Interview: Composer Nicole Lizee

March 1, 2013

Arcadiac - Nicole Lizee

Gamers who enjoy losing themselves in virtual worlds may get the same experience listening to the game-inspired composition Arcadiac. And for Montreal-based composer Nicole Lizée, that would definitely be a good thing.

Arcadiac, composed in 2005, is Lizée’s homage to the imaginations and inventiveness of early game designers. She hopes to recapture the nostalgia of playing old-school games through this piece, as well as to illustrate the fusion of two worlds: the fabricated landscape of a video game with the human element of a symphony orchestra.

The 12-minute piece will be performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as part of its New Creations Festival. That evening, Toronto video game arts organization the Hand Eye Society will also have two of its own playable Torontron arcade cabinets at Roy Thomson Hall.

Arcadiac - Nicole Lizee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Many people play retro games,” acknowledges Lizée. “[With Arcadiac, they can] hear games in a new context. It’s taking what was there before and reviving it.”

Not only will audiences get a taste of these retro 8-bit sounds melded into the composition, but video clips from arcade games will also be projected during the performance, so be on the lookout for Death StarArkanoidKrull, and more.

It’s not the first time Lizée has worked on a game-inspired piece. One of her previous works, 2600 Dollar Man, was inspired by the Atari 2600, which was “the first video game system we had in our house,” she recalls, specifically citing the retro console’s infamously bad E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial game as one that she played heavily. The sounds of E.T. fleeing the government or ascending from the game’s wells has never left her.

But those weren’t the only sounds that stuck. Growing up, she was literally surrounded by technology — her father, an electronics collector and repairman, hoarded the likes of VIC-20s, oscillators, Betamaxes, and video disc players, all capable of “producing sounds like nothing else,” says Lizée. “Technology was moving at a fast pace in the ‘70s, and there were a lot of gritty sonorities from that time that really stayed with me.”

That influence is obvious in pieces like Arcadiac and 2600 Dollar Man, which also are meant to appeal to non-gamers as well. But Lizée has been approached by many listeners who tell her that they’ve made their own personal and emotional connection with her nostalgia-based composition.

She’s had her fair share of game obsessions, from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (“my roommates and I stopped going to class to play”) to Grand Theft Auto III (“I got really sucked into that one”), and especially loves what Video Games Live and Distant Worlds have done for live-performing video game music.

“They draw you into their world and take on a life of their own, opening up so many possibilities — and that’s what I want to do with Arcadiac,” she explains.

Will she one day write music for games? It’s definitely on her list of future projects, says Lizée. In fact, she envisions collaborating on a project where the music and game are created closely together from inception. (Think Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP.)

Torontonians can catch Nicole Lizée’s Arcadiac at Roy Thomson Hall this weekend (March 2), to be performed live by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

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