Is the soundtrack to the original Super Mario Bros. game a musical achievement and pop-culture milestone on par with Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew? Author Andrew Schartmann sets out to build exactly this case in “Koji Kondo’s Super Mario Bros. Soundtrack” — part of Bloomsbury’s 33 ⅓ series on classic albums — by developing arguments he made in his earlier work on video-game music, “Maestro Mario.”
After a quick overview of the technological and historical background to Kondo’s work, Schartmann tackles Mario’s music track by track, using his classical training to break down the rhythmic layers of the “Overworld” theme, reveal the surprising formal orthodoxy of the “Underwater” waltz and explore the uneasy inversions of the “Castle” music. Interviews with key Super Mario figures as well as other video-game composers flesh out the broader context, particularly the relationship between the music and the rest of the game.
The range of ideas and perspectives offered is invigorating and the discussion accessible, although sometimes at the expense of musicological depth — for example, Schartmann sets aside his analysis of the “Underworld” theme just when things are getting interesting. Occasionally, too, the author’s enthusiasm for his topic finds expression in slightly overwrought prose. Overall, though, this is a readable and informative tour through Kondo’s pioneering electronic sound world.
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