I know nothing about creating music. I may have dubbed myself ‘the hit factory’ because I improvise needling little ditties to annoy my girlfriend with (“Your Turn To Do The Dishes-Doo Wah Doo Wah”, reached the top of my flat’s music charts in late 2002) , but who doesn’t do that? I’m not gifted. Those little riffs seldom have any melody, or hook, or–jeez–even recognizable notes if I think about it. Admittedly, I’d have no idea how to actually take pen to paper and write a song. The ability to do so, like the ability of solving complicated mathematical equations, or the ability to disguise a hangover, is something that I’ll never know. And I greatly admire those who can write music. Today’s great thing is dedicated to one person that can write music and whose name, outside of a certain sub-group of nerds, is virtually unknown.
41. Koji Kondo and his Super Mario Brothers Score
Whosie-what-now? Koji Kondo. This guy:
Somebody has to write the music for games. When you finish a video game, look a the cast and credits as they scroll by. It’s like a small movie set. You need designers, marketers, actors, animators, directors–and yes–composers. Thank the Atari gods, some of them are terrific. Even if you’re not a gamer and you think there’s no possible way you’d know some of his more famous creations, like music for The Legend of Zelda, Duck Hunt, or, Starfox, you’re bound to have heard this little number someway somehow sometime…his most famous, Super Mario Brothers. Here, in the geekiest fashion I can possibly muster, is the theme tune played on a Solid State Musical Tesla Coil (credit to The Geek Group):
Credited by many to be the John Williams, The Ennio Morricone, or the Howard Shore of the video game set, Kondo is a classically trained musician who was born in Nagoya Japan. Though he’s proficient on a multitude of instruments, his work at Nintendo limited him to only four (one of which was actually him exploiting the sound fx card)–something that, at least at first, he found quite challenging. Technically, things in the gaming world have progressed in giant leaps and bounds and he can now create orchestral music for the Nintendo Wii. Which he does, as he is still with the company.
Kondo credits one of his earliest and everlasting influences as Henry Mancini:
Like Mancini, Kondo has been credited with creating melodies that are simple enough to hum but like-able enough to hear looped over and over again. This is, of course, crucial to any composition for game-play. You know how it is…you can spend days, months even trying to rescue Princess Peach. A bad bit of music could drive you absolutely mad! Though he lists Mancini as an influence and cops to two of his all-time fave albums being Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery and Deep Purple’s Made in Japan, you’ll hear a bit of Latin, a bit of jazz, and a bit of classical tinges to his scores. Listening to bits of his Super Mario score almost makes me feel like I’m watching a silent film sometimes. It’s got that old-timey ragtime quality and the theatricality to it. His bit for when Mario battles Bowser (the giant turtle with the leather fetish), is especially wicked.
His music is melody based with very little added harmony, which is, apparently more of an Eastern approach to music. It’s at this point that I don’t really know what the hell I’m talking about. For a really great article that goes more into Kondo’s technique and what he views as the three crucial points in video game composition–rhythm, balance, and interactivity–click here: Gamepro Article
Eventually, I’ll probably get around to blogging about more aspects of the Mario franchise. There’s so much to exploit! Once I began doing a bit of research for this entry, I found so many entertaining videos about just the music, that I had to dedicate a whole day to Koji Kondo. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to show you all these videos that follow. We’ve got people playing the Mario Theme on the drums:
We’ve got people playing Mario on the flute (and beatboxing simultaneously)
We’ve got this guitar virtuoso:
I have to tell you. The best thing about that last video, besides that it’s fricking awesome, is that in the youtube comments that followed, somebody wrote this: “Asians are from out of SPACE man!! this video is the proof!!!!”
Ha! It’s the most flattering racism ever. I may have to try and insert it into more cultural conversations. Like this:
Person I Want To Impress: Well, I think American directors are overrated. Except for Ang Lee…if you can consider him an American…he went to NYU…blah blah blah….
Me: Asians are from SPACE man!! I’ve got a video that’s the proof!!!
Person I Want To Impress: Mmm… Good point.
Finally, here’s a whole bleedin’ orchestra tearing up the track. It’s actually part of the Play! Symphony Tour. More details can be found here: Play!
Anyway, I hope this post has convinced you of the merits of Koji Kondo. His music is seared onto the brain of every human under the age of 35. There’s just something about it that makes me want to eat mushrooms, smash bricks with my head, and crawl into drainpipes… Magical.