The Legend of Zelda is everywhere in modern music

The Legend of Zelda is everywhere in modern music

Whether it’s Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter sound effects popping into songs by Charli XCX and Flying Lotus, or hip-hop producers dropping samples from Donkey Kong AND Trigger Chrono to create beats for Drake and Wiz Khalifa, it’s hard to escape the influence of video games on modern music. But few series have had as profound an impact on a generation of musicians as The Legend of Zelda, thanks in no small part to the musical wizardry of series composer Koji Kondo.

In 2023, Polygon will embark on a Zeldathon. Join us on our journey through The Legend of Zelda series, from the original 1986 game to the release of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and beyond.

As Nintendo’s in-house composer since 1984, Kondo is responsible for nearly every major tune you’d associate with Nintendo, whether it’s the iconic Super Mario Bros. theme or the legendary overture that accompanies Link’s adventures through Hyrule. If you grew up playing video games in the 80s and 90s, it’s possible you spent more time listening to Koji Kondo than any other band or artist.

It’s hard for me to imagine how different my life as a musician would have been if it weren’t for the influence of Koji Kondo, composer and orchestrator Eric Buchholz told Polygon.

While Kondo’s melodies mainly serve as background music Super Mario Bros., have a real purpose in The Legend of Zelda, where music answers your biggest problems. You need to change the time of day to Ocarina of time? Play the song of the suns. I must stop an ominous moon from crashing into Clock Town and destroying Termina Majora’s mask? Play The Song of Time. Need to escape from a nightmare inside Awakening link? Collect eight musical instruments and play Ballad of the Wind Fish.

Photo: Iam8bit

It’s this connection between music and the Legend of Zelda games that resonated with a generation of young gamers, like Buchholz, who went on to become musicians. Buchholz’s introduction to the series came when he was digging through carts at a local flea market and came across a copy of Awakening link.

At that age, I was also developing an interest in music, so you can imagine my great joy at having found a game where the main objective is to collect various musical instruments to perform an end-of-the-world melody atop a mountain, says Buchholz. Naturally, the score for Awakening link it was not composed by Koji Kondo, but was inspired by the musical foundation he laid A link to the past a legacy that has been tapped into and built on since it was written.

Like many musicians, Buchholz played a role in building Zelda’s musical legacy with his arrangements, especially his Hero of the time album. It is what Buchholz describes as his love letter to Kondo, an orchestrated retelling of music from Ocarina of time, with 21 pieces performed by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra. It covers a variety of musical themes in the game and the series is written big, from Zeldas Lullaby to Gerudo Valley.

These themes can now be used to imply deep connections between games in a franchise or simply evoke feelings of nostalgia for players of previous games, Buchholz says.

Image: Nintendo via Polygon

Dan Reynolds, lead singer of pop-rock band Imagine Dragons, grew up playing Legend of Zelda games. He believes it’s the interactive and repetitive nature of video game music that makes music in the medium so powerful, especially when, like Link, you’re actually playing it. So, it was a dream come true for him and the rest of the band when they were presented with the opportunity to join Koji Kondo onstage at The Game Awards in 2014 and play a nostalgic tribute to gaming.

Koji Kondo wrote the soundtrack to our childhoods, so when Geoff Keighley suggested the idea of ​​a collaboration, it was an instant yes to all of us, Reynolds said via email.

For many people, hearing someone play The Song of Storms, Zeldas Lullaby, or Dragon Roost Island can take them back to their childhood. This sense of nostalgia is incredibly powerful, and it’s the same emotion Dutch DJ Hardwell mines to get people moving at electronic music festivals around the world.

Hardwell managed to get his hands on his favorite Zelda song after Nintendo asked him to remix a song of his choice for The Game Awards in 2015. Most of his fans play video games, he says, so he feels a connection instant with the song when playing it live.

Image: Sweet Valley/Turntable Lab

It helps, of course, that there’s also a huge connection between EDM and video game music. Some of the biggest names in the genre have made remixes of Zelda songs, whether it’s Deadmau5’s You Need a Ladder or Zedd’s The Legend of Zelda, while others, like Steve Aoki, collaborate with game companies to create music for trailer and perform virtual concerts in Zona Collina Verde.

It’s like a perfect marriage, Hardwell explains. There is no doubt that [The Legend of Zelda] it subtly influenced my early creative process without me realizing it at the time.

Just listen to the first seconds of the album by electronic music duo Sweet Valleys Eternal champion to feel how much of a flu Ocarina of time had Joel Williams as a member. The album begins in exactly the same way as the game, with the sounds of Epona galloping across Hyrule Field morphing into a hip-hop beat using samples from the file selection theme.

I played that game religiously as a kid and will revisit it occasionally as an adult; the SFX opening galloping horse and strumming chords teleport me back to my childhood every time, says Williams.

Maybe that’s appropriate Ocarina of time it was thus extensively sampled and remixed. It’s a game largely about nostalgia, where Link uses music, most of which has been introduced in previous Zelda games, such as Link to the past navigate two worlds: the dark one of his adulthood and the innocent environment of his youth.

Image: Nintendo via Polygon

If you’ve recognized a video game sample in a song before, you’ll appreciate how it can instantly create a sense of kinship and familiarity with an artist, even if you’ve never heard their music before. As Williams says, there is something very beautiful about hearing the menacing laughter of the Skull Kids Majora’s mask on tracks Burial and ASAP Mob, or Navis’ wingbeat on lingering HEYis in the tracks of Rejjie Snow and Chance the Rapper.

His music crosses reality, Tim Summers, music professor at Royal Holloway University in London and author of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: A Game Music Companion, He says. It’s adding another layer of meaning to what you’re doing and a whole new way to experience music within games.

Summers means the creation of the music in Ocarina of time (which allows you to improvise songs with the titular instrument) e Majora’s mask (which does the same with a handful of different instruments) as examples, explaining how not being limited to specific notes within the game’s tunes gives players an opportunity to experiment.

The fact that you can pitch bend and have access to a full chromatic set of notes serves no purpose, says Summers. In fact, it’s all the better because it has no purpose. It’s there for you to play with. And there was plenty to play, from Totos Africa arrangements on Deku pipes to Howard Shores Concerning Hobbits Ocarina renditions from Lord of the Rings.

Outside of the game, arrangements such as the Dr. Pez epic Ocarina of time The prog-rock concept album, Ro Panuganti’s Bollywood spin on Gerudo Valley, and August Burns Reds’ metalcore medley of NES-infused blastbeats and breakdowns prove that the adaptive and versatile nature of the music in The Legend of Zelda is another part enormous of its charm.

Photo: Iam8bit

It transcends so many different styles, says August Burns Red bassist Dustin Davidson. If you look at the evolution of music in the [Zelda] you play, you see it go through different instruments, and then you see how it’s been transcribed, whether it’s as a metal song, acoustic guitar or piano, there’s arrangements for all these different instruments.

OverClocked ReMix is ​​a community of video game music enthusiasts founded in 1999 that publishes remixes and arrangements of video game music. His community manager, Larry Oji, says arrangements from the Zelda series account for 7.6% of his total catalog of 4,200 tracks. Some of the most popular include an interpretation of Song of Storms by Big Giant Circles and the cover of Legend of Zelda Rabbit Joint which everyone at one point mistook for a System of a Down song. (Thanks, Napster and Limewire!)

To date, the two most ordered themes on the site are Zelda, the original title theme, and then Zelda [Lullaby] from Ocarina of timesays OverClocked ReMix founder David Lloyd. Both are featured in more Zelda games, so he kind of makes sense that they end up appearing more often, but it also speaks to the music’s enduring popularity.

It’s impossible to attribute the infectious appeal and success of Koji Kondo’s music in The Legend of Zelda to a single factor. This music means so much to so many people, who have interpreted and experienced it in so many different ways.

For some, like Davidson, the ongoing appeal of Zelda’s music is that it will always remind them of family. She played such a huge role in my upbringing because she was a way to bond with my mother and brother. That’s why I ended up getting a Zelda tattoo.

To others, like Hero of the time composer Buchholz, laid the foundations for a successful musical career.

It’s amazing to think of all the different directions my life could have taken if it weren’t for the influence Kondos’ music had on me growing up.

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