We begin with a new batch of articles on video game soundtracks. After the analysis of the music of the fantastic The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (you can see all the articles here) we get going with the music of Super Mario Galaxy. However, this new series of articles will be somewhat shorter than the previous one.
In the first place we would like to make it clear that Super Mario Galaxy does not have a soundtrack with narrative links as strong as the title of Ocarina of Time due, among many other reasons, to the achievement of titles of the same saga with similar themes or to practice inexistence of a timeline in which to make music-narrative references. These details are important when it comes to understanding the music and focusing the analysis of this Nintendo title.
To understand the soundtrack of Super Mario Galaxy, we must take into account two things: on the one hand, it is the first Nintendo title to have almost entirely recorded music in the studio. However, and it is the second point to keep in mind, this does not mean that there is an absence of virtual instruments or synthesizers throughout your music. That said, Overture is a mix that exemplifies very well the type of music that we are going to find.
The theme begins with a small fanfare with a strong presence of brass instruments and a rubbed string background where it presents us with a powerful and heroic motif. Everything we can hear in those first 8 seconds is recorded. However, the piano to which it connects – accompanied by a harp and a very enlightening sound effect of the type of sound that we are going to find – are virtual instruments. This alternation between recorded and unrecorded music is something very common within the industry for reasons ranging from saving resources to an intention to appeal to the nostalgia of the viewer evoked by this type of sound. It is very common to use virtual instruments in music associated with menus and interfaces and Super Mario Galaxy handles that concept perfectly. After the initial fanfare is over, the piano repeats the heroic leitmotif with a harp background and a synthesizer that responds to the motif. This leitmotif is built on the premises of an associative cliché that was born in the cinema back in the seventies with the soundtrack of one of the most influential films of the last century: “Star Wars.” John Williams – composer of the excellent soundtrack of this saga – drinks from the influences of “The Planets” by Gustav Holst or “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss. We will not go into much detail, but since the creation of the music of Star Wars, a series of musical elements and resources began to be used that were associated with music “from space”. In Super Mario Galaxy, we can see a glimpse of that cliché in the initial jump of the fanfare, where we observe an upward eighth jump interspersed by a fourth. This beginning is an ode to the galactic cliché. If we compare the theme of John Williams with the Overture of Super Mario Galaxy:
We can see multiple similarities, not just in the notes but on an instrumental level. However, what is important about this detail is what it evokes in the player: putting on record that an adventure of colossal magnitudes is going to be traveled.
Attack of the airship
After seeing a happy Mario at the star festival, an air raid begins where we hear a song that continues with the assimilation of the intergalactic cliché mentioned above.
If we look at the beginning and remember the association with Star Wars, we soon see a certain similarity to the Imperial March. However, it is not something of transcendent importance but an interesting detail. The construction of Attack of the airship is quite simple: first, it presents us with a rhythmic ostinato made up of some timpani and the bass instruments of the orchestra. Later horns and trombones play three notes that are repeated and are answered by an amplification of the initial ostinato to which rubbed string instruments are added. Then the ostinato is reinforced by a military box and more stringed instruments that lead to a repetition of the three notes of the brass. Again the aforementioned block is repeated until the first minute where it breaks the subject with a final fanfare.
What is interesting about this theme – apart from its astonishing simplicity but incredibly effective – is how its elements present us to the enemy. We are curious about the result of superimposing this theme with the Ganon theme – analyzed in article 16 of the previous batch of articles – where both marry perfectly including. In the following video you can listen to a very interesting mix of the Imperial March, Ganon’s Theme and Attack of the Airship that exemplifies the concepts that we have just mentioned.
We see how the possibility of mixing it as well as the rhythmic similarities help us to understand the evil aura generated by its inherent characteristics. It is a very interesting example to understand what a composer or composer thinks of when it comes to establishing a sound associated with evil.
What did you think of this first article? Did you know the references mentioned? Leave it in the comments!