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Rob Kovacs Arranges Video Game Music for Piano as '88 Bit'

[courtesy: Rob Kovacs]

For those who love their video games, the music that plays as Pac-Man eats or Super Mario jumps can be as appealing as the games themselves. 

For classicaly trained Cleveland pianist Rob Kovacs the love for gaming led him to create a musical alter ego, '88 Bit,' who transcribes and performs video game music that wasn't originally intended to be performed by humans. 

Kovacs' passion for video games coincided with his piano lessons as a boy. They even had the fullsize machines in his home.

"We had ten arcade cabinets in the house, which is not typical," Kovacs said.

In 1990, Kovacs was a Cleveland semifinalist in the Nintendo World Championships, which solidified his affinity for the games and their music.

"If you grew up with video game music and playing video games you love this music.  But my parents don't.  Even to my older siblings it's just 'toy music,'" he said.

So Kovacs, as '88 Bit,' is trying to give this obscure musical style legitmacy through his performances.

Rob Kovacs [photo: Daniel Paul Corby]

"There's a [large] amount of people who are trying to legitimize video game music, and it's definitely become more legitimate. There's people writing papers about it.  In Detroit I went to a video game music conference," he said.

The music for video games is very syncopated and high energy, which is perfect for the percussive nature of a piano.

"I do want to give a higher level of performance of these songs and try to get all the notes and make it something that anybody can hear on a piano and enjoy," he said.

Over the long term, Kovacs hopes to write arrangements for every licensed Nintendo game, which he estimates to be about 684 games.

How long does he think that will take?

"At least a decade," he said.

Rob Kovacs concludes a residency at The Happy Dog at The Euclid Tavern Sunday night at 8.


Dave DeOreo is coordinating producer for Ideastream Public Media’s arts and culture team.