You will probably recognize our listening example as the SuperMario Bros. theme music. Our musician of the week is Koji Kondo, a Japanese video game composer and sound director. Kondo has worked for Nintendo since 1984.
He is best known for his work in the SuperMariogames and TheLegend of Zelda video games series. The Super Mario theme has a Latin calypso rhythm and has been reused in other Nintendo games. Kondo states that he doesn’t know if he could make a theme catchier than this one, but he would like to try. The music has been played on concerts, used on Dancing with the Stars, and for ringtones.We’ll be listening to more examples of Kondo’s video game music this week.
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
Watch a short biography about Koji Kondo.
Kondo performs the Mario theme live on keyboard.
Listening Example: "Dragon Roost Island" from The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
Koji Kondo was born in Nagoya, Japan in 1961. He began lessons at age five on an electronic organ, or keyboard.
Koji's musical skills improved when he later played in a band that played jazz and rock music.
He studied at the Osaka University of Arts, but he was never classically trained or really dedicated to music. He gained some experience in composing and arranging pieces, using both the piano and a computer to assist him.
Kondo was hired in 1983 by Nintendo without having to send in a demo tape of his music. He is one of the biggest composers of video game music of all time.
Kondo is friends with Shigeru Miyamoto, the famous video game designer, developer and producer.
Where do music ideas come from?
Like tunes that get stuck in our head, video game music often sticks with us long after we’re done playing. Sometimes the best ideas come from unlikely places. In an interview, Kondo revealed where his ideas come to him:
“When I’m thinking of the melody and main theme of any game, I don’t really come up with those at work. It’s always somewhere outside of the office. Usually, I’ll be in the bathtub, or sleeping, or walking down the hallway in my house. Suddenly, the music pops into my head, and it’s like ‘oh, there it is!”
LISTEN FOR . . . Kondo’s nickname is the “Japanese John Williams”, and hearing the Zelda theme song is like listening to one of John Williams’ grand, epic movie themes.
But our listening example today is “Dragon Roost Island”, a location from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. It is a large, volcanic island with a huge mountain that can be seen from a great distance. Listening to video game music without the distraction of playing, and without electronic sounds, can be an enjoyable experience. Does the style of the music fit the scenery? And can you identify the two small stringed instruments playing together in this video?
MUSIC LISTENING LINKS
Listening Example: "Saria's Song - Lost Woods" from Ocarina of Time
Video games use electronically produced sounds and music. One of Koji Kondo’s most popular tunes is Saria’s song, “Lost Woods” from Legends of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This melody usually serves as background music for places that are related to forests or woods.
Saria’s Song is a tune taught to the hero, Link, by Saria. He learns the song as a symbol of friendship. The song can also be used to ease troubled minds. It has appeared in other episodes such as Majora’s Mask, Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. Music plays an important role in the game. To progress, the player must learn to play several songs on an ocarina. The game was responsible for increased interest and rise in sales of the instrument.
What is an ocarina?
The ocarina belongs to a very old family of wind instruments, believed to date back over 12,000 years. Similar to a flute, it is an enclosed space with four to twelve finger holes and a mouthpiece that projects from the body. Ocarinas can be made from clay, ceramic, plastic, wood, glass, metal or bone.
Celtic ocarina Peruvian ocarinas
LISTEN FOR . . . The lively melody of "Lost Woods" is based on a motif, or short phrase, of three pitches that move upward and downward. The rhythm pattern is "bud-dy pal, bud-dy pal".
TECHNOLOGY OR LIVE MUSIC? If you’ve played the game, compare the computerized, electronic sounds of the music to this live performance linked below the picture, and think about which you like better.
Click below to hear "Lost Woods" played live on an ocarina.
Click below to hear the electronic music from the game.
Listening Example: "Song of Storms"
One of the remarkable things about music technology is the ability of one person to record a tune on a keyboard or synthesizer and save it on computer. Then another sound can be recorded and added to the existing one, then another sound, and so on, until you have a complex musical composition, created by just one musician. This is called “dubbing”, “layering”, or creating “loops”.
Music production lab
LISTEN FOR . . . “Song of Storms” is another recurring melody in the Zelda series. In our listening video, the music gradually builds by use of a “layered” effect. It starts off with just piano, then adds synthesized strings, then “chorus”, which sounds like voices, and finally a flute joins in the melody. On the Music Culture Page, you can watch a dramatized video of violinist Taylor Davis playing a medley of “Song of Time” and “Song of Storms”.
Listening Example: "Song of Healing" from Majora's Mask
Since Majora’s Mask, Kondo has focused his attention on leading the large sound team at Nintendo headquarters. His team is responsible for the composition, sound effects, and sound programming for Nintendo games. Kondo hired the team members to enhance the quality, productivity, and versatility of Nintendo’s sound production. They continue to preserve Koji Kondo’s principles of game music – offering fun melodies, variety of musical styles, and game interactivity. It often takes a team to make success happen.
Kondo's "Song of Healing" is from the sixth game in the Zelda series, Majora's Mask, which is the sequal to Ocarina of Time. "Song of Healing" has been ranked among the top ten favorites of the Zelda songs.
In the game, Link has been hit over the head and his ocarina has been stolen. He later recovers it and plays the "Song of Healing", which is used in several places during the game to heal or soothe emotions. Kondo uses his game melodies the way John Williams uses leitmotifs to represent characters or locations.
LISTEN FOR . . . The melody is simple yet emotional. If you listen carefully, you may be able to detect that the notes to this melody are the same as in Saria's "Lost Woods" song, except they are reversed.
Hear "Song of Healing" from Majora's Mask.
Click below to hear a piano version.
Click the link below to hear the group Imagine Dragons with Kondo at the piano at the 2014 Game Awards.
Click below to hear the lively "Tower of Spirits" music. The rhythm gives the music a feeling of forward motion.
Click below to hear "The Legend of Zelda" Main Theme on a music box.
Click below to hear a medley (collection) of tunes from the original sound track.
Click below to hear the Star Road Theme from Super Mario World. Then compare to the piano version below. Which do you like best?
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