Concert Review - Dear Esther Live

For the first time ever, a live performance of videogame music came to Brighton! So exciting! And not only that, the music was performed live to the game. Dear Esther Live was completely different to anything I've ever seen on stage before. The combination of live music, live narration and live gameplay created a very twenty-first century performance. Part concert, part play, it was like nothing I'd ever experienced before. And I really, really enjoyed it. I would love to see this style of performance take off specifically for games.

Dear Esther is a game by The Chinese Room, a studio based in my hometown of Brighton. Jessica Curry, the game's composer, is a favourite of mine. There's such a depth of emotion to her work, and that came across so strongly during this performance. Rather than a whole orchestra, we had a pianist, a vocalist and a string quartet. It was astounding how much emotion they infused every note with. And it all blended seamlessly with the sound-effects left in the game. They really added to the sense that we were on a windswept island with only the ocean for company. Quite a feat when we're all sitting in Brighton's Dome.

The game's story is hard to explain without spoiling, even though is is very open to interpretation. As the player explores the island, the narrator reads letters to a woman called Esther, a woman he loves very, very much. The music is just perfect. It's so sparse, so emotive, so haunting. It fits the landscape of a deserted island and the narrative perfectly. The musicians played and sang so perfectly. The fact that they had to respond to cues in the game to know when to start playing was just amazing!

One thing I found really interesting was the use of a different actor for the narrator. In the game, he sounds a lot older. But in the performance, the actor's younger voice really changed the story for me. The tragedy felt much more recent with a younger voice, whereas with the game's older narrator I always felt like it was something that had happened many, many years previously. That one small change was so effective for me. It gave the narrator's letters an immediacy I didn't experience when playing the game myself.

Overall, a unique and fascinating concert experience, one I hope to have again someday, and one I hope you all have the opportunity to take part in.

You can check out the soundtrack yourselves here.


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