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Arts and Culture

The Video Game Music Master

Tunes from old school games still charm, but Jim Guthrie's new soundtrack is next level.

By Thom Wong 10 May 2012 | TheTyee.ca

Thom Wong writes regularly about music for The Tyee. He can also be found ruminating about the state of menswear at The Sunday Best.

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Jim Guthrie: no bleeps or bloops here.

It would be hard to imagine anything having a better year than Indie Game: The Movie, the documentary on the exploding indie development scene by Winnipeg natives Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky. Since launching the project through Kickstarter (full disclosure, I am myself a backer), the movie has gone from screening at Sundance to a nation-wide tour sponsored by Adobe to, wonder of wonders, being optioned for a half-hour drama by HBO.

Anchoring the movie is a soundtrack by Jim Guthrie, a musician who has quietly been making a name for himself as the Mark Mothersbaugh of video game soundtracks.

While music inspired by games has been around for awhile, and YouTube is littered with renditions of iconic tracks from Super Mario and Legend of Zelda, few game soundtracks have been able to capture the imagination of a music-buying public when divorced from actual gameplay.

Escape songs

If that changes, we'll be looking back at Guthrie as the start of it all. His work on Sword and Sworcery, the iOS game that has become a bit of a poster child for the "games as art" debate, is as essential to the gaming experience as the pixelated artwork; the game itself carries the designation "EP." With Indie Game Guthrie finds his inner Sigur Ros, and channels it through a Super Nintendo.

Opening track "Maybe You'll Get Some, Maybe You Won't" is about as epic as a song can get, starting with a toy piano and wood blocks and going from nursery rhyme simple to something you might find in Tron. "Forever Beta" is tight and paranoid, not unlike, I imagine, the feeling a developer might get when it seems like a game will never ship.

Guthrie is clearly no stranger to Vangelis and Blade Runner, and there's a certain appropriateness to drawing a through-line from that dystopian future and the world of video games, as both touch on themes of escape, other worlds, and belonging. 

You can listen to other tracks from Indie Game: The Movie on Guthrie's bandcamp page. The album comes out May 15.  [Tyee]

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