much of his adult life.
In this instalment, we discuss with Thomas the PLAY! A Video Game Symphony world tour and other innovations such as the Chamber Game Music Concert series and the Heroes of Imagination school concerts.
Interview Subject: Thomas Boecker
Interviewer: Chris Greening
Editor: Chris Greening
Coordination: Chris Greening
Chris: Until September 30, 2006, you were the executive producer of PLAY! A Video Game Symphony. Why did you leave the role?
Thomas Boecker: I switched from being the Executive Producer to a role as the consultant for selected concerts such as the ones in Stockholm. I felt that everything had been set up for PLAY! in order to work musically, so we decided that being the consultant would make more sense as I had the wish to concentrate on my other projects as well.
Chris: What did being PLAY!'s executive producer involve and how did it influence the tour's success?
Thomas: Together with the team we came up with a concert program that would work world-wide with its mainstream appeal. This was quite a task, but the experiences that I made at the Leipzig concerts definitely helped in many ways.
Jason Michael Paul has been very open for suggestions and ideas so that we could manage great events such as inviting a lot of video game composers and even having them performing live. Examples are Koji Kondo who played the piano at our PLAY! world-premiere, Akira Yamaoka who performed on guitar in Chicago and Stockholm, and Takenobu Mitsuyoshi who sung at Toronto and is going to be a part of the Singapore concerts again. Another idea of mine was to ask Yuzo Koshiro to DJ in Singapore. I also invited Rony Barrak to the concerts in Chicago, Stockholm, and Toronto. My most recent action was probably suggesting that the metal act Machinae Supremency be part of the Stockholm concerts.
Besides bringing such visions on the table and pushing them into reality, I have been involved in coordinating a few PLAY! arrangements. Examples are World of WarCraft which was done by Jason Hayes himself, Sonic the Hedgehog done by Yuzo Koshiro, or the Mario and Zelda medleys. Needless to say that I got approval for the scores by the original composers before we performed them live.
Chris: Have you been satisfied with the response to PLAY! from fans, critics, and composers?
Thomas: Yes. I am very, very grateful for what I have learnt and experienced at PLAY!. PLAY! offers — for me of course! — the best concept for a symphonic game music concert. It has a full orchestra, choir, a wonderful conductor...
The responses are very encouraging and a good way to become better. It is a special feeling to get the feedback from people who cried at the concerts because they were so touched by the music. It is important to get constructive critic as there is always room for improvements.
Chris: Do you think the visual component of PLAY! is necessary?
Thomas: I am coming from my Leipzig concerts where we do not have (and want) any visuals as we think that the performances are good enough to stand alone. Premise is to encourage people to use their imagination when listening to the music, to get the idea how this great sound is created by the musicians.
While I am still following this rule and believe in my vision I must say that PLAY!'s idea of highlighting certain parts of the music with visuals and showing the musicians at times is much to my liking. Of course it is no must to do it exactly like that, Leipzig, PLAY! etc. - there are other great concepts out there, no question. I am simply talking about my personal preferences and I would like to encourage people to attend any kind of game music concerts.
Chris: Moving on to your other concert productions, tell us about the Chamber Game Music Concerts you produced.
Thomas: Indeed. Two of the chamber music concerts were done for the GC (Games Convention) press conference events in Leipzig, the other one for the opening ceremony of Nintendo's exhibition in Koblenz.
As a fan of chamber music style music I enjoyed the concerts by myself very much. We arranged a lot of the music from classics such as Mario, Zelda, ActRaiser, Star Fox, Turrican, and a lot more for string sextet and string quartet.
Chris: How about the school concert series school concert series "Heroes of Imagination" that was performed in Germany?
Thomas: Yes! The school concerts. The school concerts were especially important to me. As a child I loved school concerts (which was not true for most of my classmates) and I wanted to make them a bit more attracting to a young audience by adding video game music to the program. Like building a bridge. If you tell kids that they are going to attend an orchestra concert they will — most of the time — get bored just by hearing about the plan. It is a blockade. They do not allow the music to come any closer to their heart.
So what we did was creating a concert that mixed music from "Peter and the Wolf" and video game music such as Mario and Sonic. So called non-violent games. The concept was to show differences and similarities. We had four full orchestra concerts at local concert halls in 2006 which got a great deal of praise. Teachers told us that their pupils never had been so concentrated in a school concert before. It went so far that teachers were bringing learning-handicaped pupils to the concerts who usually do not have the energy to focus on something longer than 10 min. Not so with "Heroes of Imagination". They were sitting and listening for the full 45 min. They enjoyed the classical music and the game music equally.
Chris: How do you feel the school concert series was beneficial to game music and orchestral music in general?
Thomas: As said, I think many pupils automatically connected the term of "orchestral music" with the word "boring". A kind of reflex action. This is something we hopefully could change in some cases. I am not claiming that we converted all children into classic music and video game music lovers. But we brought them an entertaining and enjoyable experience with orchestral music that they might not have had before. They learnt and enjoyed.
Ironically the teachers had a learning experience as well: they found out about the quality of video game music and the fact that their pupils are interested in video games. They did not know that before - which made me surprised.
Another intention was to get away from this "Game music in a concert hall? Really" response that I still get. It does not have to be mainstream, but I would like to end this era of disbelief and surprise when talking about symphonic game music in a concert hall. These events happen, they happen everywhere in the world and they should happen.
Chris: Has there always been a significant game music scene in Germany or is it principally your presence that makes the country such a hotspot?
I think Germany has a lot of people interested in game music. The biggest influence was created by Chris Huelsbeck. Jokingly I call him the "Nobuo Uematsu" of the West. Actually, when they both met in Stockholm they talked to each other and agreed that there are a lot of parallels.
So what I want to say is that some serious interest was there, yes. I just used what was created before. Nobody could know if the concept of symphonic game music concerts would work outside of Japan, though, so our concert in 2003 was a kind of risk, sure. It makes me happy to see world-tours and annual concerts starting/continuing all over the world.