Koji Kondo. I’ve always felt his work and contributions to music are vastly underrated. He’s bigger than video game music. He’s music. Melodies, new ways of expressing ideas through notation. Everything! And I’m about to prove it to you. The man who wrote that Mario song we all know and love. But there’s so much more to it than that. A career spanning decades from the 80’s to the present, making music for Mario, Zelda, Etc. Sure. But his work is incredible. It can be scary, funny, lustful, he does it all. When you really sit down to appreciate his work, it’s utterly evident that he loves the art. And he makes it a different kind of art. He used music in ways no one else ever had. Let’s talk about the music itself.
There is a new concept in scoring films and movies that I don’t think even has a name. It’s a device in which a composer uses chord progression or modulations from existing work from the same franchise and composes new melodies on top of it. This is why you walked out of Man of Steel and asked yourself, “Did Hans Zimmer use John Williams’ Superman theme in there at some point?” but can’t remember where. It’s because he didn’t use it! But his new compositions, based around the same chords, FELT like Superman music. And how crazy is that? Superman isn’t a genre! This happens in Star Trek and other sci-fi franchises too. It’s SUPER effective at tying installments of a franchise together without reusing the same songs and themes, and it’s totally different from the Leit Motif ideas we see throughout Star Wars. Of course, Leit Motif is present throughout Kondo’s work too. Which is why we have to revisit Star Wars. But Kondo was the earliest example of this other, chord progression based kind of music allusion. He does it to tie together Mario games across platforms and different titles. Star Trek did it later, which is when this idea really became a trope and started to show up everywhere. Did Star Trek get it from Kondo? Did they invent it independently? Did they get it from someone else who copied Kondo? Who knows! But what’s for sure is that no one was doing it before Kondo was.
Other key points about Kondo we’ll cover are the emphasis on strong, catchy melodies. Paul McCartney comes into play through this, and in a weird way Kanye West. Who expected that? But totally. It’s totally true. McCartney’s emphasis on melodies over lyrics is news to no one.
Also, the overwhelming presence of 8 bit sounds in the music we hear coming out nowadays. If Kondo hadn’t composed such classic melodies in 8 bit, the sound of 8 bit synths wouldn’t be something we still wanted to hear. If his music has been grating and annoying, we would’ve been glad to forget that entire class of instruments. But Kondo made melodies we truly cherished in 8 bit, creating 8 bit’s place in the current soundscape of music. It’s all over the place nowadays. The Johnny Cash remix is a great example. It doesn’t jump out at you. But once you know it’s there, it’s unmistakable. And I could’ve chosen any song for this example, really. 8 bit is everywhere these days.
Of course, we sample some of the synthy prog-rock Kondo first aspired to create. Yes, ELP. There is something to be said about the fact that these bands created feelings more often than jams. Their music has a good amount of scene setting. Which, of course, became VERY relevant to Kondo later on. It’s even been said that his work on Nintendo’s music was as important to the overall mood of a game as anything on the screen.
And then we get to rap. Why is video game music so important to rap? This will sound crazy to non-rap fans, but rap people probably get it right away without explanation. It isn’t just that rappers play video games. If you think that’s it, dude, you are missing a lot. For real. First of all, most any video game music would be a great beat for a rap song, because it’s a VERY similar template. It’s made to be in the background, never get boring, and (most importantly) it’s comprised of short loops of music repeated until infinite. This is why every rapper in his heart wants to rhyme over Zelda. Rap is an oft-overlooked peer genre to video game music.
Of course we have to talk about J Pop and anime. The shared fan base of this music in nerd culture is alone enough to tie these kinds of music together. Even when film or TV is churned out by corporations assembly-line style, the guys in charge do CRAZY amounts of research to make sure that the music in their scores at the very least shares traits in common with the genres their audience listens to. This is basic marketing stuff (brainwashing stuff?). The pleasant side effect is the feeling of relevance that the scores have built in. We understand the feelings we’re supposed to have about whatever we’re looking at because they’re presented to us in a language we already understand. But there is also a conversation to be had about how we consume music, and where those musical ideas end up after we do. Koji Kondo is still making music to this day, and you’d better believe he listens to the popular music of the day in Japan and elsewhere, be it J Pop, anime, whatever.
Anyway, Vos was cool enough to hang out and share his thoughts. And at the last minute, The Kultural Kameleon from Chopping it Up Geek joins us too! His new show on nerd culture is going to be your LIFE. And Vos. You know Vos. He’s always got solid input on anything. Worldy guy with informed opinions.
Did I mention Noah Page yet? Because: NOAH PAGE! So happily taking his place among the amazing team of Cause and Effect DJ’s. And guys, he’s coming back real soon. I know you love it. Just wait.
What else happened? So much! It was fun, action-packed two hours. Noah Page saved DJ Lylas’ life with an important message about not facebook messaging while driving. The employees of Wawa finally got someone to back them up about that milkshake machine problem. Noah Page’s mom, now a recurring character, assisted with the audio production via text message. The Kultural Kameleon told us he likes lyrics. Maybe somebody should write some to Mario’s theme for him! Something about cosplay, probably. Work on that, you guys. And Vos made some new friends. And that’s what it’s all about, at the end of the day. Friendship. Music. Art. Innovation. And video games. Thank you guys. You’re my friends. And I’m glad.
NoahPage 216 June 24th, 2017
Posted In: Music Shows