From Partitas to Platformers: how the compositional practice of Bach shaped the music of video games

Kenneth B. McAlpine

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Ever since programmable sound generators first gave voice to video games in the 1970s, video game music has echoed or directly referenced the music of the Baroque. Commodore’s C64, for example, launched to Bach’s Two-Part Invention in A Minor, which provided the soundtrack for Commodore’s television commercials and for the demo program that accompanied the machine.

While the choice of Bach here was primarily to lend an air of class to a domestic computer designed to a budget in an already-competitive marketplace, there are countless other examples of video game scores that use Baroque themes in a range of gaming contexts, from platformers to shoot-‘em-ups.

Undoubtedly, this was due, at least in part, to convenience. In the early days of video gaming, coders, working to tight deadlines, would reach for whatever sheet music was close to hand and convenient to code, criteria that Bach fulfilled well.

The links between Baroque and video game music run deeper, however. Those early machines had limited memory and very basic sound chips that imposed real constraints on composers. In response, developers devised both creative and technical solutions to create complexity from simplicity. Those solutions, many of which have direct parallels to the compositional practice of the baroque, imparted a unique characteristic to the sound, which has currency today as part of the chipscene, a vibrant lo-fi musical subculture that grew out of that first generation of consoles and computers.

This presentation explores these connections and the role that Bach’s work played in shaping both the compositional practice and the sound of early video game music.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2017
EventRepresentations of Early Music on Stage and Screen 3 - University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Jun 201710 Jun 2017
Conference number: 3


ConferenceRepresentations of Early Music on Stage and Screen 3
Abbreviated titleREMOSS
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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