#35: Meteo, Star Fox 64
Hi guys! Thanks for bearing with me yesterday in my moment of sickness. Here’s hoping you enjoy today’s post (which, thanks to the sickness, comes posted at a somewhat reasonable hour!).
I really enjoy writing these posts. They’re lots of fun, I learn a lot about composing for video games, and I feel like I get an opportunity to share my learned knowledge with you. I can list off tons more reasons why I enjoy writing this blog, but the one I’d like to focus in on is something I didn’t realize I enjoyed as much as I do, and that is finding music that nobody gave much of a second chance to and putting that in the spotlight. I could easily make this blog into a Zelda music blog (and some would argue that’s almost what it is anyways xD) and everybody would love it, however, a big part of the fun is finding music that we don’t give nearly enough credit to and sharing that with you guys.
Take today’s example, Meteo from the classic game Star Fox 64. Sure, it comes from the minds of Koji Kondo and Hajime Wakai, the brilliant sound designers of the Zelda series, yet the music of Star Fox doesn’t get any of the accolades the Zelda series does. Today’s track, from the level Meteo, is a track I’m sure many of you have heard hundreds of times while playing Star Fox, yet I’m sure many of you didn’t give it a second glance until just now.
I think what it comes down to is that game music serves a wide variety of purposes. Sometimes it’s placed in a cinematic to effect our emotions in some way. Sometimes the music’s purpose is to stay out of the way of the gameplay and characters, acting as a background color for an active world. This game is perfect example of the latter, and I want to emphasize that while game music is important in every game it shouldn’t necessarily be the center of attention in every game.
Anyways, long rant over. Let’s dive into today’s track!
I can’t remember how many times I’ve done a track about a scifi-based game before, but I feel like more often than not these space battle tracks feature parallel perfect intervals very prominently. In the beginning of this track we see a repeated bass pattern that acts as both a piece of melodic interest and later as a pedal point, which allows Hajime Wakai to explore very dissonant harmonies later on. We don’t see any strong melodic content until bar 11, where a short melodic fragments flirts with our ears and gives us a vague confirmation of the tonality. The same melodic fragment returns in bar 17 but with the added power of a strong quartal chord (in addition to the trill on the flute), which creates a half-cadence feel here.
The piece continues with its quartal structure after this cadence, adding some interesting chromatic harmony in the melody in bar 21. I like to think this harmonic pattern gives the piece a character of “flirting with danger,” which is incredibly appropriate given the Star Fox team is flying through an asteroid field.
Bar 29 brings with it (finally) the presence of tonal harmony, however it is centered around the Eb major key area, compared to the presence of E minor in the previous quartal section. The shift from quartal to tertiary allows for this strange modulation to be surprisingly effective, particularly when combined with the strong transition from the previous segment, a chromatic, vaguely tonal passage. You can clearly hear how this new melody sounds more romantic than before.
The transition back to the beginning of the piece is very slick. While this piece has been consistently in ¾ so far the bars have generally been in groups of 4 and 2. Here the metric modulation from 3 to 4 allows for the phrase to be extended abnormally long, stretching out each dissonance to be as long as possible. The quartal chord structures created here by the bass and orchestra add to this dissonance, in addition to the presence of part of a whole-half diminished scale. This allows for another surprise modulation out of Eb and back to E minor while repeating back to the beginning of the piece.
That’s it for today, I hope you guys enjoyed it!
Bonus Track: Quick disclaimer: I’ve never played Star Fox Adventures. I was perusing the soundtrack to find something to contrast today’s post and stumbled upon this piece of beauty. As a saxophonist and a jazz player, all I have to say is lol.