Yikes, it's been a while since I've posted new arrangements! The last few weeks got crazy-busy for me--I had to prepare for VGL Indianapolis, where I performed in five different segments, PLUS putting together an absolute mountain of flute arrangements to play at the ticket booth, to advertise for the show. Then there was Gen Con itself, which was AMAZING!!! I mean holy crap, there were a LOT of games there! I spent waaay too much money, but hey, it WAS my birthday ;-) And then I went straight from Indianapolis to a family vacation for a week at a dude ranch, where I horsebacked and paintballed for several days, complete with getting shot in the head at less than twenty feet. EXACTLY as painful as it sounds.
But I'm back, with more Super Mario World arrangements! Just two this week, but I'll have more stuff to post next week--now that I'm home for a while, I'll be back on schedule with my about-once-a-week posting. This week, we have the Underwater Theme and Forest of Illusion themes. Let's take a look at both. Forest of Illusion, although short, has a very interesting sound--my guess is that Kondo decided to use unresolved, nontraditional harmonies to reflect the mysterious, illusory nature of this map (for those of you who have played the game, almost every level on this map has two exits).
For those of you who are interested in some beginner music theory, let's do some simple harmonic analysis. In traditional, 18th century tonality (Mozart and Beethoven's time), composers used what are called cadences to conclude harmonic progressions. Cadence comes from the Latin word "cadentia" which means literally "a falling." I personally prefer to think of a cadence as a landing. In traditional tonal writing, a composer uses a series of chords to support his/her melody, which is called a chord progression. But how do you know when one progression ends and another begins? Cadences. They are essentially musical punctuation marks.
It's not as complicated as it sounds--in fact, you know EXACTLY what a cadence sounds like. Virtually all of the music we hear on the radio these days use cadences--and a lot of video game music too! For example, let's look at the other arrangement for this week, the Underwater Theme. The melody first appears in mm. 13-27. But wait a second--how do I KNOW the melody is ending in mm. 27? Take a listen to it (:19-:20). Do you hear that "landing" point in m. 27, how the phrase comes to a finish? WHY does it sound like that? Listen, and now follow along with the score:
1) We are in the key of F major.
2) The chord for m. 26 is built on the 5th note of the scale (C). Call it the V (five) chord.
3) The chord for m. 27 is built on the 1st note of the scale (F). Call it the I (one) chord.
This relationship, between V-I, is called an authentic cadence and we hear it ALL THE TIME, in pop music AND concert music. This is considered the "strongest" type of cadence, because it has such a definitive sound. This is just one type of cadence, there are many different kinds (IV-I, V-vi, ii-V, etc.), but we'll get into those some other time ;-)
So! Now that we know what a typical cadence sounds like, let's go back to the Forest of Illusion. Without getting too crazy with harmonic analysis: yes, there is a melody, and that melody does have landing points within it (i.e. mm.1-2), but do any of them sound as definitive as the landing point we found in the Underwater Theme? To my ear, no. Kondo creates non-traditional chord progressions, that don't resolve as strongly as traditional chord progressions; the cadences are more of a fading than a landing. And for me, that's what makes the Forest of Illusion Theme sound so mysterious :-D
One last thing to know about cadences: there are MANY different forms. If you ever take a music theory class, the first types of cadences you'll learn about are the classical ones that composers like Mozart and Beethoven used in the 18th and 19th century. Concert music has come a loooong way since then, and while some composers still use traditional harmonies and chord progressions, many contemporary composers do not, including myself. But for me, I believe a cadence is any kind of landing point, whether it uses old-fashioned chord relationships or some totally rad, crazy progress ion that sounds nothing like Mozart--if a phrase sounds like it begins, travels, and then ends--or lands--then I'd call it a cadence. Different sounds for different times!
Hope you enjoyed this week's lesson! If anyone has something in particular they want me to write about, whether it's straight-up music theory or a specific piece of video game music, feel free to comment or send me a message on the Contact page! I'd love to hear from you!
Enjoy the new arrangements of Underwater Theme and Forest of Illusion! More 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!