THE BORROWERS: Leitmotif in Undertale

Welcome to the first installment of The Borrowers!  I am James Hoffman, a composer in Los Angeles.  I grew up playing both music and video games – about thirty years ago now — and I never grew out of it.  In a lot of ways we are in an amazing time for both.  It doesn’t matter what your favorite style or genre or aesthetic is – people are out there making it every day.  I also love that music from video games is more popular and accessible than it’s ever been.  Composers are rock stars and the remix scene is booming, which gives us a great opportunity to STUDY.  

No, wait, come back!  Hear me out…  

Behind every great composer is a great teacher – many teachers, in fact – and that includes not only personal mentors but the vast library of works that preceded them.  And now that the great game music floodgates have been flung open, we’re going to examine them and borrow some of the ideas we find to improve our own music.  Come along with me, and please ask questions along the way – my contact info will be at the bottom.

For our first topic we are looking at the use of leitmotif in the game Undertale, composed by Toby Fox.  Leitmotif is a musical theme associated with a person, place, idea, or situation, and is repeated and often developed over time.  Leitmotif works great in story-driven entertainment, such as operas, movies, and video games, as it can give us emotional insight into characters and their relationship to others, foreshadow events, or inform us of the presence of characters that aren’t on screen.

The soundtrack for Undertale is filled to the brim with leitmotifs.  In fact, it’s the very reason I fell in love with this soundtrack.  Characters and environments have musical themes constantly changing and morphing into different styles to fit the situation, interweaving with each other to show relationships forming and breaking, telling stories with music – it’s exciting!  If you know what you are looking for, the soundtrack even goes to the point of spoiling major plot points, which I will try my best to avoid here.

Since a full analysis of the Undertale soundtrack could fill a book (if you’re reading this, Toby, let me know if you’d like me to write that book), we will only be looking at a single theme and some of the ways it develops.  The theme we are discussing is first heard in the opening music of the game, “Once Upon a Time”; I consider it to be the Hero’s Theme. I think of it as the Hero’s Theme because, with rare exception, we hear this melody a) when the protagonist has full agency to explore a non-combat area, such as Toriel’s home or the resort, or b) repeatedly toward the end of the game in situations that spotlight the protagonist having made pacifist choices (the heroic path for this game).  The full Hero’s Theme, as heard throughout “Once Upon a Time”, is, unusually, made up of three separate sections, though many times they are all found together.  We will be focusing on the “A” section of the Hero’s Theme:

Our theme is a simple four-bar melody, presented clearly the first time it is heard, using only basic rhythms and accompanied by only a bassline.  This melody is the first sound we hear in the game, certainly a deliberate choice.  These factors together create the best opportunity for the player to remember this theme, and the flexibility for the composer to modify it in future iterations.  To further solidify the Hero’s Theme in the player’s mind, a variation of it is presented again at the start menu every time we return to the game.  

The first time we hear the Hero’s Theme during gameplay is when we reach Toriel’s Home, with the appropriately named track, “Home”.  

Here we find several changes to our Hero’s Theme, the most obvious of which is our instrumentation.  The lo-fi, in-your-face synthesizer has been changed to the soothing tones of a finger picked acoustic guitar.  Also, the harmonies that could only be implied with a melody/bassline combination have now been filled out with arpeggiated chords.  Finally, the straight quarter/half note rhythm is now syncopated.  All of these changes add up to the same basic theme with a totally new sound and feel.  What once was stoic, serious, and bold is now comforting, familiar, and safe, exactly as it should feel in Toriel’s Home.

The next transformation to discuss is tempo.  Changing the speed has a great effect on the music.  The fastest example is found in “Can You Really Call This A Hotel, I Didn’t Receive A Mint On My Pillow Or Anything” (which is also the winner for the longest title).  

This version is pure fun; it’s upbeat and exciting, almost to the point of being frantic.  Conversely, the slowest occurrence and my favorite example of the transformative properties of a melody is “The Choice”.  

If not paying attention, you may not even realize that “The Choice” is a variation on our Hero’s Theme.  Each note in the theme is slowed dramatically, to the point that a quarter note lasts about 8-10 seconds each.  This allows the music to be atmospheric, present but not demanding on the listener.  However, upon realizing the melodic connection, it creates a profound “A ha!” moment for the listener and gives the situation a weight that would not be present if any other notes had been chosen.

The final example that we will look at here (though not the last occurrence in the soundtrack– have fun finding them all!) is “SAVE the World”.  

In “SAVE the World” we once again see our Hero’s Theme in a new style, this time as a pop-punk rendition.  However, the melody itself is modified.  The first five notes of the theme are played, but we get a different musical response to our setup.  We can view this as either a partial melody or a modified melody, the end result being the same either way.  For the listener, these five notes are enough to allow them to recognize the theme, but then be surprised when it defies their expectations.  This helps keep interest up, especially after hearing the theme repeated as often as it is this late in the game.

So how can we use this information in our own music?  As a composer writing longform works, leitmotifs can attach emotional identities to characters and create melodic hooks for the listener to identify.  For a remixer or an arranger writing short pieces, studying how other composers modify themes can inspire us on how to use similar techniques to put a unique spin on preexisting melodies.  Looking back at our examples, we’ve seen modifications on rhythm, harmony, tempo, genre, instrumentation, and even the melody itself.  That gives us a lot to work with!  

As I said at the beginning, I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions, and I’d especially love to hear examples of your music incorporating these ideas!  You can find me on twitter at @JCHoffmanMusic or email me at JamesCHoffman (at) gmail[dot]com.  Thanks for reading!



Jacob is one of the few people in Materia Collective that I knew before I joined. In fact, we first met at an Eric Whitacre event, where we connected very quickly due to both of us participating in video game music performance groups in college. It was through Jacob that I was exposed to the indie video game music scene and began learning more about the components of the game audio industry, meeting many of the people behind the scenes in the process. In person, Jacob is incredibly open and fun, with a bright, positive personality and boundless enthusiasm for the projects he embarks upon.

Which is why when I heard that Jacob would be on of the co-producers for PATTERN, I was very excited to not only participate on the project, but also thrilled for Jacob. Knowing how he felt about the game and watching his enthusiasm and love translate into such a beautiful homage firsthand was a joy. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is one of the most beautiful pieces of art I have experienced in a very long time”, said Jacob, and it is this sentiment I find echoed in PATTERN.  Such appreciation and passion, both of which Jacob strongly possesses, are the key ingredients to making great works of art; just like the game from which it is inspired and drawn from, PATTERN is truly a beautiful musical artwork.

  1. Name?
    Jacob Pernell
  2. Musical Background (What sort of musical projects are you/have you been involved in? How did you get started in music?)
    Growing up I was surrounded by games and music. Primarily self-taught, I’d bang on pots and pans and keyboards and any other instrument I could get my hands on and I played everything from Pokémon to Halo. In high school, I learned about FL Studio and started making music for the games my friends and I would create in Macromedia (now Adobe) Flash. I continued making my own games and making music on the side throughout undergrad at UC Santa Cruz, and realized that I wanted to make game music full time! I am now grateful to say that I have created music and audio for various indie games such as Failsafe, OFFWORLD, SNOWHORSE (theme song), and Close Castles.
  3. What was the first video game you played?
    Two weeks before I was born, my mother beat the original Legend of Zelda… so by proxy, that one! But the first game I remember playing was Duck Hunt / Super Mario Bros for the NES.
  4. What does video game music mean to you?
    Woah, great question! For me, VGM is all about connection, world-building, and storytelling. Different themes (whether the theme be melodic or textural in nature) can help you connect with characters, places, and moments in a game. It not only binds you to the game, but with others who have also played the game as well… it creates an opportunity for people around the world to share an experience. Just look at how quickly the Materia Collective formed to celebrate the music of FF7, for example! 🙂 VGM is community building!
  5. Why did you participate with the Materia Collective? How did you get involved?
    I am fortunate to call Sebastian one of my close friends, and when he told me he put a call out looking for artists to help with the first album, MATERIA, I hopped on board without question! Before MATERIA, I hadn’t actually done much music remixing/cover songs, so this was a super fun opportunity to try that out as well. I also got to help out with some production tasks for the album, and have since helped co-produce a few others.
  6. If you could have any dream job in the music world, what would it be?
    Lately, I have been diving in pretty heavily into virtual reality audio and development, creating various prototypes and experiences in my free time. Most of my experiments are musical in nature, and some things I’m working on right now are a ‘virtual reality virtual choir’ project (inspired by Eric Whitacre, one of my favorite composers) and a music visualizer + DJ experience (with llamas, because why not make everything llama-themed?). Since my VR work right now is mostly personal and for fun, I suppose my dream in this case would be to fast forward to when I am getting paid at least a living wage so I can create my VR and music experiments full time as an independent developer/composer!
  7. How do you deal with constructive criticism?
    I think as artists and creatives we can have a tendency to take things personally. Any art we create is a form of self-expression, an extension of ourselves in some way. It’s super important to have that vulnerability though because I feel that’s what creates the best art. For me, it took many years of practice to realize that everybody communicates differently, and when it comes to constructive criticism from a game director for example, it usually is with the bigger picture for the game in mind. In other words, I do my best now to realize that any constructive criticism isn’t a personal attack on me, but instead is the developer sharing his or her vision for the project and seeing how we can adjust my music to fit that vision so that it creates the most impact for the game in the long run. I’m still working on it, and may never become an expert at it, but I think there’s a balance to be found with being vulnerable and pouring my heart into the track, but having tough-enough skin that when the change requests come in, it doesn’t shatter my spirit completely.
  8. In an alternate reality, what would your passion be instead of music/video games?
    I almost majored in astrophysics in undergrad! I think if I wasn’t doing VGM, I would spend my time searching the universe for new planets and/or researching string theory and relativity.
  9. What inspires you, as a musician?
    Art! I’m a very visual person, and when I’m looking for inspiration for a game I’m working on for example, the first thing I will turn to is concept art for that game. It helps place me into the world more, so that I can close my eyes and have an easier time imagining what the world of the game I’m scoring looks like, feels like, and sounds like. I am also incredibly inspired by my friends, many of whom are game designers and game audio professionals. Seeing them get fired up and passionate about what they’re working on helps make me feel fired up as well!
  10. What’s something about you most people might not know?
    In the 7th grade, my best friend Sean and I were bored so we memorized about 70 digits past the decimal of pi. We recited it to our math teacher in hopes that we would receive extra credit (spoilers: we never got extra credit…). To this day, I still remember a good handful of digits! *ahem* 3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209… #nerd
  11. If you are in a room of 50 strangers for an hour, about how many of them would you introduce yourself to and/or try to get to know?
    Generally speaking, I consider myself an introvert and if I’m feeling tired, I’d probably stick to no more than 5 people. Sometimes sticking with 1 person and having a really deep, meaningful conversation is great! But when I’m at a convention, some switch in me flips and I love meeting everyone and want to be everybody’s friend and introducing myself is no problem… so if this question were in the context of a convention or similar event, I’d do my best to meet all 50!
  12. What age would you want to be/look like forever (physically)?
    Hmm, 27!
  13. If you could make any fictional character real and also be your best friend, who would you pick?
    Kvothe from Name of the Wind. We’d have the most epic jam sessions and then go do all the magical shenanigans.
  14. Favorite Pokemon?
    Umbreon! <3
  15. Favorite color?
    I like a deep blue, something like #163D70
  16. Favorite video game/soundtrack/song?
    aslkfhlsdjfakldj do I have to choose just one? I’m gonna give you my top 5: 1) Chrono Trigger; 2) Phoenix Wright (the whole series); 3) Katamari Damacy; 4) Pokémon Red/Blue; 5) Assassin’s Creed 2
  17. Favorite Meme?
  18. Who do you main in Super Smash Bros?
    Which version of Smash? In the WiiU version, I was getting pretty good at Zero Suit Samus! I also love sword-wielding characters, so I’d also play Lucina, Marth, and Ike a bunch.
  19. If you had to pick an emoji/emoticon to represent yourself, which one would you pick?
    (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻
  20. Most anticipated game?
    I cannot wait to play No Man’s Sky!
    Any musical endeavors you haven’t done yet that you want to tackle? Different genres, games, instruments?
    I’d love to experiment more with choral writing. I love Jessica’s work in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and am also inspired by composers like Eric Whitacre. While it’s not for a game, I’m currently working on writing a choir piece in a made up language. It’s also a life goal to write music for a Bollywood film! I also think it would be fun to write music for an anime or anime-esque game. I love super epic/over the top stuff!

Gallery RIFF OF THE WEEK (FALLEN edition): Stronger Monsters

Welcome to another Riff of the Week! This time I took a little more than a week for recording because of this wonderful special occasion. The Materia blog is going full Undertale and ROTW couldn’t step aside.

This time I’ll be showing you an arrangement done by Josué Ferreira (AKA Thecoolestnerdguy), in which I had the opportunity to play. Please check the video because the tab has some details missing.


Stronger Monsters is a wonderful mixture of Chiptune sounds, Guitar, and Saxophone. This fusion and a couple of other details converged into quite a unique guitar tone. The method of playing is also rather untraditional, so pay attention to the instructions.

I hope you like this Riff, and enjoy all the content we’re creating for FALLEN as well. Have a wonderful week!

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Ro Panuganti (Swiggles)

Ro Swiggles Headshot

Ro “Swiggles” Panuganti, co-director of the most recent installment in the Multiplayer series, has been raising money for Water.Org with Multiplayer III: WAVE.  The album brings together cover musicians from all over, including Materia Collective, joining forces for the first time with the charity group to help create an album whose proceeds are completely donated to supplying clean water to continents all over the globe.

“When David and I thought more and more about new charities to help support, the idea of theming the album based on the charity came to fruition,” says Ro about the album’s theme and content. WAVE features a cover tracks of water levels from a large variety of games. “Thanks to my sister and many friends’ work with water-purity and clean drinking water charities like Water Org, we knew that having a water based album would be best. It strikes a chord with gamers knowing about the “dreaded water levels” as well as the exciting beach worlds, aquatic life, and overall the powerful message that the gift of water gives.”

Part of the uniqueness of WAVE is the combination of groups like Materia and GameLark on Multiplayer to bring together two large groups of overlapping musicians to create a larger setlist of tracks, and involved performers and arrangers, than previously on Multiplayer. “We invited the dedicated, talented, and professional musicians from GameLark and Materia Collective to participate in our charity album to have this rich and diverse sound, and are very happy with the way Multiplayer III turned out as a result. While the process was much more difficult, having to manage close to 60 musicians and combining the organization techniques of Multiplayer and Materia, we also ended up with more tracks in underrepresented styles,” adds Ro, regarding the benefits of working with such a large range of musicians. “With Materia’s assistance, we have the ability to host a website with biographies for all the musicians, a greater reach of audience to spread the charitable message, and ultimately Multiplayer gets a chance to grow as a project. I could not be happier directing with David and Sebastian, and I think these steps will let Multiplayer evolve into a better charity to save more lives.”

  1.  Name?
    Ro ‘Swiggles’ Panuganti
  2. Musical Background (What sort of musical projects are you/have you been involved in? How did you get started in music?)
    I got started with music early, being exposed to my parent’s classic rock CDs and driven to outplay my sister in piano. After several years of learning classical-piano, I moved out of the country and learned recorder, trumpet, and other conventionally-taught instruments. After being exposed to more radio music and heavier rock, I went head-first into learning electric guitar (and thanks to the recording community, bass guitar and more). Through 9 years of playing and eventually recording, I have become comfortable on the 7-string Electric Guitar, bass, synths/keyboards, even singing a little bit!  While I have never been in a band, I have created over 100 video game remixes on Youtube, co-directed the Multiplayer Charity for 3 albums, performed and assisted-mix for 3 Materia albums, 3 GameLark albums, created the VGCovers subreddit for helping cover artists, and actively participate in creating contests and guides to engage the growing community.
  3. What was the first video game you played?
    This is a tricky one, but my oldest memories will be of F-Zero, Donkey Kong Country, or a ridiculously-old title called MegaRace.
  4. What does video game music mean to you?
    Video game music to me, is the flavor of the game and an incredible world within one aspect of games. Although I truly believe music is music, and I love all sorts from cinematic score to the most complicated progressive metal, video game tunes work extremely hard to engage the player in different emotions. I love the idea of leitmotifs in video games, such as hearing Zelda’s Lullaby reoccur when the player is supposed to feel for the Princess’ plight, or hearing Smile and Tears in Earthbound during a heartfelt moment. Though my remixes tend to deviate from the original songs, the stories told inside video game music and songs stick with me well and honoring them with covers and albums is amazing.
  5. Why did you participate with the Materia Collective? How did you get involved?
    When Sebastian (Materia founder) suggested organizing a large-scale group for releasing video game cover albums, I knew I had to join. The opportunity to meet and work with new musicians, improve my organization and project-management skills, and having an excuse to create even more music are all the reason I need to be a part of the Materia Collective.
  6. If you could have any dream job in the music world, what would it be?
    While my career is in Software Development and Computer Science, I would love the opportunity to record/produce/perform my own music, let alone design my own Digital-Audio-Workstation and other music software for the world to use.
  7. How do you deal with constructive criticism?
    Criticism is one of the most challenging but important parts of making music to me. While being a Youtuber allows me to receive every kind of criticism, I find that being critical of myself is one of the best ways to shoot high. I often ask musicians both close to the genre and far for their opinion, as general as possible, to see how fresh ears can perceive it. When my playing is called to question, I push myself to think of how I could have played more on time, improved my intonation, or mixed more balanced. If I can picture my song perfected and communicate that, I’m that much closer to being happy.
  8. In an alternate reality, what would your passion be instead of music/video games?
    Since I’ve covered my other passion being computer science and software, I’d love to be into professional cooking (as my friends can attest).
  9. What inspires you, as a musician?
    Playing incredible video games, watching thrilling movies, seeing insanely-talented musicians innovate themselves, and being bored elsewhere (and letting the riffs and tunes come into my brain). Loved ones can also inspire through motivation and support!
  10. What’s something about you most people might not know?
    Despite my old moniker, I was born in 1993, not 1987! I have also gotten to travel to over 30 different countries in N.A, Europe, Asia, and Australia, and lived in Japan for 3 years.
  11. If you are in a room of 50 strangers for an hour, about how many of them would you introduce yourself to and/or try to get to know?
    I would probably introduce myself to the 10 quietest ones, since I would relate the most. Then I’d try to create a spectacle and attract the attention of the other 40.
  12. What age would you want to be/look like forever (physically)?
    Depends on if I look better in the next few years, here’s hoping!
  13. If you could make any fictional character real and also be your best friend, who would you pick?
    I definitely feel lucky enough to have some tremendous best friends, but having a Charizard would solve much of my parking and fire-related life problems!
  14. Favorite Pokemon?
    Charmander for cute ones, Charizard for awesome ones. Magmar is a bit special to me too!
  15. Favorite color?
    Red all the way, but I notice more and more I like wearing blue!
  16. Favorite video game/soundtrack/song?
    This is the toughest of all. I’m partial to Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, Donkey Kong Country 2, Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, and Pokemon Gold/Silver. Anything I cover tends to be from a game I adore.
  17. Favorite Meme?
    I take it back this is the hardest question ever. I’ve been recently loving the Pacha “when the sun hits those ridges just right, those hills sing” meme, and I can’t explain why.
  18. Who do you main in Super Smash Bros?
    In Smash Melee it’s Ness, in Smash 4 it’s Greninja or Mewtwo, and in others it’s Ness. I like Ness.
  19. If you had to pick an emoji/emoticon to represent yourself, which one would you pick?
  20. Most anticipated game?
    Breath of the Wild, Elder Scrolls VI, and Pokemon Sun/Moon is creeping up on me.

    Any musical endeavors you haven’t done yet that you want to tackle? Different genres, games, instruments?
    I dream of making an original EP or album, I plan to tackle the Elder Scrolls series in an album form, I’m working towards having my production quality up there with my heroes’. I would love to work more in jazz fusion and live venues, and I’d love to be a better guitarist, singer, and pianist!


David Russell is one of the co-leaders and directors of the “Multiplayer III: Wave” project, the third installment of a series of cover albums dedicated to raising money for charities across the world. This time around, they invited performers and arrangers from Materia Collective to join in on the experience, and are in the process of raising money for Water.Org with each album purchase.

“Multiplayer III: WAVE sort of spawned from the pun of audio file formats,” says Russell, who is also known in the game music world as one of the leading faces behind Project Destati.  “In our conversations from earlier in the year, Ro [WAVE’s other co-director] and I would refer to the next Multiplayer album as MP3 and laugh at the relevance of the name. MP3:WAVe was just a natural arrival for us. We had been discussing themes for the album, and in this instance, this year’s theme grew naturally from the joke.”

Each album in the Multiplayer franchise focuses on raising money for a different charity; the first two are also available on iTunes, both with different themes and challenges to the musicians. WAVE, which raises money for Water.Org, features an appropriate slew of water themes in the spirit of its charity, and has raised over $1,000 in its first week of release.

  1. Name?
    HELLO. I’m David Russell / DavidRussell323 most everywhere on the interwebs~
  2. Musical Background (What sort of musical projects are you/have you been involved in? How did you get started in music?)
    Mm, let’s see—I really started music because I wanted something to do while I was at home after school. Pianists were always freaking me out with their spider-hands, and I wanted to know how the heck they did things. So, one day in middle school, I was accepted to a private piano teacher’s after-school class, and I just continued training up until I left the state for college. I almost quit playing music when I was 14 or 15 years old due to the stress of adapting to high school and learning continually more difficult pieces, but playing piano VGM scores on the side of the pieces I was assigned weekly is what pushed me over that wall of apathy. I’m so happy I’m still a musician. Some of the projects I’ve been involved in recently have been the Multiplayer Charity annual releases (co-directing with Ro Panuganti), and Project Destati’s Kingdom Hearts reorchestrations (alongside Kristin Naigus and Sebastian Wolff). Lots of plans for the future though!
  3. What was the first video game you played?
    Oh, that’s going back, hmm. The first videogame that comes to mind is Pokemon Red—I loved that thing, and I brought my gameboy to school so I could play it on the long bus rides home. The first console game I remember playing with my brothers was probably just a few months after that: Frogger and NASCAR 98 for the Playstation 1!
  4. What does video game music mean to you?
    VGM is so, so interesting because it’s intended to be a piece to accompany an interactive medium of storytelling. Because of this, videogame music holds in it the memories of the story by which it was separated from. I can’t listen to a piece like Scherzo di Notte without also recalling the entire buildup of the Kingdom Hearts protagonist to get to the Hollow Bastion world in the game. Although there are innumerably many pieces that stand on their own (such as much of Austin Wintory’s work, or the OST of Life is Strange and similar games), VGM scores are enhanced in their listening experience by also adding an additional element of recollection to those who have experienced the medium by which the music was meant to accompany.  Without making it sound like too big of a deal, I think that videogame music will be the classical music of this generation. It has value as an expression of creativity that is, in many ways, unmatched by other forms of music.
  5. Why did you participate with the Materia Collective? How did you get involved?
    Hahaha, well, if I remember correctly… I think Sebastian was messaging Kristin and myself about wanting to put together an album to celebrate the FF7Remake that was announced. Just sort of gauging interest. His specialty is building communities, and when he threw us all in a group, the unnamed Materia Collective was spawned. It’s since grown to this massive record label, but at the time, it was just another themed album project. Happy to have watched it grow  as large as it has!
  6. If you could have any dream job in the music world, what would it be?
    My dream job in music—I think it’d be a dream to arrange tunes that later turn into pieces to be played for a VGM concert. As an aside, I’m really pretty happy uploading new jams to the youtubes, playing piano for friends’ arrangements, and working on new arrangements for albums.
  7. How do you deal with constructive criticism?
    I take it well! I’ll be the first to admit I know very little about some specifics of mixing, but my experiences come from experimentation. If someone were to tell me that an arrangement doesn’t fit the story I’m trying to convey, or something could sound better with a mixing change, I’ll typically try out the changes needed and give the piece another listen. Often times, when given a critique, the change ends up being positive! So, I’m thankful I can call upon friends to evaluate my pieces.
  8. In an alternate reality, what would your passion be instead of music/video games?
    Oh man, hmm. I love to travel and hike around when I can. In an alternate reality, I feel like I would be a photographer  who captures scenes in different countries. Cooking is also another passion I find myself doing quite a lot! Maybe I’d be aiming for a  Michelin Star at a restaurant specializing in soups or something? Dream big!
  9. What inspires you, as a musician?
    Honestly, the people in the community. So many work impossibly hard at perfecting their craft, and I aspire to be as dedicated as the folks around me. Jazz fusion masterminds, soulful rock ballad creators, tear-jerking wind and string specialists, as well as the incredibly skilled pianists I looked up to when I was younger!
  10. What’s something about you most people might not know?
    I went to school and became a Chemistry major because I didn’t get a passing score on my AP chemistry exam ayyyo~
  11. If you are in a room of 50 strangers for an hour, about how many of them would you introduce yourself to and/or try to get to know?
    fhlahfshua um, veeery few. (I’d probably be found standing at the food table eating all the things until the hour was up
  12. What age would you want to be/look like forever (physically)?
    Mm, I don’t really mind. As long as my fingers and brain are workin’ okay, I’m really fine with just about anything. I guess 28 might be okay.
  13. If you could make any fictional character real and also be your best friend, who would you pick?
    Xion from Kingdom Hearts! She’s just…the best. Axel would be hilarious to hang out with as well hahahaha. So sessy
  14. Favorite Pokemon?
  15. Favorite color?
    Purple! The color of SPACE.
  16. Favorite video game/soundtrack/song?
    Videogame series: Kingdom Hearts
    Soundtrack: Kingdom Hearts, Ace Attorney, Ori and the Blind Forest…there are so many
    Song: Oh geez, this changes on a near-hourly basis, but right now I’m really digging “Sacred Somnom Woods” from Mario & Luigi Dream Team. Yoko Shimomura’s music is just other-worldly.
  17. Favorite Meme?
  18. Who do you main in Super Smash Bros?
    Jigglypuff! Her floatyness always catches my brothers off guard lolol. Lucas is also great. Floaty characters <3
  19. If you had to pick an emoji/emoticon to represent yourself, which one would you pick?
    ᶘ ᵒᴥᵒᶅ 🌴
  20. Most anticipated game?
    I’m most looking forward to Kingdom Hearts 3!

    Any musical endeavors you haven’t done yet that you want to tackle? Different genres, games, instruments?
    Yes! Always a new project to work on! So, recently, I’ve been exploring the how sound works between acoustic guitar & piano arrangements, as well as arrangements featuring saxophone & piano. One of my goals is to expand to exploring the sound of many other instruments when combined with piano—trombone, viola, and flute arrangements are things I’m interested in really thoroughly exploring in the future!

MELDING CORNER: Melding Basics

Hi, and welcome to the Materia Melding Corner! This blog series will be all about crafting your own video game music arrangements, covers and remixes. We will cover a lot of the more techinical aspects of music-making, such as production mixing.

Considering this is the first post in the series, I thought it would make sense to tackle the essential tools and equipment needed to get started. Let’s take a look at what you’ll need:

  • Computer
  • DAW
  • Audio Interface
  • Microphones
  • Playback

In this age, building a capable home studio without making your bank account cry is definitely feasible. I will do my best at keeping all this info short and simple. Let’s get started!



Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re probably using a computer that already allows you to get started.

If you’re considering buying a new one, the first thing I’d think about would be portability. How important is the concept of portability for you? Where do you see yourself producing and recording? Are you always on the move? Maybe you don’t see yourself creating in any other place besides your room. There’s no absolute winner as it really depends on your needs. A desktop can be cheaper and more versatile when considering upgrades but is difficult to transport. A laptop is definitely easier to carry anywhere.

In terms of specifications, my suggestion would be to acquire one with the fastest processor your budget allows and at least 4GB of RAM. 8GB would be even better. GPUs don’t really factor into the equation since the software you’ll be using won’t be processed by it. An onboard GPU will do just as fine as a state-of-the-art GPU. I wouldn’t fret about whether to get a PC or MAC as both are excellent choices. It is a matter of personal taste and what you’re used to. Additionally, you won’t find any problems getting a digital audio workstation for either system, as we will cover next.



A digital audio workstation (DAW) is a computer software application that allows you to record, play and edit audio. It will be the main software you use to craft your music. There are a lot of choices here and it’s all about choosing one that best fits your workflow. Here are some suggestions that won’t cost you a dime:

  • Presonus Studio One 3 Prime – This is the free, feature-limited, entry-level version of their paid software. While it might not have all the features the other versions do, it is a legitimate program for beginners to start with. (Available for both MAC and PC)
  • Zynewave Podium Free – A feature limited version of its big brother, Podium, although there are not too many restrictions. This might be work if it fits your workflow. (PC exclusive)
  • MuTools MuLab – A stripped down version of their software is available for free. The limitations (which you can check for yourself here) seem to be rather harsh. If the free user restrictions  don’t phase you, it might be a good choice. (Available for both MAC and PC)
  • REAPER – I’d like to start by saying that REAPER isn’t free. It offers a fully featured, 60-day evaluation period. However, after the trial is over, they kindly ask that you purchase a license for it while continuing to offer unrestricted access to the program. Basically, they’ll call upon your honour to buy their software if it suits your needs. Personally, I have been using REAPER for several years and I have a biased view of it.  (Available for both MAC and PC)

There are several other choices that might please you. For the sake of brevity, here’s a quick list of other DAWs out there:

Feel free to check the websites linked above, check any trials available and see which one suits you best. It doesn’t really matter which DAW you use because ultimately, they are merely tools to serve your workflow. The music you’ll create with it is far more important.

I’d also like to mention two other pieces of software that don’t fall into the DAW category but can prove useful in your quest to make music. They are Audacity and Musescore. The former is an editing and multi-track recording software while the latter is a notation program which can come in handy if you’re used to making fancy sheets!


Audio Interface

Every computer already has a sound card internally embedded to its motherboard. That’s where you connect your headphones and hear music all day, and it sounds just fine! Wouldn’t that sound card be enough to create and produce music?

Technically, it is capable of playing audio but its features are limited when it comes to recording. It is definitely inferior when compared to an audio interface. It lacks processing power, connectivity options; in short, it just wasn’t designed for the purpose of producing music.

Think of the audio interface as an upgrade to your computer’s onboard audio chipset. It is more capable, has higher quality, features additional connections and plenty more.  Nowadays, most of them are externally connected to your computer via USB, Firewire or Thunderbolt. There is a 4th option which is only available to desktop computers – PCIe audio interfaces – which are connected internally.

There are many interfaces to choose from, varying a great amount in pricing. Before choosing one, you should first understand how many inputs you need. Let’s take a look at a few examples:

  • EXAMPLE #1 – Meet Mary! She sings and plays the acoustic guitar. Often she does live shows around town but has never recorded anything by herself. Curiosity has struck her and now she would like to start recording some performances at home. She has two sound sources to capture (voice and guitar) and her intent is to record them simultaneously, so she picked up an interface with two inputs.
  • EXAMPLE #2 – Meet James! He started learning the drums for over a year now and has been recording his performances with his smartphone. He feels like his drumming ability has progressed a lot and would like to start capturing decent recordings. He read online that a lot of his favorite drum sounds were recorded with multiple mics so he is very eager on acquiring a setup that will allow him to experiment doing the same. He bought an eight-input audio interface at the nearest music store to do so.

As you can perceive from the examples above, the number of inputs is directly related to how many sound sources you wish to capture at a given time. That being said, here are few suggestions of audio interfaces:

While perusing the above links, you might have noticed something about MIDI inputs or MIDI interfaces. MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a protocol that carries events which specify data pertaining to music, like pitch or notation, among many other parameters. MIDI controllers – devices that allow you to play and/or control such data –  are an example. This is how many electronic musical instruments communicate with each other.  One of the main advantages of using MIDI versus regular recording is that you can alter the performance after it is in your computer. If you record a flute solo with your trustworthy microphone, you’re pretty much stuck with that performance. With MIDI, you can alter a multitude of settings after the fact. Notes, timing, volume – you can even assign the composition to a different a instrument. I strongly recommend having an audio interface with MIDI inputs/outputs. You won’t notice the difference in pricing that much and it will reveal useful in the future.

Starting out, you’ll want to avoid worrying about which is the absolute best interface out there. There are too many choices and a multitude of contradicting opinions. My suggestion would be to first understand how many and what kind of inputs you need, set a budget for an interface and then, go for one within that budget. Simplify!



There are many different kinds of microphones for many different applications, varying greatly in sound and in price. But first, what is a microphone? The simplest answer would be – a transducer. That means that microphones are instruments that convert mechanical energy (sound waves) into electrical energy, which you’ll be able to amplify and record.

There is a lot to know about this topic so for simplicity sake, we are solely focusing on two different types: dynamic and condenser microphones.

Microphones have diaphragms that will respond to sound pressure by oscillating, thus creating an electric current.  Dynamic microphones usually feature a heavy, fixed diaphragm while condensers, commonly contain a  smaller, more flexible one. I mention this because the size of the diaphragm will affect how sound is captured. High frequency sound waves are smaller than their low frequency counterparts and due to that reason, produce less energy. Therefore, this makes condensers more responsive to higher frequencies and dynamics more responsive to low frequencies. Consequently, as an unwritten rule, condensers frequently do better with instruments that have a lot of high frequency content (imagine the cymbals of a drum kit as an example) and the opposite goes for dynamic microphones. Acoustic performers might consider condensers because they are more sensitive and will capture the subtleties of the instrument a bit better than dynamics do. That does not mean that dynamics won’t work at all; they will merely have a different sonority.

Due to having larger and heavier diaphragms, dynamic microphones generate enough current on their own, making them passive. In other words, they don’t need an external source of power. That is not the case for condenser microphones. Their smaller diaphragms need additional voltage in order to function. It is referred to as phantom power, which makes them more sensitive thus being able to record softer sounds. As a result, condensers are regarded as fragile as they can’t withstand high sound pressure levels like dynamic microphones do.

Choosing a microphone has to do with application and a particular sound aesthetic you envision. Dynamic or condenser, every microphone has its own frequency response which will greatly shape how your recordings will sound. Think of it as every single one of them having a distinct ear that perceives sound in a different way. Also, the same sound source can sound excellent with both dynamic and condenser microphones – just different. There is much more to know about microphones as I am only scratching the surface however, I believe this is enough for you to make an informed decision. Now, theory aside, let’s look at some suggestions!

Because there are so many choices, I’ll try to list a few popular dynamic and condenser microphones:

  • Shure SM57 (Dynamic) – It is arguably the most popular dynamic microphone around. Frequently used on snares, toms, guitar amps, you name it. It’s a great all-purpose microphone to have around and it is fairly inexpensive.
  • Audio Technica AT2020 (Condenser) – A popular low-budget choice for many home studios. Often used on vocals and acoustic instruments.
  • Rode NT1-A (Condenser) – Commonly sold as a bundle that features a microphone stand and a pop filter at a very reasonable price.
  • Shure SM7B – (Dynamic) – A more expensive option. Has excellent reviews and seems to be a favorite for rock vocals. You can use it for a lot of other things, of course.
  • Samson C02 (Condenser) – Quite inexpensive, often sold as a matched pair. Boasts plenty of pleasing reviews. A good choice as drum kit overheads and acoustic instruments.

Additionally, I’d like to mention USB microphones. They’re like any other microphone but instead of having an XLR connector, you plug it in your PC through an USB port. This can be pretty handy if you’re not looking to invest in an audio interface as it bypasses it entirely. The Yeti line from Blue Microphones seems to be quite popular nowadays and a ton of people are making incredible recordings with them.



Depending on your current setup, is is possible you don’t have the space to accommodate studio monitors, and headphones are a more viable option. Or maybe you just prefer to hear your music coming out of a speaker.  Ideally, you’d get both. Here’s why:

When your ears perceive sound without headphones, your ears can actually determine the music’s direction by the difference in timing as it’s reaching your ears. An example – If a violin is playing directly to your left, its sound will reach your left ear first and your right ear second. Your brain will then calculate the times the lovely violin melodies reach both of your ears, and you will be able to pinpoint where it is coming from. This is a psychoacoustic phenomena known as the Precedence Effect or Haas Effect.

While using headphones, this effect is greatly mitigated due to the fact that your ears are given the same audio source at the same time, and what you hear appears to be originated from within yourself and not around you. This produces an exacerbated stereo image that gives you an unnatural perception of what something sounds like. Software exists to handle this concern and it is becoming more widely available, but it can be a costly solution, especially if you’re just starting out.

That being said, headphones are great analytical tools. Sounds that might go unnoticed on studio monitors can be easily picked up on a pair of headphones. Also, headphones are more portable, and you can use them any time of the day without disturbing others.

On the other hand, studio monitors, despite feeling more natural to the ears, are deeply affected by the room’s acoustics, meaning there is the possibility of hearing certain frequencies way too aggravated while others are terribly diminished. Also, properly placing them might be tough depending how your room is organized, and placement is crucial for studio monitors.

Despite the advantages and disadvantages regarding these two playback systems, rest assured that several professionals out there only use one or the other. Using both simply allows you to make more informed decisions concerning your audio.

Regarding headphones, you can get two different types: closed back or open back. The first are great at isolating outside noise while the latter aren’t. Closed backs are usually used when you’re recording, so the microphone doesn’t pick up any noise from them. Open backs are frequently used for mixing as they provide a more natural and pleasant hearing experience. I’ll list some suggestions below:

And here are a few studio monitors to consider

I would recommend reading some reviews online before making a decision.

Choosing headphones and studio monitors has a lot to do with personal taste. I have a pair of Yamaha HS50s just because they had the white cones that are  similar to the legendary NS10s, and that was reason enough for me. Not the best logic, I know, but they’ve worked out well. Find what works for you!


Forgotten Gear

When starting out it is normal to overlook some of the minor gear needed to get your home studio running. Here is a short checklist to have in mind when collecting materials to create your own music:

  • Adapters
  • Cables (any of the following, plus any additional cables your tools might require; consider spare cables, as well)
    • Instrument cables
    • MIDI cables
    • Optical Cables
    • XLR cables
    • Spare cables
  • Instrument stands or wall mounts
  • Microphone stands
  • Monitor stands

Hopefully, you can use this information to get started on creating your own musical workspace!

Gallery RIFF OF THE WEEK: Spring Yard Zone

Hello everyone! We, at Materia Collective, are excited to introduce to you a new section available on the blog called “Riff of the Week”. As you may know, our albums feature a wide and varied spectrum of guitar arrangements, so the purpose of this section is to teach you the riffs we have created and adapted in a virtual yet easy method. Since learning is done best by demonstration and/or visualization, we will include video demonstrations, tabs, and sheet music.

This week, we will take a look at the main riff of my own arrangement of “Spring Yard Zone”, featured in our album MOBIUS: Sonic the Hedgehog Remixed.

You can download the album in the following links:

Google Play
Or listen to it for free in Spotify!

Here you will find my explanatory video of the riff:

And you can check the full tab here: Riff of the Week – Spring Yard Zone

That’s all for now, I hope to see you next week!

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Allen Brasch (GameLark)


The man who created and runs GameLark, Allen Brasch is clearly an ambitious and driven man. When I sat down to chat with Allen, I found that he communicates in an organized and thoughtful manner; he comes across as very put-together and reliable. He makes leadership look easy; for whatever it is he decides to do, he plans for and achieves directly and simply, investing the time necessary to succeed…

…which is probably how VERSUS came about!

Sebastian and I started talking and he mentioned that it would be fun to do an album together. We had already been planning on doing a fighting game album, so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity,” said Allen when I asked him about the origins of VERSUS. Despite his obvious leadership qualities, Allen comes across as very down-to-earth and friendly. “[GameLark] started out as a channel that focused on video game remixes, but…I had always wanted to be more involved in the community, so a friend inspired me to start asking others if they would be interested in this so-called ‘label’. I see it more of a community, much like Materia, because we come together not out of compulsion, but out of a love for video game music to make albums.”

  1. Name?
    Allen Brasch.
  2. Musical Background (What sort of musical projects are you/have you been involved in? How did you get started in music?)
    I used to play piano and have dabbled in guitar and electronic music. Right now, I run GameLark which is a video game remix label similar to Materia Collective. I discovered my passion for the VGM community about a year ago and have been active ever since.
  3. What was the first video game you played?
    The first console game I remember playing was Super Mario 64. I fell in love with gaming subsequently and have been gaming ever since.
  4. What does video game music mean to you?
    Video game music appeals to me because of the community. I really wasn’t aware of how unique this community was until I really started getting involved. It’s amazing to me to see tracks that are twenty or thirty years being reinvented each time someone makes a remix and adds their own special touch. Even original composers like Grant Kirkhope show such support for this community. I think that we are something special in the world of music and the world of art.
  5. Why did you participate with the Materia Collective? How did you get involved?
    Sebastian and I became friends and decided that doing a collaborative album would be a great idea.
  6. If you could have any dream job in the music world, what would it be?
    Probably doing what I do right now. Producing, marketing, and arranging video game remix albums.
  7. How do you deal with constructive criticism?
    I try to use it to reflect on what I need to change and what I could do better.
  8. In an alternate reality, what would your passion be instead of music/video games?
    I would probably have entered the world of film or TV in a different life. That or I would have been a paleontologist (a childhood dream).
  9. What inspires you, as a musician?
    Well as an album producer, I’m inspired when I hear a familiar track that is arranged in a completely new and unexpected way. I love arranging albums and determining track order. Arranging an album is like telling a story. I’m given all the pieces, but I decide in what order they go.
  10. What’s something about you most people might not know?
    I went to rodeo camp when I was 13 and rode a bull.
  11. If you are in a room of 50 strangers for an hour, about how many of them would you introduce yourself to and/or try to get to know?
    Probably all of them.
  12. What age would you want to be/look like forever (physically)?
  13. If you could make any fictional character real and also be your best friend, who would you pick?
  14. Favorite Pokemon?
  15. Favorite color?
  16. Favorite video game/soundtrack/song?
    My favorite video game soundtrack is the Sonic Adventure 2 OST. My favorite video game is Metroid Prime. My favorite video game song is City Escape.
  17. Favorite Meme?
  18. Who do you main in Super Smash Bros?
  19. If you had to pick an emoji/emoticon to represent yourself, which one would you pick?
  20. Most anticipated game?
    Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

    Any musical endeavors you haven’t done yet that you want to tackle? Different genres, games, instruments?
    For the label, we have plans to continue releasing albums much like we’ve done and I’m excited to share some of the new artists that have joined us. In the future, we also plan to release albums that are a little more gene-specific. Sort of like EPs. Maybe someday in the future, I would love to organize a GameLark set for MAGFest or something like that. Personally, I just want to keep doing this and see where it goes  I’ve kind of realized that making music doesn’t give me as much joy as arranging it and coordinating it.



The first time I met Mike, Sebastian had invited us to a group chat on Facebook with Emily to discuss starting this very blog (as well working on other Materia Collective PR/Marketing material). Out of all of us, he seemed the most excited and innovative; Mike brings so much experience and vision to the table that sometimes I wonder how he can be so optimistic and forward-thinking (in a good way). But for a group as boundary-pushing as Materia, such a creative mind can only help push those boundaries even more.

When I asked him how he got his name “Viking Jesus”, Mike explains how the nickname came from two different things. At his first Video Games Live performance, the entire show had been live-streamed on Twitch, where the chat kept calling him “Viking Jesus” in the comments based on his appearance. Both terms had also been used as monikers for him in high school, so the name just stuck. His background in video game journalism is just as impressive as his fan-given title. Having aspired to become a writer for sites such as IGN, Mike wrote critical video game reviews for video game blogs in high school (during class, no less). In college, he continued to write for a few websites, and, in his words, “went to E3 [aka Electronic Entertainment Expo] a few times, did some freelance work, [and] started and left a pretty popular podcast”. Though he has left that world behind him for the most part these days, he hopes to return to video game journalism in the future.

  1. Name?
    Mike Niemietz, AKA VIKING JESUS
  2. Musical Background (What sort of musical projects are you/have you been involved in? How did you get started in music?)
    I was fortunate enough for the Video Games Live concert to be doing a show in my hometown (a small Chicago suburb) back in 2012, and I’d been in contact with VGL head honcho Tommy Tallarico before as a journalist. When VGL came to town, he said he’d love to have me jam on stage with them. That show was streamed over the internet where the community gave me the name “VIKING JESUS” and I’ve been releasing music under that name ever since.
  3. What was the first video game you played?
    The first game I ever played is a tricky one. I’m pretty sure it was TREASURE MOUNTAIN on MS-DOS. I do, however, remember the first game I ever beat was DOOM when I was a kid. Probably the reason the game still holds such a place in my heart today. The E1M1 theme was the first thing I ever performed live on stage.
  4. What does video game music mean to you?
    Video game music is special to me because it most easily triggers memories of the moments from games they’re from. Play the right song and I could suddenly be reminded of how awesome a boss battle was or how incredible the environment was in a game or be sad that a character died. It’s a powerful thing, man.
  5. Why did you participate with the Materia Collective? How did you get involved?
    I knew a ton of the people involved already so it was just an inevitable thing, I guess. I wasn’t involved with the first few projects but loved the idea of the world’s most talented video game musicians coming together to make their own tributes to the most beloved games of all time. It was an honor to become part of it.
  6. If you could have any dream job in the music world, what would it be?
    Oh geez, this is a tough one. For the longest time it was just being an in-house guitarist for a company like Square Enix or Nintendo, but after going to a pair of Hatsune Miku concerts in the past week I think it’d be cool to be a Vocaloid producer full-time and maybe be able to perform the songs live. Probably something revolving around performing in general. My favorite place in the world is on a stage.
  7. How do you deal with constructive criticism?
    Like many creative types I know, no one criticizes my work more than me. Typically when someone gives me criticism, it’s at an already finished product that would be a pain in the ass or wouldn’t make sense to go back and change it. So I take all the advice and filter it into my next projects. Things like altering my guitar tone, taking a different approach to arrangements, etc. have all been a result of people being like “Hey yo try this sometime.”
  8. In an alternate reality, what would your passion be instead of music/video games?
    I’ve always been fascinated with the world of voice acting. I used to run a video game podcast where it was a usual thing for me to deliver news and reviews as a different character. If I hadn’t put so much time into music, that would probably have been the path I took. Hell, it’s pretty close with the path I’m already on, so who knows what the future holds?
  9. What inspires you, as a musician?
    The community. Much of the video game community is notoriously cynical, but I think with the kinds of things we do that we find the best of the crowd. One of my favorite things about performing with VGL is the meet and greet we do after the show where we get to meet the crowd and have a good time. I always meet such great people and try to have a conversation with everyone about the kinds of games and music they like and ask them what kinds of songs I should cover next. There’s no greater feeling than having a kid tell you they want to get into performing music because they loved seeing you perform, and that in turn inspires me further to up my game.
  10. What’s something about you most people might not know?
    This one is tough. I’m usually a pretty open book to fans, friends, etc. Probably that I’ve listened to more Japanese pop music than metal over the past several months? I really want to get into Vocaloid music production if I ever manage to get around to replacing my decade-old laptop.
  11. If you are in a room of 50 strangers for an hour, about how many of them would you introduce yourself to and/or try to get to know?
    None of them. I’m a very shy person when I’m in a group of strangers, so I might talk to people if they walk up to me and start talking, but if I’m left to introduce myself? I’ll probably just hang out in the corner and check social media constantly for the hour.
  12. What age would you want to be/look like forever (physically)?
    Ah, this is a tough one. I’ve always said I can’t wait to be old and gray and have my beard reach my knees, but who knows how well I’ll be able to play guitar then, you know? Knowing my busy self I’ll say I’d stick around 30. That’s probably the last age I’ll have any real energy to go for months without a real day off.
  13. If you could make any fictional character real and also be your best friend, who would you pick?
    Callie from Splatoon! She seems like so much fun. She still has this child-like excitement about things and I love that so much. I see the world kind of the same way, even if it’s been known to get me in trouble sometimes.
  14. Favorite Pokemon?
    Legendary: Mewtwo, Non-legendary: Nidoking
  15. Favorite color?
  16. Favorite video game/soundtrack/song?
    Game: Okami, Overall soundtrack: Xenoblade Chronicles, Song: One Winged Angel (Advent). That’s right, the badass version with the orchestral metal arrangement. So great.
  17. Favorite Meme?
    So doge, much meme, wow
  18. Who do you main in Super Smash Bros?
    Sonic/Charizard/Mewtwo/Roy/Anyone but Olimar
  19. If you had to pick and emoji/emoticon to represent yourself, which one would you pick?
  20. Most anticipated game?
    Tie between Persona 5, Final Fantasy XV, the inevitable next Splatoon game, and Kingdom Hearts III.

    Any musical endeavors you haven’t done yet that you want to tackle? Different genres, games, instruments?
    I’m always looking to evolve and take on new challenges and explore new things. The thing that comes to mind the most is wanting to add more electronic elements to what I do now like a lot of the music I’ve started listening to over the past year. Unfortunately, I’m notoriously impatient when it comes to learning how to use music software, so this particular goal will likely take longer than I’d like it to.


REWIND: Super Mario Sunshine

Super Mario Sunshine was one of my first forays into video games. While that definitely groups me into a certain generation of gamers, I feel like this was one of those games that is just as classic as some of the first games released on the Nintendo 64. For me and so many of my friends and acquaintances, this was one of best video games we played growing up. Perhaps that opinion is partly because I originate from sunny San Diego, so the tropical paradise vacation with “perfect” weather and beaches always reminded me of the essence of home. However, I feel that bias does not detract from the fact that the music from this game is especially unique when compared to the rest of the Super Mario series.

I absolutely love the soundtrack of Super Mario Sunshine. One of my biggest complaints in video game music is that while it is versatile, adaptable, and immersive as a whole, sometimes when I am listening to the soundtrack by itself, it can feel a little one-note. This is also a feeling I sometimes get when listening to film scores/soundtracks, so perhaps it is a personal nitpick. However, with Super Mario Sunshine, the music never leaves me wanting more. I never think, “Oh, if this were live, the dynamics could build more so there would be more contrast in sound,” or “I’m not really digging the balance of instruments here”. Instead, I am left in awe of the perfection that is every piece of this soundtrack. I could probably listen to the “30-min Delfino Plaza (Yoshi ver.)” in its entirety…and on repeat.

Each song only has a few instruments to build from, but the music created from these combinations are emotive and distinct. Take “Delfino Airstrip”; the instrumentation is sparse in that it is rhythmically simple, but the builds a full sound by keeping the melody at the forefront and adding moving notes towards the end of phone. (Fun Detail: in the transition between the A section and the B section of “Delfino Airstripphrases to create suspense. This works within the game’s context, as Mario, Princess Peach, and the rest of gang are arriving at the Delfino Airstrip at the beginning of the game only to find trouble of unknown origins; the piece makes the adventure sound just as fun as it looks visually when playing. The cowbell and shakers combine with the walking bassline to create a very curious but catchy tune…one that almost makes you want to dance. In fact, as I was listening to it the other day, my friend sitting next me started grooving along even though she was on her ” is a little melodic sample of a funky, syncopated “Underground”, the classic Super Mario theme.)

Furthermore, one of the more interesting and awesome aspects of this soundtrack is the consistent use of a wide range of percussion. Its integration and placement is not only something that I love and appreciate because I am a fan of having percussive rhythm and funky beats driving songs forward, it also helps the music stand out from among other Nintendo soundtracks, where percussion is either added in the background of an orchestral sound or not there altogether. The instrumentation and musical styling in this game is really varied; there’s synth bass, steel drums, strings, piano, guitar, EDM-esque noises, and so on. What holds it together is the constant percussion in the forefront of the game, which glues all of those other instruments together without being abrasive. Shadow Mario’s EDM-influenced leitmotif and heavy bass doesn’t displace the brass in the rest of the soundtrack, or the soothing strings used in the Noki Bay songs.

On the subject of Noki Bay (my favorite location of the game), one of the most wonderful things about Super Mario Sunshine is that it is basically one large expansion of all the water/underwater levels that are so very popular in video games prior to this one. The OST only reflects this water theme. The use of steelpans makes for a wonderful addition in more than half the tracks, creating a Caribbean twist and a relaxing atmosphere in several of the game’s locations. The use of shakers and marimba emulate the sounds of waves, shifting sand, and rippling water. The sliding steel guitar in “Sirena Beach” emulates the music of Hawaii. “Hotel Delfino” combines the steelpans and steel guitar in an interesting mix of island music that I am quite sure I have never heard elsewhere (also the use of wood blocks of clackers to emulate wooden windchimes is extremely unique and fantastic addition). As someone who loves the ocean, beach, and swimming, I love how the music is almost as in your face about the watery elements of this game as the gameplay design is.

Of course, there are levels that contain little to no water in order to add variety. Though the location of Bianco Hills is a village near a very large and beautifully programmed lake (seriously, the water visuals and sound effects in this game are amazing), the music takes a very noticeable and cognizant turn away. “Casino Delfino” takes on a very jazz club/ragtime sound, though all the slots and games played with water. The acapella rendition of the “Secret Course” theme is also particularly different as the Secret Course levels are a throwback to the older Super Mario games and are usually designed so that you must complete the platformer level without F.L.U.D.D. (Mario’s water device that is a central figure in the game). I would even say that though the song “Ricco Harbor” is created for an almost entirely water location, its music is reminiscent of busy city ports with its main brass melody and guitar riffs in the B section. There is some faint steelpans in the background to pull some connection to the fact that Ricco Harbor is a water location, but surprisingly, the music is more jazzy or marching band than tropical.

The only aspect that I find rather odd is the instrumentation for “Pianta Village”. As much as I find the piece enjoyable to listen to (it is just as quirky as the rest of this soundtrack), the jungle drums and not-quite-an-ukelele are very strange choices for a song that represents a hot spring location, as hot springs are usually associated with tranquility and more soothing sounds. However, the place is vibrant and more tropical than most hot springs in real life (I mean…it is a video game aka virtual reality), so I find I cannot really hark the composers for their choices. Perhaps if a live arrangement/performance was made, the piece would sound a little less strange, since the sound samples used in the piece are very electronic/synth-like in texture.

As done in most video games, most of the tracks are written so that there is no clear ending, as the music is meant to loop/repeat as long as is necessary in-game. A few of the tracks are short little jingles for moments in-game. However, I would classify most of this soundtrack as ambient or mood music. There are so many idiosyncratic features in the composition of the music, though the melodic themes are not as diverse as other Super Mario video games. Yet the music in this game is just as if not even more engaging as the others. I would definitely recommend you go check both the game and the music out if you have not yet.

Some other key notes:
– The opening title track sounds like literal sunshine.
– All the “Yoshi” variations on many of the main location themes just add to variety of percussion, as Yoshi’s leitmotif seems to be variations of certain syncopated rhythm on some sort of bongo drums. 10/10
– The shine sprite sound is not included in the soundtrack. Is there someway I could get it so I can make it a ringtone option on my phone? Those bells are the best and so nostalgic.
– I really miss the GameCube and am still bitter about the switch to Wii.
– Be sure to note the varying instrumentation on all the “vs -insert Miniboss here-” songs, even though it is essentially the same track/musical theme over and over again. I really dig it.
– My personal favorite tracks are “Noki Bay” and “Deep Sea of Mare”, but the acapella sound-bite rendition of the original Mario theme in “Secret Course” is also up there.
– Speaking of which, is “Secret Course” not the coolest arrangement of the iconic Mario theme?!