Events, Game Music

Review: Ludomusicology Conference 2016

May 23, 2016 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Review: Ludomusicology Conference 2016on Twitter

Ludomusicology 2016

Last month, the fifth annual Ludomusicology conference was held at the University of Southampton in Southampton, England. If you’re not familiar with Ludomusicology, well that wouldn’t be a big surprise. Ludomusicology is a pretty new and pretty small field, and it is the academic study of video game music. Given the nature of video game music, this can include mixes of disciplines from musicology to ethnomusicology, music theory, and even audio engineering and programming. A conference is held each year where ludomusicologists share presentations on their work and offer feedback.

I attended Ludo 2016 primarily from my love of video game music and music theory. I had no paper to present, but I went and listened to learn about what people were working on and to meet them and talk with them, and came away excited for what the future of the field will bring.

The presentations included a surprisingly wide range of topics. There were discussions and examinations of a very diverse body of music, and everyone had a different way of examining their chosen interest. Papers included discussions of classic JRPGs and Nintendo games through old arcade games, indie games, hip hop, horror games, and new virtual reality games. Some papers looked backward, at history and culture, and some looked forward, to innovations in the field and new possibilities for integrating music and games. I learned about music that I had never really listened to (for instance, arcade music of the 70s and 80s), and I learned about new music that I didn’t even know about (Elise Plans and David Plans’ discussion on new developments in music and biofeedback in games makes me excited to see what the future of video game music holds). Many topics were unfamiliar, which was disorienting at first, but turned out to be a lot more interesting and a good learning experience.

Amongst such diverse music, everyone focused on something different. Discussions ranged from the analytical (James Tate’s examination of the musical style of Jeremy Soule, or Morgan Hale’s analysis of the music of Undertale), to cultural/ethnomusicological (Hyeonjin Park’s discussion of musical representations of deserts across games, or Keith Hennigan’s critique of Irish music in video games), to technical (Blake Troise’s discussion of compositional techniques with NES hardware), and more. It was a great way to see how diverse and expansive video game music really is, and how much opportunity there is to delve into different topics and explore and discover new things.

There were two keynote speakers who were excellent. Andrew Barnabas was in attendance and spoke a lot of his experience in the video game music industry, which was thrilling for everyone. It allowed for a bridge between the theoretical and academic to the practical, and was a good opportunity for everyone to learn from one another. It also gave rise to some great discussions (did you know he was responsible for adding the snippet of singing in “A Whole New World” in the video game version of Aladdin?). Neil Lerner’s gave a presentation on Pac-Man and its sounds, delving into the details of the sounds and hardware. It was a great reminder of the technical aspects of video game music, and how it can be important to consider how they factor in to composition and production.

Many of the attendees were already friends from previous conferences or from shared work. Ludo 2016 provided a friendly, open atmosphere to everyone involved. After all, we were all there because we were critically interested in a pretty geeky and new area of music, and this conference created a unique opportunity for everyone to explore that interest freely and openly. The fact that any of us could immediately go up to someone and express our interests, by saying something like, “Hey, have you played this game?” or “Did you ever listen to the soundtrack from this other game?” made for a really unique and refreshing experience. When presenting, the whole group was engaged in every talk, giving positive feedback and sharing knowledge from their own areas of specialty. And probably everyone who attended the pub trivia quiz night enjoyed being stumped by the questions that were just as diverse as the presentations that were given.

Looking back at the conference, my biggest takeaway is my impression that the field of video game music is really a lot broader than I had realized. I had my own interests that I had honed in on, but seeing so many people studying such a range of topics was inspiring. I left feeling that there is a lot of potential to be explored in studying music from a range of games larger than I had realized, and in ways that I had never even considered. I have a lot of faith in the people who attended the conference and who are dedicating themselves to studying it, each in their own way and with their own perspectives, and it makes me excited to see what the future of Ludomusicology will be as it continues to grow. It will be exciting to see what future Ludomusicology conferences will bring!

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