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Game Play Theater Festival: Modal Kombat – Review

Modal Kombat is a classical guitar performance art piece that calls itself “The First Ever Guitar-Controlled Video Game Battle.” In it, Dave Hindman and Evan Drummond, two Klassical guitarists have hacked a pair of acoustic guitars to serve as video game controllers.  Over the course of the show, the duo has music fights in games like Pong, Mario Kart and Mortal Kombat.  It had a very brief run in New York City this weekend as part of the Game Play Theater Festival at the Brick Theater in Brooklyn.

Just to be clear, these are not Guitar Hero controllers, but actual guitars that have been modified to control classic game consoles. A giant projection screen on the back wall of the theatre shows the games being played while Hindman and Drummond control them live. The duo use different cords to turn left and right in Mario Kart; they guide a Pong paddle up and down by raising or lowering the pitch, and hitting certain notes will trigger special attacks in Mortal Kombat. All of this is accompanied by classical guitar music. 

Hardware hackers and gadgeteers will find it all quite interesting, and music fans should be entertained by this new way to combine music with visual art. Game design nerds should also find the concept intriguing as well. Audiences who are just looking for an interesting show will no doubt enjoy the novelty of the project, not to mention the audience participation section called Team Tetris.

In Team Tetris, audience members are invited onstage to play two guitars. One guitar pulls tetris pieces to the left, the other guitar to the right. A third person is given a Wiimote to control other functions like rotating, while the rest of the audience screams out instructions. It’s a chaotic example of teamwork.

Although Hindman and Drummond have been performing this project for years, the performance I saw introduced a new piece in which the pair attach Wiimotes to their guitars to play a first-person shooter hunting game called “Guitar Hunter Hero.”  By aiming with a standard Wiimote, and hacking the Wii so that certain chords “Fire” their virtual guns, the two guitarists set about killing things… WITH MUSIC! 

It’s a very unique experience, and an informal sort of performance certainly something that musically-inclined geeks should try to catch. Unfortunately, the current incarnation of Modal Kombat only ran for two performances and you won’t be able to catch it this time around. However, information about upcoming performances is available at Modal Kombat’s website.  While nothing is scheduled as of this writing, you can sign up for their mailing list.

The show was part of a festival of video game-themed theater and performance art which is still running throughout July. There are six other shows and all of them have performances in the weeks ahead. For more information on the others pieces in the Game Play Festival, check out the Brick Theater’s website, and keep an eye on Player Affinity for reviews of all the projects.


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