University of Canterbury embraces music for gaming

Music for gaming has grown up and found its place in the world of music composition. Unlike music composed for film or theatre, music for gaming presents unique challenges, says University of Canterbury (UC) Music Lecturer Hamish Oliver.

Oliver will share his love of gaming music composition at a School of Music Gala Concert on Monday 27 July at The Piano Centre.
University of Canterbury (UC) Music Lecturer Hamish Oliver

Oliver will share his love of gaming music composition at a School of Music Gala Concert on Monday 27 July at The Piano Centre.

His presentation sits within an eclectic music programme of contemporary ensembles of singer/songwriter students, solos, sonatas, the staff-led cLoud Collective and even a Balinese Gamelan orchestra, showcasing the impressive range of performance music in this fast-growing music school.

Gaming in New Zealand was worth some $200m in 2019 and has doubled in the last two years. The fastest growing tech area, it could be a billion dollar industry by 2025, Oliver says. “It’s both a creative industry and a tech industry. It’s more like film than it is like writing software for web, but it has both elements.”

For music composers and sound designers, gaming is a potential new source of income and inspiration, especially as composition can be much more than handing over a piece of music to be simply adapted to a game.

“You can go further and that’s what I’m interested in. The interactive approach is where the game is going along and the music evolves to suit what has happened. The action makes a change in the music. Perhaps it increases the tempo or takes out the drums for a while, then brings them back in with electric guitar because there is a battle going on.

“So that is someone writing a piece of music with flexibility built in and that is a whole new thing for composers.”

With games becoming much more sophisticated, the music has to keep up – Oliver cites new game The Last Of Us II, developed by Naughty Dog, which is “filmic, its subtle, it’s emotional and there’s drama, so the music definitely shouldn’t sound like 80s Atari music”.

“In terms of budget for music composition, gaming surpassed Hollywood [films] years ago. They started using orchestras and recording in Abbey Road. However, I don’t know of any New Zealand games that have recorded an orchestra and I’d like Christchurch to be the first – I’m in the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and the CEO of the CSO is really keen. We have a nice new space to record in now and with some money it is easily done. It would be the first New Zealand game to feature a New Zealand orchestra.”

Upcoming commitments include working on The Shows Must Go On, composing Tūmahana: Exchange with the CSO, arranging pop songs for the CSO for Ōtautahi Proud, composing/sound editing for a local short film by Kate Belton, and helping to organise the inaugural Game Jam Aotearoa at UC, however Oliver is looking forward to spending more time with gamers and at gaming events.

Event details:

The School of Music Gala Evening is a free event (register here) on Monday 27 July at 7pm – 9pm at The Piano: Centre for Music and the Arts, 156 Armagh Street.