There are turning points in music all the time. Sometimes they are well signposted, sometimes they just seem to happen in the fringes before causing an avalanche in the mainstream as everyone rushes to play catch-up. They are sometimes driven by maverick movements – hip-hop, punk, rave – more often they are driven by technology – electronic instruments, multitrack recording, digital sampling. But it isn’t often that something comes along that is so revolutionary that it blurs the lines between mediums. But that is the charge that Brendan Bradley is leading.
Hero’s Welcome is a lot of things. It is a pop song. It is part of a theatre score. It is an interactive performance. It is the birth of true multimedia entertainment. It is a place where virtual and actual reality, audience and performer crash into each other. It is odd, engaging, exciting and, I suspect, a very important moment. It is a small piece of a virtual reality stage show in which a non-player character from the game witnesses the death of the hero and then turns to the audience to help him through the five stages of grief as represented by five virtual worlds to be explored, navigated and overcome.
The show, Non-Player Character, and the soundtrack that it has spawned, may be a seamless blend of theatre, games, pop and comedy but at its core are the songs. Hero’s Welcome is the starting point. It kicks off with much grace and grandeur before settling into a pop-dance groove as the narrator takes the listener/viewer by the hand and tries to explain the concept to them. Buckle up folks, you are going to want to concentrate.
It is buoyant and full of life, sitting somewhere between a Disney production, a choose-your-own-adventure experience and an IT helpline, both tongue-in-cheek and informative, and peppered with plenty of knowing winks and in-jokes for the gamers in the audience. (Which I suspect will be the large majority.)
The album might be a little way off yet, currently slated for 2nd September, but this single joins two previous releases designed to tease the crowd and test the water. Reprogram Me is a cool, piano-driven slice of perky, electro-pop show tune, leaning more towards musical theatre traditions but still bustling with the bits and bytes and delicious digital deftness that drives the whole affair. Enough is gentle, lilting narrative, reflective, whistful and competitive…the thoughts of a digital bit part player contemplating measuring up to the magnitude of life even when that life is a series of pre-programmed ones and zeros! It’s all very meta, it’s all very quantum!
So, music and theatre may be at the heart of Non-Player Character but with the audience given the option of participating in the show via a VR headset or being a spectator and watching the proceedings from the outside, it offers a whole new experience and opens up many potential doors to how truly multi-media, audience-participation, shows may evolve in the future. Non-Player Character already seems like a cutting-edge concept, and it is, but it is only the beginning!