Along with this piece, I’ve also written a review of 8-Bit Symphony Pro, which you can find here.
“Kids today never leave the house” — a phrase you’ve surely heard countless times in the 21st century. It slipped into common usage by the end of the 80s and on into the 90s, coinciding perfectly with an explosion of home computers and games consoles. Television, of course, is partly to blame for the idea that children have grown lazier, but colourful sitcoms and small-screen flicks had already gotten stale by the Commodore 64’s release in 1982. Unlike TV, video games are malleable; interactive. To those with the patience, they’re just another playground, populated by brilliant sprites and bubbling with interesting sounds.
By now, video games can’t be shrugged off as just another trend. Instead, in our current climate, they’re finally being celebrated as the artform they clearly are. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the attitude that “kids today never leave the house” is set to fizzle out in favour of understanding why. The crude pixels on our screens weren’t just a handful of carefully arranged squares; they were dragons, space-scapes and warzones. The bleeps and bloops that famously burst from old systems weren’t just simple tones or thoughtless noise; it was music, through and through, with enough weight and skill to command symphonies.
The 8-Bit Symphony, which rearranges mostly 3-channel chiptune for live orchestra, saw an impressive amount of 80s kids leave their houses — in some cases, countries — in a glorious proof that imagination, art and expression are still going strong in the digital age. All those years in front of screens didn’t leave us the zombies that some might think.
After all, many of 8-Bit Symphony’s pieces (largely by legendary VGM innovators like Rob Hubbard and Ben Daglish) are over thirty years old. Yet, every note is faithfully rendered and placed in a context that showcases the depth of melody available on units like the C64, Amiga and ZX Spectrum. So much time has passed since the SID chip dominated video game music, but hearing its classics in an orchestral setting manages to prove its endurance and timeless appeal.