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Koji Kondo Shares Mario Music Secrets

Nintendo music maestro provides insights into his sound creation work.

Photo courtesy Vincent Diamante.

As the creator of the Zelda and Mario themes, Nintendo's Koji Kondo is almost assuredly the most successful game composer of all time. It's also probably safe to assume that he's universally respected by his game music colleagues.

So what game composer does Nintendo's musical maestro respect? In a commentary and interview piece featured in this week's Famitsu, Kondo was asked to name a game composer he finds exceptional. He answered with two: Dragon Quest composer Koichi Sugiyama and Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu. He cited the abundance of beautiful music from these two as the reason.

Not surprisingly, Kondo's choice of music includes songs from these two. Asked to name a song he finds exceptional, he responded with the Dragon Quest main theme song and the Final Fantasy battle victory theme. These songs fit their games perfectly, he said.

Kondo also shared a number of other little bits of interest with magazine. Here's a summary.

Asked to share some Super Mario Bros. music creation secrets, Kondo recalled creating a harmonica-like song due to the bright feel of the game screen which, with its blue and green colors contrasted with the black backgrounds of most other games of the time. But as this was made after just viewing a background, the song ended up not fitting with the actual game. That classic Mario over world theme is what resulted when Kondo redid the song while considering the gameplay, including Mario's jump. He wasn't too confident in what he created and did not expect people throughout the world to remember it.

The first song Kondo completed for Super Mario Bros. wasn't the overworld theme, though. It was the water theme, which Kondo says was an easy song to image.

Mario didn't mark Kondo's musical debut. His first role as song director was Devil World, although he actually doesn't appear to be sure about this. "I believe that's the first one," he says. Kondo also did arrangements for music that was included in the booklet that came with the Famicom Keyboard's Famicom Basic program.

So where and when does Kondo come up with all those memorable themes of his? "Anywhere, as long as I'm relaxed," was his response to this question. "Very often in the home. Also, on the way home from work or while on a walk during a break." He said that if something comes to him while out for a walk, he repeatedly hums it, then writes it down when he returns home. If he's forgotten it, he gives up.

Kondo said that he'd like to use the cello, which is his favorite instrument sound, for his composition. However, he doesn't feel that he's good enough with the instrument. He learned for 10 years but didn't have enough time to get good at it.

Asked to name a treasured item, Kondo mentioned a Super Mario arranged CD that was made by jazz musician Sadao Watanabe. He explained how he got this. A while back, he asked Koichi Sugiyama (the DQ guy) to plan a Super Mario Bros. arranged CD. Sugiyama felt that Watanabe would be perfect for Mario music, and went to Watanabe's home himself to make the request. Kondo was already a fan of Watanabe. He was truly pleased when he heard the resulting CD, which he said was no longer the music he'd created, but Watanbe's own sound.

Famitsu also asked Kondo to name a game that he likes. He responded with Winning Eleven Play Maker, the Wii installment in the WE series. "I'm a fan of soccer," said Kondo. "There aren't too many games that let you direct for yourself, and I thought for the longest time that it would be nice if a game like that would be released."

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