Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword - The Ballad of the Goddess

In honor of the release of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword today, I bring you an analysis of this theme. What is known now as the Ballad of the Goddess is the first harp song learned in the game, and also the theme that has been used for all promotional material leading up to this release. It is a beautiful piece, and harmonically very interesting.

(Update: 11/9/13 - had to find new youtube videos, so the notation may not match with the music, but the harmonic profile and melody are still the same.)

Here is a quick melody and bass line with a harmonic reduction I wrote out.  I’m 99% sure I got it right.
For those who have been reading up on Skyward Sword, you might have already heard that this melody is a mirror of Zelda’s Lullaby.  But I want you to see clearly that it is not just a pitch mirror, but a rhythmic mirror as well:

Pretty cool!
But really, the more interesting element of this object is the harmony.
There is an element of this object that really plays into a term that I am going to start using and developing as I continue my analysis, called the ZELDA SOUND.
The Zelda Sound started with the first game for the series and continues to this day and is evident in this object.  The Zelda sound is a particular way that the game’s composers have used mode to create harmonic variety in the music.  First look at a roman numeral analysis of the Ballad of the Goddess (don’t worry, I break it down below):
So the piece is centered around D as a tonic.  Can we call it D Major or D Minor?  That is hard to say.  Which chords in this analysis are minor?  Just the tonic chords?  The composer has borrowed from D major to have a predominantly major sonority with a minor tonic chord. 
Many of the objects in the Zelda series will liberally borrow pitches from parallel modes to create a sound that is distinctly Zelda.  Also there is a trend to use non-typical chords to fulfill a common function.  So, measure by measure, here is how I analyze this object:
For those who have been following by blog, you might notice how I hear the end of the object.  I see this object as transitioning from d minor to A major, and the A is emphasized by the “Mario Cadence.”  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, click hear to read my article on the “Mario Cadence.”
After 25 years, there is a whole lot to talk about with this music.

Map Music: SMB3 – World 5

I love looking at the map music objects.  Because of their brevity, you can really dive deep into each object in a very short amount of time.

Notice that with this object, our second pulse wave track is significantly lower in pitch, requiring the use of a bass clef for notation.
The big question here is what key are we in????  Looking strictly at this object it is actually unclear.  In a later post, perhaps I will begin to examine some of the objects surrounding this one and looking at overall style to make a deduction, but right now we can either operate in the key of F (alternating V-I progression) or the key of C (a I-IV motion).
What I really love about this object is the heavy swing feel and the bass line, which steals the “melodic” element of the object.  Notice also that there is not a strong pulse on beat 1 of any of the top two lines and the bass only gets it on measures 1 and 3.  The harmonic motion between the two chords creates an overall pulse with significant downbeats on measures 1 and 3.
This is also the only object so far to have an introduction riff.  Why do you suppose the riff was included?  Well there are two possible explanations and I will leave it to you to determine which one or if both have any plausibility:
1) The introductory riff is included to give us a sense of pulse.  Since there are very few emphasis on the strong beats of measures, this riff allows us to feel this rhythmic dissonance by informing us as to the location of the meter.
2) This introduction draws our attention to the C major harmony as tonic with the non-pitch rhythmic introduction serving as a surrogate rhythmic dominant resolving to the tonic.  We can think of it as the end of a drum fill that resolves to the first measure of a new phrase, which is where tonic typically lies.
Now there is a thought… rhythms resolving… maybe there is somewhere I can go with that!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Map Music: SMB3 – World 4

Eight measure, short and sweet.  The object is harmonically simple as well, a textbook I, ii, V, I progression. (The melody does have some interesting use of non-harmonic tones…)


This is a great object however to talk about the rhythmic or metric complexity.  This simple eight measure object contains many layers of rhythmic activity that really can be quite interesting to examine.

Going smallest to largest, we will start with our eighth note layer. This is the shortest note value in the object and one which many ears are drawn to on first listen.  It is emphasized by the alternating octaves in the base and the rhythm of the white noise line:


The quarter note layer can also be heard in the bass line, considering each octave interval as one unit, but is also emphasized in the drum set (bass drum and snare):


One layer up, is the half note layer.  This relaxed feel is most obvious in the melodic line, but is also reinforced by the drum set line (considering the bass/snare as one larger unit):


The whole note layer is felt in the measures.  There is a larger sense of pulse at the unit of the measure created mainly by the time signature of the piece.

A double whole note, or two measure feel, can be felt in the harmonic rhythm  The harmonies change every two measures.  This remains true for the entire object if you consider the Cadential 6/4 and the Dominate chord on the last two measures as one harmonic function.

Lastly, there is a larger four measure pulse as the object is felt with a strong arrival on m. 1 beat 1 as well as m. 5 beat 1 (with the rather dissonance C# leading back up to the D).

One simple eight measure object includes rhythmic/pulse layers all the way from the eighth note to the larger four measure feel.  With everything in between included.  Remarkable!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Adventures of Link Analysis: Town Music


This object is relatively straight forward.  There is occasional modal mixture with the infrequent use of the F minor chord. 

The brief trip to Eb at the end of the object is perhaps the most interesting segment.  I am a little disappointed that the only chords we get in this key are dominant chords and we never get a firm Eb.  I would argue against a key change here, but the key relationships between C and Eb are interesting for us Riemannians (it is a stacked transformation: parallel then relative).

The most interesting harmonic shift is between the last two chords of the object.  A V7 in Eb moving to a V in C.  This is an amazing voice leading phenomenon that seems to parallel the key relationships between these two. Since we are going from the V in the key of Eb, to the V in the key of C, we have to perform the transformation in reverse (relative then parallel):

So our base triad the first chord it [Bb, D, F]

R[Bb, D, F] = [G, Bb, D]
In a relative transformation, the chord is transformed into its relative key.  So in the case of Bb Major, it is transformed into G minor.  This is done by having the top note moved up one step. If the chord were a minor chord and being transformed by a relative transformation, the bottom note would move down one step.

P[G, Bb, D] = [G, B, D]
A parallel transformation takes a chord and transforms it to its parallel major/minor by moving the third a semi-tone in the appropriate direction.

Now, the seventh of the chord, A, does what it naturally wants to do, drops to the G.  That release of tension combined combined with the smooth voice-leading in the rest of the chord makes this key transition smooth as butter.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Map Music: SMB3 – World 3

Slightly longer object than the World 2 map, World 3 (water theme) contains eight measures with a cut-time feel:


This one perplexes me a bit.  Each of the three pitched lines seems to focus in on a different pitch.  The bass line reduced works out as follows:


A simple pattern around a tonic C, emphasized by a chromatic descending line and typical 7-2-1 motion at the cadence.

The upper voice tells a different story, seeming to favor centering around A (quasi-schenkerian reduction):


Notice how the primary pitches shift rhythmic focus in the second half of the object.

Lastly, the middle tonal line uses chromatic grace notes to emphasize a line similar to the bass line, but around E as the tonal center:

image i

If you put these three reductions together, it makes:


Which makes NO SENSE!!!!!!

Ok… so if you take in a bit more information, ignore the top line and just look at the base line and the ornamented second line, you are left with something that you can hold onto harmonically:


So aside from measure 8, all we have is a slow decent upwards, and a return downwards… like the ebb and flow of the tide (wink wink).  Measure 8 establishes our tonic by using the leading tone triad to lead us back to C. 

So what about that melody line?  Over this interpretation, it is emphasizing the sixth over the bass in the first four measures, and then adds a seventh onto three of the chords in the last four measures (turning the chord in measure 6 into a dominant-seventh).

We could make a case for bi-modal, some quasi-Bartokean method, or bring in some other theoretical excuse for the melody line, but it works.  It does not feel dissonant, but it does make the whole object very interesting, and one of the reasons we typically do not get tired of hearing this map object when playing the game.

One last note about this object.  Remember, this is the map music for the Water Themed land.  Listen to the water music from the original Super Mario Bros.  Do you hear any similarities to this object? The chromatic lower-neighbor that characterizes this object’s melody is also very prevalent in the original SMB Water Theme.  Coincidence?  Doubtful.

You would almost think that the same guy wrote both of these objects… oh wait…

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Map Music: SMB3 – World 2

Two measures… that is all there is to this object.  But there is a lot of interesting information in these two measures!

First off, what key are we in?  Are we in a key?  Does it matter?!?!?!

Of course it matters!

Our ear is drawn to F as our tonic or central pitch.  Notice the bass line repeating the F and leading into it with a chromatic ascent.  Also the top voice always brings us back to F, first with the descending third, then with the semitone ascent.


Now that we have established F as our center, we have to deal with the tonality.  The first measure can be identified as minor, with the E natural used as the leading tone back up to F to solidify our root.

You can see the mirror used between the top line and the bass line, a decent of a minor third followed by an ascent. Provides a nice contour for the object.


What about the second measure?  It contains a B natural, not native to any mode of F.  There are two ways you can look at it.  Locally, this B natural serves as the leading tone back up to the fifth of the key.  But taking the whole sonic picture out of context, where else do we hear such a sound?  Blues!  The F blues scale contains both Bb and B.


It is also worth noting that, by respelling the accidentals in this object, the minor thirds become augmented seconds, a sound we attribute to the harmonic minor scale.  This sound is always associated with the exotic.  While I’m not going to posit a semiological argument here, the fact that this map is a world of desert sands and pyramids could be the reason these intervals were included.

Multiple levels of modal mixture, intervals interpreted multiple ways, semiology, a firmly established tonic… and I did not even touch on the rhythm.

Two measures… who would have thought could be so interesting!