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.

1 comment:

trlkly said...

Never saw this written out before. It's more complex than it sounds. The backbeat just sounds like a basic swung 16-beat, and the melody line just walks up the scale from the top note of a C chord, and then again from an F chord. The only thing that seems weird is that the I chord does not lead into the IV chord with a subtonic (flat seven). That bass line adds a whole other dimension, as do the competing rhythm lines.

I also always wondered why the audio sounded so much better. Thanks for informing me about the fifth channel that could do raw audio samples. I had always thought any samples were done via a combination of the noise channel and just really fast pitches on the regular channel. Now that Sesame Street game with the Count makes more sense why the Count's voice sound so good. Though still not why it sounds better than stuff made in the 16-bit era.