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Cat's Cradle: The art of video game music

The recent release of "Kirby and the Forgotten Land" marked the transition from 2D to 3D platforming for the series. This added dimension also came with an added layer to the music, specifically this remix of the famous boss music from "Kirby Super Star". 

The remix provides a nice kick of nostalgia while creating a set mood for the game. What is unique about the remix is that the allusion to the classic soundtrack was so recognizable, that beneath the sounds of hammers and guitar riffs, the core of the Kirby theme came across. The core question is, how does it stand out?

In its most pessimistic view, music is an organization of sounds that audiences enjoy. For every “Private Execution” there is a “Tears in the Rain,” where the arrangement of the music can be haphazard or emotional. Removed from the lyrics, music is there to provide a background, to form a mood. This is in part the interest of a music video, where visuals and music are paired.

This can be found in live shows like “Duo Unprepared” from Athens, where musicians stand in the orchestra pit of a theater and make music along with the film. This involves improvising the music across several instruments that march the visuals on screen.

In the case of Kirby, the process of matching music to the game was a little difficult. In the video essay “How Music was Made on the Super Nintendo,” the process of constructing music on the Super Nintendo is clearly demonstrated as an issue of hardware. 

Having only two processing chips, the Super Nintendo was limited in what music it could make. Instead, files had to be programmed with brief samples and action commands. Eight samples could occupy a slot adding depth. 

Super Nintendo soundtracks can be garish displays of sound and effects that offend the ear. While at times it can be a true piece of art. The art comes in the way that a composer (often a singular programmer) works within the parameters of the game soundtrack. Technique and patience often pay off for music that truly stands above its respective game.

In the case of Kirby, this is making something unique and layered. The King Dedee theme fades in and moves between an ostinato and refrains (chorus) to construct the music. This is the repetition of notes or sections that forms a song's identity. It creates the driving synthetic trumpets that open the song and the refrain that repeats throughout. 

This can be understood in popular songs like “abcdefu” where we have ostinato opening as the singer directly addresses us before moving into the refrain of abcdefu. While Kavinksy’s “Nightcall” gives us a moment to acclimate before the refrain enters. 

The permanence of the simplest of video games scores points to the deeper importance of music. Though it's constructed from sound bites and sampling, there is a movement toward art within limited space. This legacy for depth, character and music has created a legacy in video game soundtracks with modern games blending both the retro and contemporary

Benjamin Ervin is a senior studying English literature and writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him be425014@ohio.edu.

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