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Sounds of a Game.

April 9, 2006

Over a selection of posts I will be looking at my favourite melodies from games and how effective they are. I’ll start with an extremly personal favourite of mine.

Gruntilda’s Lair – Banjo-Kazooie

http://www.vgmusic.com/music/console/nintendo/n64/BKGrLair.mid

‘If you go down to the woods today’ is the familiar message that was to greet the ears of players as they set foot into Gruntilda’s lair for the first time, but after a sneakily familiar introduction the music slides into a sinister mockery of the well loved nursery rhyme while keeping the humorous and bouncy flair of the game’s varied soundtrack.

The tune starts with a short ostinato that is played by four string instruments in a rising fashion to present the start of the piece, when this finishes double bass and violin play in a syncopated fashion that gives the tune it’s bouncy feel, helping give the music a light-hearted presence that fits with the game, while the tune conveys something more sinister. This driving beat continues throughout the entire composition and while the strings drop out towards the middle, percussion always plays every other beat to add to the texture and comedic sound of the piece. The use of tuned percussion helps emphasize the light-hearted feel of piece, as does the use of deep instruments. While the initial texture could be considered fairly thin, this adds to the feeling of being fairly alone and unknowing in the lair, but as the piece proceeds it appears to become more confident in itself, while the section featuring vibraphone solo with haunting sustained notes from synthesizer helps to suggest there may be good in such a desolate place. While the piece goes through many guises, the familiarity of the ‘Teddy Bears Picnic’ feature continuously returns to haunt the player as they traverse Gruntilda’s lair.

This composition shows game music as an art form in the way the music is sensitive to where the player is in the lair. If Banjo and Kazooie are wandering in an unspecified area then the basic haunting idea continues, but as the duo wander towards level entrances and jiggy puzzles the music becomes tainted with instruments and melodic ideas from the levels themselves. From the accordion duet outside Rusty Bucket Bay to the Arabian sounds and driving percussion of Gobi’s Valley, to the windy high pitched sounds of Freezeezy Peak to the flowing wind passages of Click Clock woods to the final triumphant upbeat and downright funky presentation of the music for the game show finale, all these transformations of the song contain the same structure and melodic ideas, showing that for all that’s different, the levels are part of the same creation as they all hold the key ideas of the tune.

Due to the initial variety of the main song, merged with its ability to adopt a variety of styles, the player rarely becomes bored of its driving rhythms and familiar melodies while they press on with the adventure to discover the next variation. If ever a song conveyed the overall sense of its game as well as using the video game medium to enhance its effect, then Gruntilda’s Lair is a prime example.

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