Did you know that Northern Ireland has an orchestra that plays video game music? I did and it’s very cool, so I decided to reach out to them and ask to do an interview.
So today I will be interviewing the Music and Executive Director of the IVGO Robert Martin.about his work on the orchestra and more!
First of all, who is Robert Martin?
Well hey! Robert Martin is the Music Director and Executive Director of the Irish Video Game Orchestra. In other realms, he’s a gamer, a former cosplayer, and a working musician and arts manager outside the Washington, D.C. area.
As a way to get to know you more, what is your experience with video games? What was your first video game?
I’ve been gaming my whole life. The first video games I remember having as a kid was Sonic 2 on and MLB Babe Ruth on the Sega Megadrive (or what we in the states call the Sega Genesis)
Are you currently playing anything?
My two loves, Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, and Cities: Skylines. The two biggest time sinks in the world!
And are there any upcoming releases you look forward to playing?
Cities: Skylines 2 was just announced, and I’m already looking for some upgraded hardware to be able to handle it.
This interview will be focused more on your work in the Irish Video Game Orchestra. But first, what is your history with video game music or music in general? From what I hear, you have quite the musical experience.
Oh geez… can I just attach my CV and call it a day? Lol
I grew up in a musical family that was heavily involved in our local church community. Between the choirs there and an incredible public school system with a great music program, it was sort of predestined by fate that I would have a career in music. In high school, I found that I loved conducting and wanted to follow that pathway, but in almost every case, a music school will require you have advanced training in another instrument before they will accept you into a conducting program, so I went for a bachelors in pipe organ, which I had also picked up in high school. In college, I started my first orchestra, the Houghton Pops Orchestra, which focused mostly on big dramatic stage shows and film music. I was able to cut my teeth in conducting and began my arranging/orchestration career with this group. After a failed round of auditions for masters programs, I was encouraged to go to school for arts management, and with my obsession for Irish trad music, I ended up at Queens University Belfast for that program.
At Queens, I was asked to start a chamber orchestra with the music society, and due to a number of reasons, it was a resounding failure! But that wasn’t a bad thing, because when the spring term rolled around, and I wanted to form the Irish Video Game Orchestra for a performance at Q-Con that summer, there was already a network of musicians ready to go at my fingertips. A lot of my research while at Queens focused on orchestral management and how programming can make or break an ensemble financially. I found that new orchestra audiences were out there, but professional orchestras are not willing to make the move to include them in their concert halls, and thus a ton of unreached listeners are out there (more on this later).
After Queens, I returned to the states and after a couple of years gigging around, I ended up in Los Angeles for a masters program in conducting. There, I was working with some of the best wind bands in the country, and made some great connections and friendships within the video game audio industry. I also started the Studio Orchestra of Long Beach, which was in existence for about 4 years, and in a lot of ways, was an extension of my work with the IVGO. Together, we expanded beyond just video game music and looked at other ways to increase the pops orchestra canon of music as it began to include 21st century media music.
Nowadays, I’m back on the east coast, outside of Washington, D.C. where I’m holding down a decently large church music gig, and I’m the director of Crescendo Studios, a music school, recording studio, and performance venue in Falls Church, VA which is quickly becoming the hub for video game music in the DMV.
As for video game music, I’ve been mostly involved in the concert and remix side of the industry, working with composers to bring their music to the concert hall and bringing the orchestra to the untouched masses. As I mentioned before, gamers are avid orchestra listeners, but aren’t always aware of it. In a lot of modern games, the score is performed and recorded by a full orchestra, and a good chunk of this music is derivative of classical music. It’s pretty easy then to connect the dots between all these genres, and where orchestras could find their next generation of audiences, but have failed to do so. This is where the IVGO comes in. We’ve begun to reach these folks and have created the next generation of orchestra fans.
Now onto the Irish Video Game Orchestra. How would you describe the IVGO to someone who’s never heard of it?
The IVGO is an orchestra filled with nerds. It’s a haven for weirdos who both enjoy video games and are proficient musicians. The short of it is, we are a group of people with a similar interest, doing something we love.
How did the Orchestra start? Was it a passion project or was there another reason for its creation?
The orchestra originally started as a passion project while I was studying for my masters at Queens University Belfast. I had done a lot of research in orchestra operations and was playing with the ideas of programming new music that would entice new audiences to concerts. The manager in me was enjoying the nerdy research into the very little audience data we had, but the conductor in me wanted to put this into practice and give it a go. I partnered with the then defunct Queens University Chamber Orchestra, a project I was asked to help start, and failed miserably, and the QUB Dragonslayers, hosts of the infamous annual Q-Con, one of the largest anime and gaming conventions in all of Ireland, and we got things rolling! We had a weekend of concerts during Q-Con and was met with an incredible response. We were asked back the next year, and then from there, we began gigging around the country at a number of conventions festivals.
Was there anyone or anything that gave you the inspiration to start the IVGO?
The biggest inspirations for me were the Zelda Reorchestrated Project, Symphony of the Goddesses, and Video Games Live. I like to think that since we’ve started, we’ve been able to create something unique beyond our inspirations.
What are your favourite parts of working on the IVGO? Any favourite pieces or aspects of the group you love?
I love standing in front of this group in rehearsal and crafting something beautiful out of a bunch of dots on the pages in front of us. I also love that this group is incredibly social. We go out of our way to hang out with each other when we can.
The Irish Video Game Orchestra has gotten a lot of attention over the last five years. It’s gotten concerts outside of conventions, charity events and awards. How does it feel knowing that something you started is getting so much positive attention?
I’m both astonished, but not surprised. I may have started this group, but the team of people who run the thing day to day have taken this organisation far and beyond my wildest dreams. I’m just glad people are having as much fun in their seats as we are on stage.
You’re in a unique situation regarding the IVGO. Obviously the orchestra’s home base is in Ireland, meanwhile you’re not always in the country due to other projects. How do you manage to balance it all?
It’s a lot. We have frequent meetings, and Slack is a beautiful tool for communication and organising our team. If it weren’t for the committee that runs the orchestra, we would be completely lost.
What do you think the future will hold for the IVGO?
I see a music festival coming to Belfast really soon, and a number of tours, both to mainland UK and the US. For us, the only way is up!
What advice do you have for someone wanting to create something like this? Or to someone who wants to get into music as a whole?
I always say find some friends and start playing. Everything else will fall into place.
And lastly, is there a place people can find you or the IVGO?
Thank you again Robert for agreeing to do this interview. It was really cool to interview someone who was more local and who made content I can physically go see, especially since I’ve watched the IVGO’s concerts in person multiple times, so it’s a strange honour that I never thought I’d get to do on GR
You can find socials for the Irish Video Game Orchestra below..