Supersonic Ensemble Brings Video Game Music From Console to Stage

Sammy Caiola

When Sam Barker plays video games, he isn’t just goofing around – he’s listening for potential masterpieces. Barker, a Weinberg sophomore, is launching Northwestern University’s first video game-themed music ensemble, an endeavor that has allowed him to combine two of his biggest passions. The SuperSonic Video Game Ensemble is a group of 18 vocalists and instrumentalists who come together twice a week to rehearse Barker’s original arrangements of the theme music from video games like Portal, Super Mario Bros. and Final Fantasy. The group started at the beginning of this quarter and will perform publicly for the first time at Northwestern Unite for Sight’s benefit concert on May 20. Barker, a literature major who has been singing since the age of 4, said it takes him about a week to arrange a video game piece. The upcoming concert will feature two a cappella pieces, one solo piano piece and a finale featuring the pianist, two percussionists and a flautist. Some of the vocal arrangements contain Barker’s original lyrics, which he writes based on the context in which the song appears in the game. “Whenever I introduce a new piece to everybody, there’s like a moment of silence and awe at what it sounds like,” he said. “And that is part of the reason it’s so exciting. Everyone is amazed at how good it sounds outside of the console.” Barker hopes to pay tribute to talented composers of the genre by performing what he considers to be the best works of video game music such as Final Fantasy XIII’s score by Masashi Hamauzu. He feels that people don’t understand video game music is more than just the Super Mario Bros.theme song. “There’s a stigma associated with a passion for video game music,” Barker said. “The sounds that come to mind if one is not familiar with video game music are the less sophisticated sounds of earlier eras of video games. That’s not all that video game music can be.” Sam isn’t the only Barker with a passion for game soundtracks. He got the idea for SuperSonic from his sister, who is part of a video game choir at Berklee College of Music in Boston. The musical duo may have picked up the singing bug from their parents, who met in a band. Although he doesn’t have his sister on the NU campus to help with SuperSonic, he is backed by another support system in his executive board. Amanda Shepherd, vice president and business manager, is one of five members of the executive board pushing the group forward. Shepherd, a Communication sophomore, is a friend of Barker’s and has high hopes for the ensemble. “There’s really nothing else like it on campus,” she said. “It’s pretty unique and it’s a lot of fun. Video game music is the most underappreciated part of the video game, but it’s also the most recognizable part of the game. We’re bringing that to light and having fun at the same time, and for that it should be more recognized.” Barker said the group hopes to become recognized by the Associated Student Government before next winter and plans to put on its own concert in the fall. “It’s such a wonderful group of people that I’m working with. They are all musically inclined, they are all excited about this, they are willing to help me through my stumbling blocks,” he said. “I’ve never done anything like this, and starting your own student group is pretty ambitious.” -Samantha Caiola