Hey all! Was out of town this week, so I apologize for the delay in posting new arrangements! This week, I decided to take a break this week from the carefree happiness of Super Mario World to dig into some Chrono Trigger music. Now I must confess, I still have not actually played this game *dodges flying bullets* but it's not my fault, I tell you! When I was a kid, my sibligns and I grew up with a Sega Genesis and then a Nintendo 64; the only time I got to play Super Nintendo or Playstation was when I visited my cousin's house two or three times a year, and I guess he didn't have Chrono Trigger, because I hadn't even heard of it until I was in college! But rest assured, I DESPERATELY want to play this game, I have absolutely loved all of the music I've heard from it so far, and it's one of my favorite segments that I perform with Video Games Live.
So until I hijack a Super Nintendo and steal a copy of Chrono Trigger, I have been hunting down the music on Youtube. And wow...I can't believe how many orchestral colors Yasunori Mitsuda was able to get out of an SNES sound system. It really is very deep and complex music. Tell me the Chrono Trigger theme wouldn't sound completely EPIC with a live orchestra and solo saxophone.
What jumped out at me when I was listening to the Chrono Trigger music was the use of strong orchestral textures in video game music, which I think was pretty innovative for its time. I've included a link to a VERY lengthy Wikipedia article, but in a nutshell: texture is essentially the way all of the rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic elements in a piece work together. And video game music is absolutely the PERFECT way to learn rudimentary texture! Seriously! Early video games (i.e. NES) had only few channels of sound to use for instrument voices, so the texture as a result was very "thin."For example, any piece of music from the first Castlevania: you've got your melody line, your harmony/countermelody line, bass line, rhythm section. And that's it. Because there's only one "voice" per line, it's VERY easy to hear the distinct lines of the texture. I found this awesome video a few days ago that is a GREAT example of how the growing abilities of sound cards give composers more textural ability. And it was not only the number of channels, but the growing number of "timbres" available to the composers. I mean, listen to the Chrono Trigger theme! Some of those sounds are CRAZY good for their time, like the timpani hits, strings, the snare drum! Over the years, video game music has become just as texturally complex as a modern-day orchestra--and in some ways even MORE complex, because video game composers often work with electronic instruments, which means the number of timbres they could create are positively endless. And as a result, all of these new timbres can work with each other in different ways to create new textures of sound.
I liked both of these new pieces for different reasons. Chrono Trigger's theme really gets my blood pumping because it feels like it's always moving forward. The big timpani hits in the bass really give the piece power, but there is also a forward momentum in the quieter sections, i.e. the little harp ostinato that Mitsuda employs starting in m.26; the melody, harmony and basslines have become very long and sustained, to create a sweet, quiet moment. Without the percussion and rhythmic bassline, the harp is the instrument that keeps the piece moving. What a great choice; it's a soft, light timbre, a short, plucked sound, and therefore doesn't take away from the melody and harmonies. It's "there" without distracting us from what we "should" be listening to. I find that Mitsuda-san uses a lot of ostinatos in his work, which I'll write about next week regarding his "Corridor of Time" piece.
"Zeal Palace" also has some seriously dark epicness, in very simple but effective ways. The use of pedal points give it a really forbidding, grim tone. It's like the antithesis of the Chrono Trigger theme, which excites us right at the beginning with loud, in-your-face drums and percussive harmonies; in the beginning of Zeal Palace, the low/high strings are barely moving at all, but it's the lack of movement that puts us on the edge of our seats! Two totally different approaches, but both excite us as listeners. Too cool :-D
Enjoy the new arrangements for Chrono Trigger and Zeal Palace! More on the way!
Two more of the map themes this week, plus the Koopaling Battle Theme. Speaking of which, did you know that Bowser's kids in SMW are specifically called "Koopalings" and not "Koopa Kids?" While looking up the title of their battle theme, I found an entire wiki page dedicated to Bowser's children, with more information than I could ever possibly desire about his spawn. This discovery was both ridiculous and awesome.
And speaking of RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME, man was their theme was crazy! Usually I have no trouble with melody lines, but transcribing the Koopaling Battle Theme was pretty difficult! The harmonies in the accompaniment weren't hard; the bass line is a basic pattern outlining the chords, and the harmonies (in the right hand of my transcription) are built in fourths. But the solo line moved FAST, and moved seamlessly between a LOT of different scales--for example, octatonic (mm.6-7), minor (m. 12) and chromatic (m.16). If the melody followed one scale throughout the whole piece, it would be easier for my ear to identify the notes. However, the composer will throw in a note that doesn't belong in the scale he was suggesting, at which point I go "D'OH, KOJI KONDO, YOU GOT ME AGAIN!"
And it's the rapidly changing scales that make the melody line so awesome! It's crazy and frenetic, and it definitely puts me on the edge of my seat whenever I do battle with a Koopaling. The style of the piece reminds me VERY strongly of Latin bebop, which is a very fast and virtuosic type of jazz, with the same type of rapid melody line. The link I provided is only one example, I'm sure there are a ton more on Youtube! Personally, I've always found that the music from the Mario franchise has a lot of jazz and Latin influence in it...I wonder if Koji Kondo is a bebop fan?
Enjoy the new arrangements for Vanilla Dome, Star Road and Koopaling Battle Theme! More on the way!
This week, I went a little nuts and started cranking out TONS of Super Mario World arrangements. It's the VERY FIRST video game I ever remember seeing; I think I was like four or five years old, at my aunt's house, watching my cousins do battle in one of Reznor's fortresses. I remember actually feeling scared when I saw Reznor shooting all the flames and the bridge vanishing beneath Mario's feet! See, you don't need crazy graphics to terrify gamers ;-) Because I love this game and its music so much, I am on a mission to transcribe literally EVERY piece of music from that game. I'm already working on all sorts of arrangements, some for piano, some for solo instrument & piano, I'm sure we'll have a piano duet thrown in there somewhere, etc. I'm having a lot of fun with this project, some of it is really quite challenging to transcribe! (Next week I'm doing the Koopaling Battle theme, and WOW is that music ridiculously crazy). So far into the project, I've noticed a few simple things:
1) Main Themes. I hear two big ones. The happy adventure theme (Overworld) and the evil danger theme (Underworld?). The happy theme is heard in Overworld, Underwater, Underground and Athletic levels. The evil theme is in the Ghost House and Castle. All contain either of the main melodies, just with different meters and textures. Crazy!!
2) They are heavily melodic. And that's why we hum them!
3) Division of Themes. Anyone notice that the level types are divided almost exactly like the very first Mario game? Overworld, Underground, Underwater, Castle. The only exception to this is the addition of the Ghost House and Athletic levels in SMW, and even those borrow from the Castle and Overworld themes respectively. I honestly didn't completely realize this until I started this project. Double crazy!!
4) The map themes are NOT heavily melodic. With the exception of the Forest of Illusion and Donut Plains, most of the map themes rely on simple harmonies + rhythmic interest. For example, Yoshi Island theme, which to me sounds like a basic call-and-response between the treble and bass lines. The lack of melody in the map themes makes sense though, you probably shouldn't have the map music overshadow the music of the actual levels.
5) I am having way too much fun :-D
Enjoy the new Super Mario World arrangements for the Main Titles, Yoshi's Island, Donut Plains, and the Overworld! A LOT more are on the way!
Video game music was what got me composing as a kid, and I learned the basics of composition from transcribing my favorite VGM pieces. These are my thoughts and discoveries about various game compositions as I transcribe and study them. Feel free to comment with your own thoughts/ideas as well!