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33 1/3: Super Mario Bros.

April 10, 2017

Thirty years after the release of his most famous work, most people still don’t know the name Koji Kondo. This installment of the 33 ⅓ series goes a long way toward correcting that.

This series gives authors a chance to explore classic albums via traditional music criticism, memoir, and even fiction. The grooves of the popular music canon run deep, and the series has so far covered albums from artists like James Brown, Metallica, and everything in between. The series has taken some unusual turns, such as Carl Wilson’s exploration of Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love, and again with Andrew Schartmann’s analysis of Koji Kondo’s Super Mario Bros. soundtrack.

Schartmann--a composer and classical pianist in his own right--wanted to capture the “ineffable” quality that makes Kondo’s music so memorable that anyone who's played a Mario game can hum at least a few bars of it. Kondo’s music, he writes, mirrors the action on the screen by creating sounds that not only evoke the environments in which Mario inhabits, as well the movements of the character himself. Working in tandem with the game’s sound effects, Kondo’s score propels Mario--and, in essence, the player--along as he grabs mushroom, jumps on turtles, and snatches coins.

Using the limited tone palette of the NES’ 8-bit processor, Koji Kondo’s music required, “a constant dialogue between restriction and possibility”. This dynamic helped Kondo create a soundtrack which, even with a running time of just under three minutes, has endured for over thirty years. The character of Mario is a cultural icon on the level of Mickey Mouse, and so is the music of Koji Kondo, whether we know his name or not. [[nid:2465]]


Comic book panel of man expressing horror avatar


Jeremy Estes has worked for Nashville Public Library since 2008. He loves comic books and dislikes the term “graphic novels”. He hosts Panel Discussion, a comics book club for adults, on the first Wednesday of the month at 12pm at the Main Library.