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There’s nothing like seeing Journey Live, and I’m not talking about the ’80s rock band. Far from it. One part Twitch livestream of an award-winning video game with the same name, one part orchestral performance of its soundtrack, October 16 brought a haunting classical score to the Harris Center, conducted by the baton and guided by the choices of an onstage gamer.
If you’re not familiar, Journey is an atmospheric exploration video game where players control a robed wanderer through the desert toward a distant mountain, sometimes interacting with other online players anonymously as they traverse sandstorms and arcane ruins. Originally released in 2012 on the Playstation 3, it earned an impressive 92 out of 100 Metacritic score from reviewers, who many said it reinforced that video games could be considered art.
“The awe that comes from cresting your first hill and spotting the mountain on the horizon is paired expertly with the fear that stems from exploring the ancient caverns beneath your destination,” Wrote IGN about the game.
Fans love it incessantly. When Journey composer Austin Wintory launched a $5,000 Kickstarter campaign to tour a live concert/gameplay mashup, he instead got $52,000 and reached its original pledge goal within two hours.
The result is bewildering and spectacular. Composer Patrick O’Malley, who worked with Wintory to streamline Journey’s original soundtrack, masterfully cued sections of the ensemble to stay in synch with the gamer. When the player encountered a guardian, a mechanized serpent-like flying creature, the sharp sting of a live orchestra made it all the more harrowing.
But even with O’Malley’s stringent command, the music’s only as good as the musicians are. Though the Fifth House Ensemble were mostly dexterous with its instruments—the bassoon, cello, clarinet, double bass, flute, oboe, violin and more—there were a few obvious signs of fatigue. The two violins, though exquisitely bouncing off each other like songbirds, occasionally missed beats. The flutes didn’t properly crescendo, which caused them to flutter out trying to hold long notes. Although the gamers switched every 25 minutes, providing a welcomed variety in personality and gameplay on screen, the orchestra monotonously repeated bars because a couple of the gamers got stuck during their session. Some in-game moments even felt forced, like panning the camera to see the sun-drenched horizon eclipse the sand dunes, but the gamers never committed to showing the audience the views, so it came across as unnecessary and disorienting.
As the game reached its final climax, so did the orchestra. An elegant singer draped in a red dress sauntered to the stage. Her voice was soft yet powerful as she performed the final track, “I Was Born For This,” a mishmash of languages and excerpts of poetry. It was as majestic as it was magnificent. If the lyrics to the song mean anything, it’s that Journey Live at the Harris Center was born for this, born for combining the visual with the auditory in such an effortless way that a classical music connoisseur can marvel at, a gamer can revel in, and everyone in between can enjoy.