Video Game Music Research in Chile

By Ariel Grez

Continuing our series of posts about game music research around the world, Ariel Grez gives us an insight into the activities of our friends in South America.

At first glance, the ludomusicological research in Chile is as recent as the foundation of the Chilean’s Research Group of Video game music (LUDUM), at least when it comes to the use of the term ludomusicología (the self-proclaimed translation of the term ludomusicology). LUDUM is formed by musicians and researchers who met at University of Chile. Daniel Miranda is a pianist, composer, producer and researcher, Joaquin Gutiérrez is an electric guitarist and composition student, Guillermo Jarpa is a bassist, researcher and cultural manager, with formal training on audiovisual communication, Ariel Grez is a clarinetist, singer and songwriter, researcher and adjunct professor at the Music Department of University of Chile and Sean Moscoso is a percussionist and artist, and professor at the Sound Studies Department of the same university. We started this group in February 2018, and although we were the first to centralize research and documentation, the work from agents outside LUDUM before and after its beginnings must not be ignored.

That’s why our first assignment was to identify the state of academic video game music and sound research, including the social and cultural reach of its music, and the advances of Chile’s video game music industry.

It is worth noting that research from Chile was part of the first wave of academic scholarship on video game music. 2004 saw the completion of a Master’s thesis in musicology by Mónica Moreira Cury named Video games music: modes of use and their relationship with the social imaginary. A study on the soundtrack of the game Final Fantasy VI. Her work is relevant in a context where this topic of research was underrepresented globally and non-existent in Latin-america.

In 2014 Gerardo Marcoleta, an academic member of the Autonomous Center of Musical Research (CIMA) of University of Valparaiso, presented “Music for Video Games” and other papers about the matter in different instances, including academic ones like the “1st Meeting of Contemporary Music” in Rengo or the “1st International Instance of Music and Audio” in ARCOS’s institute.

The Chilean videogame industry is in an adolescent, but evolving, condition. The Chilean Association of Video Game Development Companies (VG Chile) is a guild of 38 companies (representing more than the 85% of games companies operating in Chile). In regards to the video game music that these companies make, we have observed that the composers of the games with the higher reach, are Chileans who graduated from music-related programs from colleges or academic institutes. Among them we have Francisco “Foco”, Patricio Meneses, Ronny Antares, and others. Since 2015 the 101 Training School of Creative Technologies has offered the diploma of music production for video games, the only program in our country that specializes in music for this media, with “Foco” as their main teacher.

In Chile, Video Game Music is also experienced as a collective cultural experience taken from its original designed setting (video games) to – literally – the streets and festivals. There are many video game music bands and groups of different levels of professionalization that play music of (or inspired by) video games. Ludópatas and Jazztick make regular concerts in the capital Santiago de Chile, with the latter having performed weekly in different streets and venues. The Plasmas have been sporadically playing game music for more than 10 years in Valparaíso. Pokérus and Thennecan have smaller, but growing audiences. The Popular Music Orchestra in Concepción and the Student’s Orchestra of Federico Santa María’s Technical University in Valparaíso have included video game music in their repertoire.

As in other parts of the world, the chiptune scene has developed in our country since the mid-2000s with different waves of artists. First with Una Niña Malvada and Noobelesia, later from 2008 to 2012 with H#xz, Analog and Foco, then from 2012 to 2016 we have Kbt, Utsuho, Clsource and YZYX, and in recent years Jota Capsula and Bluu whose point of reunion in Santiago was the Once Super Portable/Mutante, a regular music festival (‘circlo’) in which chiptune musicians gathered and played among peers and fans. These events are on hold since March 2019, because their point of reunion Casa Ruido recently closed.

These musicians have been building networks of social interchange to promote their music and create financial opportunities of collaboration between each other, as seen with the chiptune scene, the collective of game music “Pixel Quemado” and the Ñoño Party (the word ñoño is used colloquially to describe someone who pertains to geek culture). This last event aspires to congregate players, who want to have fun while listening to the video game bands of the capital. After a successful first Ñoño Party, that took place in April 2017 in Santiago de Chile, there was a second version of this event in October 2018, and the Ñoño Party 3 will be held in November 2019. But, that was not the first time that this kind of event was held in our country, as in May of 2014 the Festival of Video Game Music was held in our capital.

Three international video game music ensembles have come to our country: Symphony of the Goddesses (2015), Distant Worlds (2014) and Video Games Live (2012), all of them with excellent reception.

Chile is a highly centralized country, both in politics and economy. Our work as game music scholars is dedicated mostly to uncover the state of video game music in our close environment: the capital, Santiago de Chile. This is because our members are students, graduates and/or workers of the University of Chile and are all living in Santiago. But, there is still a lot to unravel in other areas of our country.

Conference presentation “Una Princesa Contenida, un análisis vocal de los personajes del juego Super Mario 3D World” by Daniel Miranda (left)
during the III Congreso Chileno de Estudios en Música Popular

Our research group started with seminar activities that consisted of getting an overview on the state of the art of the discipline by assigning readings and making summaries on each reading. Here, we read some of the seminal works on video game music, and came to realize the first and most important challenge to disseminating our interest in video game music research: the lack of research in Spanish on the topic.

So, in an attempt to activate the academic community, we organized our first public event. We held the 1st National Meeting of Ludomusicology in the Faculty of Arts of the University of Chile in November of 2018, with the sponsorship of its Music Department, and the Latin American Aesthetics Research Centre, with the support of the “Espacio Elefante” Cultural Center. Even though LUDUM is an independent research group, we are working to strengthen our bonds with different institutions, such as the University of Santiago de Chile or the Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso.

The meeting’s program consisted of three days with academic, artistic, formative and musical activities open to the public: A daily session consisted of seminars, where papers were presented, and different activities with artists and video game music producers. A forum of productive experiences was held the first day, with the Creative Director of Niebla Games Nicolás Valdivia and Composer René Romo. A Workshop on interactive music was held the second day with the composer Francisco “Foco”. Musical performances were realized every day, with arrangements of video game music made by students of musical composition David Bustamante and Joaquín Gutiérrez, the latter being a member of our group and also director of the ensemble composed by students of the University of Chile. Foco also performed his chiptune project and Ludópatas closed the last day with a concert, where a full Sala Elefante danced and jumped to some classic video game tunes. A review of this concert? was published in the Chilean Musical Journal.

Also, LUDUM members have presented papers at academic conferences. Ariel Grez has presented papers both at the Ludo2018 and Ludo2019 conferences, using different analytic approaches to video game music, aesthetic, semiotic, ludic and ethics fields, bringing the input of Latin American thinkers like Katya Mandoki and Enrique Dussel to the ludomusicological field, to deepen our understanding of the reception of video game music, aiming to finally being able to characterize the specificity of Latin-American gamers experience in the complexity of the geopolitical problem of distribution of video games. On the other hand. Daniel Miranda presented a paper in the Third Chilean Congress of Popular Music in Alberto Hurtado University. In this paper entitled A Contained Princess: a Vocal Analysis of Super Mario 3D World’s Characters he proposes a methodology to analyze these voices comparing the pitches and sentences used by each character, doing a gender performance reading inspired by Butler (1990) and also studying the reception of Princess Peach’s voice, categorizing popular comments of an online viral video. He concludes that the Princess’ voice responds to a voice direction that overcaricaturizes her among other characters through a process of infantilization that is increased over time in the games she appears in and by using a template of an already caricatured version of a sexualized woman (Betty Boop, Marilyn Monroe). A continuation of this research was presented at Ludo 2019, in which the reception of Peach’s voice was studied through Philip Tagg’s methodology of semiotic analysis, categorizing different profiles of gamers that responded in different ways to her voice, suggesting that experienced male gamers were more likely to refrain from playing with her character because of her voice.

Our objective is to consolidate a space of debate and knowledge building on video game music, articulating the Spanish-speaking community, while also connecting with the academic and professional field and the public in general. To that effect, we are preparing several investigation projects, ranging from characterizing the local video game bands scene, to analysing the Chilean production of video game music, and continuing to test different analytical methods to investigate the experience of listening while gaming. Last but not least, we are currently preparing our second academic event, the Second National Ludomusicology Gathering, here in Santiago de Chile.

Presentation given by Ariel Grez.
¿Jugando Mario Bros? Las pasiones son algo serio dice Ariel Grez a l@s estudiantes de la Feria de Orientación al postulante @futuromechon.cl

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