Of Bird and Cage—Who is Tina Guo?

5 August, 2021

Of Bird and Cage is a unique, story-driven game intertwined with a metal album. Symphonic metal carries you through a two-hour-long story of violence and trauma seen through the eyes of Gitta, a young drug addict trying to escape her mental and physical prison. Tina Guo is one of the many famous artists who worked on this project.

Tina Guo was born in Shanghai, China and moved to Los Angeles, CA when she was five years old. After having her try piano and violin, her musical parents realized that Tina was talented in the cello. “It’s good to explore different things to see what you don’t even realize, [that] you have a gift that you can harness and develop,” Guo said in an interview. “I’ve been very lucky; I was lucky that my parents forced me to practice.”

Guo studied at the University of Southern California Thorton School of Music with a major in cello performance. Given Guo was raised in a very conservative, classical music-oriented family, college was where she got her first taste of metal music on an electric cello.  “But when I got to college it was like this explosion of freedom… you know?… ‘Oh my God, I can listen to anything.’”, she mentioned in an interview with Soundtrackfest. She quickly discovered a love for the electric cello since it gave her the creative expression and freedom she felt she had been missing. This was the first shift in Guo’s musical journey.

It was also in college where Guo discovered the world of movie soundtracks and started to dabble in playing tiny pieces for student composers. It was also the first experience Guo had with playing music for video games. It was there she met Austin Wintoury. “He was the first composer to hire me for a solo feature on Journey, the PlayStation game.”, she added to Soundtrackfest. 

After college, Guo was finding it really difficult to make a living as a cellist. In 2009, in what she thought would be her cadence, Guo recorded her first music video to her original, instrumental metal song “Queen Bee.”  The song was a YouTube hit. Instead of being noticed by metal bands though, the video ended up creating yet another shift in Guo’s career that pushed her into the world of musical scores. It caught the attention of several talents, most notably Hans Zimmer.

That’s when Guo’s career really started to take flight and began what was to later become an impressively long list of performances, guest appearances, features, and released scores and albums.

Ever versatile, her musical performances ranged from ComicCon to Carnegie Hall. She’s performed as a soloist with many renowned classical symphony orchestras around the world, from Mexico to Poland to San Diego. She has also toured extensively as a featured guest with prominent virtuosos, choirs, and music superstars like Al Di Meola and Yoshiki of X Japan. Guo has performed in various sold out shows around the world such as the Premiere of Inception, a concert for Dreamworks with Hans Zimmer and John Powell, and the League of Legends World Championship. Off the ticketed stage, the cellist has also performed in televised events with other prominent artists such as at the American Music Awards with Carrie Underwood, Dancing with the Stars with Ellie Goulding, and the Grammy Awards with the Foo Fighters to name just a few. 

Tina Guo’s accomplishments in the studio have no intention of being outdone by her live performances. The cellist’s musical contribution to movie and series soundtracks is monumental (e.g. Wonder Woman, Inception, Dunkirk, Batman vs Superman, Vikings, The Borgias), but her impact on video game music is no less impressive. She’s contributed to the soundtracks of a wide variety of indie games like Journey (which was later nominated for a Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack) to huge titles such as Call of Duty: Black Ops II, III and IV, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and Cyberpunk. She’s also self-released nine albums before signing a four-album deal with Sony Masterworks in 2016. The cellist has gone on to be featured in over 60 movie and game soundtracks. Check out her full discography here.

Tina Guo builds bridges between old and new even in the cellos she plays. Her classic cello is a Gand & Bernardel Cello that was made in Paris, France, in 1880. Her electric cello, on the other hand, is a customized Yamaha SVC-210. 

In short, Guo’s accomplishments are so vast and varied that it makes you want to cry and wonder what you did with your life. But let’s add one more thing to the list of features that make Guo stand out—the love of video games in her music. 

Guo doesn’t think that video games aren’t serious enough for cello or orchestral music. On the contrary, she loves bringing the two together. “I love…working with the composers to create a feeling and bringing their notes and their ideas with what the cello and electric cello can bring mood-wise to the score is super fun! Video games are an important and popular form of entertainment, and the music is such an integral part of it.” Guo told Media Mikes.

Guo’s passion for video games was made quite obvious on her first recorded album with Sony, “Game On”, an album dedicated solely to video game music. “In the past I’ve also played, I’ve recorded cello – electric cello and acoustic cello – for different game scores like Diablo 3, Journey, Call of Duty 2, and Call of Duty 3 and some other various games. So, I thought it would be fun to actually do my own versions of these awesome songs,” she told Euronews.

Yet there was quite a surprise waiting in the wings for Guo—the album turned out to be more of a challenge than she had anticipated. “I think I learned a big lesson there, because I thought, specifically with Zelda and also with Tetris, that the parts were not easy – they were very fast, very high, and when you use samples you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s easy.’ But then you want to do it live, and it’s, ‘Okay, how do I translate this music to a live concert? To an orchestra?’. It was very difficult. I’m sure they could have played it if they had time to practice, but as you know, when you go into the studio, it’s recording from the first take. No time to lose. But it did work out in the end and I also ended up hiring a couple more other musicians; solo musicians, and layering it. They have time to look at the music a little bit and practice it or record it piece-by-piece, so it ended up working out and it’s been a lot of fun.” Guo told SoundtrackFest.

So was Of Bird and Cage just another game to Tina Guo? Not in the slightest. She was super excited to join the great entourage of musicians on Of Bird and Cage. As she mentioned in her own video, she felt really grateful to the producer for including her on “this great soundtrack for this epic game.” She recorded both acoustic and electric cello for the game. 

Of Bird and Cage is already out on PC on Steam, don’t miss it!

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