When I think of videogame music, I first think of EarthBound, then I think from there. I wouldn’t call it obsessive – formative in my understanding of music and inviting of expanding my musical taste would be a better way to phrase it. When 3UP_Moon and I decided what topic to talk about for a podcast, we went with videogame music. We ended up talking for over 5 hours, mostly about videogame music, with somewhat related tangents.
Revisiting EarthBound’s soundtrack with this podcast in mind, I realized something.
I had somewhat realized it years ago, but here more distinctly – the sheer amount of tones and noise in the soundtrack is probably what prepared me for listening to more music than the Top 20 hits on the radio, and maybe more. I wouldn’t quite say listening to jazz, reggae, ragtime, metal, and hip hop, all interpreted through 16-bit music, directly influenced my understanding of reality, but it certainly helped remind me that it’s important not to stay in one mode of thinking in almost anything.
It’s OK to be wrong and to politely challenge your opinions.
During a brief meandry away from videogame music, we talked about music more broadly, including Weather Report. I last listened to the jazz-fusion band over 12 years ago, where then I wasn’t impressed, and one chatter suggested I try them again. I did, and my opinion didn’t change much about them, but I feel like these are the sorts of things where opinions can change. Just because I had a reinforcement of a previous opinion doesn’t validate or invalidate my perspective or other jazz-fusion albums. I might find most other jazz-fusion albums to be boring, but that doesn’t mean I can’t – it would just need to be a little bit more lively for me, I think.
We also mentioned the more divisive Ornette Coleman.
Coleman made avant-garde jazz and free jazz music, which similar to noise and other extreme music, tend to be the outlier of musical taste for many people. Extreme music tends to be difficult to follow and its marketability tends to be limited, but as we talked about with Nirvana versus Melvins, how would music have been different had Melvins become popular instead of Nirvana? Nirvana made a more pop music style of sludge metal than Melvins, but it’s an interesting thought to briefly consider. More than that and it’s a difficult game, because then you get into questions like “what if Hendrix hadn’t’ve died?,” and questions like those meander off-topic and into brands of speculation that are steeped in whimsical sadness.
These sorts of meandry thoughts related because of how videogame music was/is made.
The EarthBound soundtrack was primarily composed by two musicians, Suzuki and Tanaka, that drew in from wide inspirations. Their lists of inspirations are wide and varied in genre, so I imagine that they, like any big fan of music like 3UP and myself, would explore everything that was available at the time. That musical inspiration shows in everything from the death metal drumming in the final boss music, “Pokey Means Business,” to the hip hop rhythm sections of battle music throughout the game.
The key is to be inspired without stealing.
We later talked about Rock n’ Roll Racing, which is where I first heard “Paranoid” years before I knew of much else besides Black Sabbath, and it’s weird to consider how easily my taste in music could have changed had there been different circumstances. What if Tim and Geoff Follin didn’t select “Paranoid” to include in the videogame? Or, because now the game is controversial for its DMCA music licensing, what if they hadn’t secured the rights to the song? Would I have been less interested in Black Sabbath, and maybe metal, as a result?
More speculation, again, but these are fun points to consider sometimes.
What isn’t speculation is how much Hendrix later inspired Uematsu when writing “One-Winged Angel.” That sort of cross-pollination of musical genres is inspirational. Videogame music shouldn’t strictly be ‘music that is somewhat classical music inspired and easy to replicate using limited sound tones,’ but should be more of a trait to describe music than a codified genre. We might be getting closer to that sort of trait as videogames have become unhindered by physical storage limits and it’s exciting to consider how things will change from here.
Unless, of course, videogames play it safe with their soundtracks.
We speculated that because 30% of EarthBound’s storage space was dedicated to music, Suzuki and Tanaka worked with the rest of the team making EarthBound in deciding what songs would fit into each scene in the game. The game is weird, so, they could be weird with their sound design and music selection. If the game were more straightforward, they couldn’t have brought in as many wild sound palettes into the mix. I think of it similar to how most movie soundtracks operate in an almost background-exclusive capacity. Movie soundtracks help to heighten certain moods, whether they’re fear or pleasure, throughout movies but I don’t often find myself enjoying listening to movie soundtracks outside of movies. Whereas, with videogame music, I can frequently listen to songs on loop outside of videogames.
I tend not to listen to videogame music unless I want something less distracting.
There is something to be said for listening to music that can heighten your overall experience of playing videogames, and I am certainly an oddball in that I don’t play music during my videogame livestreams anymore, so instead I’ll be talking about my observations of the game or talking with the audience about related or unrelated things, so does that decrease the viability of videogame soundtracks for me? I still hear them often enough in livestreams or whenever I listen to videogame music so I’m not too concerned. There’s so much music out there to experience and enjoy, and much of it I can only scratch the surface on.
But it’s still enjoyable to listen to music and talk with people about music.
|Sources: My podcasting experiences.|
|Inspirations: Writing a summary of the podcast, I guess.|
|Related: Other Media Meandry essays.|
|Screenshots: My overlay then 3Up’s overlay.|
|Written On: 2021 June 10 [8:19pm to 8:something at “physical storage limits” with a short break to grab a screenshot of 3UP’s side, then from 9pm to 9:07pm]|
|Last Edited: 2021 June 10 [First draft; final draft for the Internet.]|