Kondo was born in Nagoya, Japan. He took to music at an early age, writing simple tunes for fun even as a small child. At seventeen, he decided to pursue music professionally. He undertook classical training, and he learned to play several instruments.
In the 1980s, Kondo learned that a company called Nintendo was seeking musicians to compose music for its new video game system, the Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System outside Japan). Kondo had never considered writing video game music before, but he decided to give the company a chance. He was hired in 1983.
Kondo found himself in a totally different environment at Nintendo. Suddenly, he was limited to only four “instruments” (two monophonic pulse channels, a monophonic triangle wave channel which could be used as a bass, and a noise channel used for percussion) due to limitations of the system’s sound chip. Though he and Nintendo’s technicians eventually discovered a way to add a fifth channel (normally reserved for SFX), his music was still severely limited on the system.
Kondo has stayed with Nintendo through various consoles, including the Super Famicom (Super Nintendo outside Japan), the Nintendo 64, the Nintendo GameCube and most recently the Nintendo Wii. These latter systems have vastly improved Nintendo’s audio capabilities, and Kondo today composes music with CD quality sound.
Koji Kondo attended the world-premiere of PLAY! A Video Game Symphony at the Rosemont Theater in Rosemont, IL in May of 2006. His music from the Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda series was performed by a full symphony orchestra. This event drew nearly 4000 attendees.
Considered by many to be the “John Williams” of the digital entertainment world, Koji Kondo is acclaimed the world over thanks to his unique partnership crafting the most recognizable themes and soundtracks with industry giant Nintendo (and to his credit, a creatively fluent partnership with Shigeru Miyamoto). Fans and critics alike cite as his greatest talent being his ability to craft melodies that while catchy and pleasant upon first listen, remain enjoyable even when looped over long periods of time and played through inferior sound equipment. His songs are certainly memorable; the title theme song to Super Mario Brothers retains its iconic status 20 years after its initial release. Not unknown in the musical community, Mr. Kondo can count talent such as Paul McCartney among his fans. Kondo’s music has been cited as being as integral to the Nintendo style as the game design of Shigeru Miyamoto.
Conversely, this familiarity is also the cause of most criticism of Kondo’s work. Over nearly 20 years in video game music, his style has changed very little. The themes of Super Mario Bros. in 1985 are little different from those of Super Mario Sunshine in 2002, although the earlier game sounds more primitive due to technology constraints. This need for sameness over the years is something of a two-edged sword for Kondo; when he has tried something different, as in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, some criticized him for abandoning the themes and styles they had grown to enjoy (although others found this to be some of his best work).
“Super Mario Bros. Theme” has been on Billboard Magazine’s Hot Ringtones chart for over 90 weeks, where it also hit #1.
Koji Kondo’s work shows at least three major influences: Latin music, jazz music, and classical music (mainly ragtime and march music), often with a strong cinematic flair. Latin is particularly evident in his bouncy themes throughout the Mario series, such as the soundtrack to Super Mario Bros. 3. The happy main theme has a slow, samba-like rhythm. The second theme offers a more upbeat, ragtime-like style. Bowser’s Theme would not sound out of place being played by a Mexican mariachi band. This influence also shows up in his more recent works, such as the Gerudo Valley Theme from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a song with a certain stereotypical Andalusian flair.
Kondo’s more jazz-influenced pieces also come from a wide variety of projects. One of the earliest examples of this is his minimalist underground theme from Super Mario Bros., and Saria’s Theme from Ocarina of Time sounds almost Dixieland in places. All of this is hardly surprising; Kondo lists Henry Mancini as one of his most admired influences.
Kondo was trained as a classical musician, and this shows in his more ambitious projects, such as the soundtracks to the Zelda series. These pieces are distinctively cinematic, reminiscent of John Williams’ work on Star Wars or Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The title theme to The Legend of Zelda is grandiose for all its low fidelity. Several of Mr. Kondo’s themes have been famously recorded with full orchestral backing, with several tours of his work featured highly in concerts presented around the world.
Kondo’s work is also highly influenced by Eastern Asian music, which might not be surprising given his country of birth. His songs are predominantly melody-based with little supporting harmony, which is in keeping with the Asian tradition. This makes him somewhat unique among the most popular video game composers, as his counterparts such as Nobuo Uematsu and Koichi Sugiyama produce more Western-sounding compositions for their games.
Edited by SpaceCow4 on 20 Oct 2011, 20:59
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