We are proud to publish the following review as part of our contributor articles series. Feel free to leave comments, and do let us know if you would like to send us articles to share with the wider community!
Contributor: Sebastian Urrea
I came into Ludo 2016 as a newcomer, not knowing quite what to expect. I was coming down from an extraordinary experience visiting London and the surrounding area during the week leading up to the conference, and I was excited to see what it would be like. I didn’t know anyone, I wasn’t in academia, hadn’t done research, and I didn’t have any papers to present. I just loved video game music. I had studied music, and enjoyed theory and musicology, and had applied it to video game music on my own. I was thrilled when I learned that there were others who were doing similar things in an academic setting. I had been planning a trip that happened to align perfectly to allow me to be in England at the time of the conference. So on a whim I had registered, hoping to see what I could learn and who I could meet.
What I found exceeded my expectations in many ways. First, the papers. The presentations included 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).
At first I was disappointed that the presentations didn’t include more subjects with which I was familiar. But really, that would have been less interesting. I learned a lot more from the really diverse set of presentations than I would have otherwise. The topics discussed had a great balance across different aspects of video game music, and I am certain that anyone in attendance would have found things both familiar and new.
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 made me really appreciate 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.
The choices of keynotes were excellent. Having someone like Andrew Barnabas in attendance with such a history of work in the industry was thrilling to everyone. It allowed for a bridge between the theoretical and academic to the practical, and was a good learning opportunity for everyone involved. 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 talk of Pac-Man and its sounds 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.
Spending time with everyone outside of presentations was equally as fun. Many of the attendees were already friends from previous conferences or from shared work. But most importantly, 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 I think 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. I look forward to what future Ludo conferences will bring!