Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Map Music: SMB3 – World 1

Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced the world map to us, an concept which was used again in Super Mario World and similar games, and has recently come back to us in New Super Mario Bros.

The World 1 map is probably the most recognizable of all the world map objects.  This one is just twelve measures (depending on how you transcribe it).

I chose to write the tune in 12/8 time, however, it could be transcribed in 4/4 with an indication to swing the rhythm. 


Super Mario Bros. 3 made use of the mysterious fifth sound channel.  This channel is a PCM channel (pulse-code modulation) which was able to take sampled analog signals and convert them into a digital sound.  SMB3 used this channel to incorporate a more realistic sounding drum set, complete with bass, snare, and toms.  The white noise channel is still used in the same manner as before, to provide a rhythmic backdrop.

There is a conflict between the two rhythmic lines.  The white noise line (line four) is setting up a nice four pattern that seems to compliment the rhythm of the three pitched lines.  However, the PCM Channel (transcribed on line five) seems to be setting up a large feel and more accurately emphasizes when the melody changes pitches. 

So how do you hear the piece?  Does it have an overarching two beat feel, or do you hear a lively four pattern?

And why twelve bars and not a full sixteen?  That would make a much better period.

Harmonically, it is also interesting that they are able to emphasize C as the root of the object, yet there is no emphasis on a dominant harmony.  The first and last phrases are centered on C and the middle phrase is centered on F.  Someone might even mistake this object as an F centric tune, but our ears tell us that C is the root pitch (the B Natural gives it away).

Lastly, notice that the bass line chooses to touch on the relative minor of the respective harmonies emphasized.  That would be a perfect place to drop down to the dominant, but the composer choose to stop short at the submediant.  It gives the object a nice color and does not seem so repetitive.  It really sounds like it could and should go on forever… and it will if you do pick a level.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

8-Bit Zelda Title Themes: A Comparative Analysis

This post was originally intended to be an analytical look at the Title music from The Legend of Zelda: The Adventures of Link, but in doing the analysis, there is just too much to discuss when looking at these two objects together.  As a refresher, here is the Title Music from The Legend of Zelda:

… and the title music from The Legend of Zelda: The Adventures of Link:

The LoZ title music is structured in the following format:

4 measure intro | 6 measure bridge | 8 measure Phrase A | 12 measure Phrase B

In contrast, the LoZ:AL title music breaks down as follows:

4 measure lead in | 8 measure intro | 4 measure bridge | 8 measure Phrase A | 8 measure Phase B

There are some similarities here.  Each object contains two primary phrases of music, with an introduction and a bridge from the intro into the main melodic statement.  On first listen, these two objects appear to have very little in common…

… however…

If you look at the harmonies implied in the introduction phrases, you get the following (harmonic rhythm is one chord per measure):

LOZ – Bb | Ab | Gb | F
LOZ:AL – G | F | Eb | D | G | F | Eb | D

Roman Numerals: I – bVII – bVI – V (– I – bVII – bVI – V)

Each of these objects is built on this descending sequence of chords through a modally mixed scale.

Each object uses this progression differently.  In LOZ, the pattern is used again at the beginnings of both Phrase A and B, but then moves to different related harmonies. 

LOZ:AL is entirely based on this progression.  Phrase A emphasizes I, using bVII as a dominant functioning chord, and Phrase B alternates between bVI and V. 

These harmonies are ingrained in the harmonic language of music written by or inspired by Koji Kondo.  I could reference other examples here, but I’ll save it for another day.

Now listen to the two objects again.  Can you here the remarkable similarities?