VG Music Analysis (Come on down! Discuss Theory!!)

103 posts in this topic

On 5/30/2009 at 1:02 AM, WillRock said:

Silver Surfer...

Worms 2...

I LOVE this thread :D

I'm not going to go into anyway near the detail of gario in breaking down the music... I have a life :tomatoface:

get compensations here | good blog about headphones

Well if you tell people that you're into video game music most would find it ridiculous. I think Gario's analysis and anosou research paper adds a scientific angle to our love for video game music. They're making it look legitimate and important :)

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For the people who are interested in analyzing video game music, I recommend checking out the Ongaku Concept community. We're tight knit community spanning Youtube, Discord, Facebook and Discord and we're dedicated to the study and creation of video game and anime music. The community consists of passionate amateurs, music students and professional composers, and is based around the video essays and expertise of Joshua Taipale.

Check out the Youtube channel here:

The Discord server is here:


Myself, I spend most of my time there and have benefited greatly from the knowledge shared.

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Heh, a year later I finally see there was some music theory going down in here and even got a call-out. What shame must I feel to have missed that!

Here's a small Christmas gift from me to y'all (particularly @The Nikanoru @HankTheSpankTankJankerson) - an analysis from me, over eight years after the last one I did! Boy, sorry for that break! ... er, it's probably a one time thing, but y'know? Anyone else who has some really cool analyses of VG music should feel free to use this thread as their playground; it's what I intended this place to be, after all. ;) 

Time to roll up some sleeves and dust off my analysis skills a bit. Using this link for reference, here's an analysis of the tonal structure of Star Fox 64's Meteo!

Seeing that it's in 'E' (double checked against a pitch generator, to be doubly sure :P), that bass pattern that plays in the beginning betrays something interesting - there's a constant flat 2nd scale degree. More likely than not this is added for color, but contrapuntally it's always moving in an upward direction (when normally tonal music will tend to move toward where the accidental is going - lower'd notes move down and raised notes move up). It's not impossible to have this sort of thing in chromatic tonal music, but it's an unusual use of a b2 scale degree (even with a bII6-V#-i motion the b2 scale degree tends to move down to the #7). I'm not saying this is DEFINITELY a modal track because of it (there are very few truly modal arrangements out there), but if it were a roman numeral analysis would make no sense; modal music deals purely in counterpoint, since as a writing style it predates chordal structure as a standalone device.

With that in mind, however, I will note that there is no important chord motion until 0:20 (virtually every scale degree outside of 1-3-5 are obvious passing motions, not significant chord changes), so to be fair to modalists out there this does start out pretty modal in structure, even if it's not idiosyncratic with the general modal style of pre-Baroque music. Even that change at 0:20 (which sounds a bit like a V43 chord to me - 2nd scale degree in the bass) it's a pretty weak chord - if one is arguing this is a modal piece of music it'd be easy to interpret this as a bunch of neighbor tones lining up together to make something that only looks like a V43 chord. Had it remained with a lowered 2nd scale degree I'd start to be convinced that this is indeed a modal piece, but the 2nd scale degree was indeed set to normal for a regular ol' track in E minor. Really cool modal elements in this so far, but a modal piece this is not. Arguably, though, this may still not be a tonal piece in the traditional sense, either - more on that in a bit.

That little dropping line starting at 0:24, while not otherwise special (it's just a decorative little descending line), does illustrate the more common usage of a lower'd 2nd scale degree: it drops down to the tonic (or in some cases, dropped down to a raised 7th scale degree). Minor theory detour incoming: this is the entire premise of augmented 6th chords in relation to the dominant - having a raised 4th scale degree AND lower'd 6th scale degree (which, when the lower'd 6th scale degree is in the bass creates an "augmented 6th" between those two notes) creates a HELL of a lot of pressure for those notes to resolve into the 5th scale degree (normally leading to a pretty strong cadence). That's neither here nor there at the moment (the track isn't using an augmented 6th chord in here), but I figured hey, a little interesting non-VGM music theory on the side can change things up a bit. Not much else going on aside from that until 0:34.

At this point I will say this is the first really significant chord change (to #III, or G# Major), and does it EVER hit you hard. With no significant harmony change prior, and with that degree of double mixutre (the combination of both primary mixture [borrowing from the parallel major] and secondary mixture [raising/lowering the resulting 3rd scale degree]), such a chord change nearly sounds like a modulation in it's own right (with the small jumps to #IV between). I can see where Hank's going with this: if seen as a modulation, then these would be acting as IV-V to the eventual tonic that is D# Minor at (since we're dealing with E minor initially, the enharmonic equivalent of Eb makes a little more sense strictly in theory - #7 makes more functional sense than bI)

While it's a pretty cool detour in it's own right, the Schenkerian in me is resisting the urge to call this a full modulation since the target chord not acting as an important chord change in a larger tonal TONIC-(PREDOMINANT)-DOMINANT-TONIC structure that defines tonal music as a whole. If the temporary focus on a different tonic doesn't create a structural section in a piece it acts as a tonicization rather than a modulation. Many use these terms interchangeably, but they're not the same (something I found out painfully upon repeatedly having it beaten into me at UNM...). In fact, due to the nature of VG music it's quite rare to experience a true modulation - most VG music doesn't extend to longer structure pieces to justify the use of that tool (with perhaps FF6's Dancing Mad being a possible exception - I'd have to check that for myself to be sure).

In an interesting twist, we don't get any more chords at 0:43 for a while, as the bass, melody and textures all double one another at this point, though it can be implied that the chord is D# minor due to both the tonicizing chords prior and the fact that the F# (the 3rd scale degree in D# Minor) steps down to D#. Without the notes in front of me it's tough to say definitively, but from there the notes seem to be making motions to reset the piece back to the tonic again (the bass gives hint to this: when it stops following the noodling of the melody it lands first on G [3 of E minor], followed by D [7 of E minor]). It's slightly clumsy in my humble opinion, but it gets the listener back to E minor once again, ready to loop the song.

With all of that in mind, I would argue that this song isn't tonal in the traditional sense at all - it never functionally moves to a predominant or anything that even resembles a dominant. I'd love to say that it was diatonic, but that's not true, either; there's so much mixture, tonicization and chromaticism that it's hard to ever really define WHY we consider this in E minor. It's not modal, but it's certainly contrapuntal (that is, it follows basic rules about voice leading), and it's certainly uses traditional triadic and tetradic chords (in other words, it uses the basic major/minor triads and the rudimentary 7th chords that follow). Yes, folks, I'm going to make the argument that this is an non-tonal piece.


Settle down, folks - we're not talking twelve-tone atonality, here. This is more an example of where the late-Romantic/Impressionist period handled tonality - with utter disregard! When a song dances around a central note/chord with otherwise nonsense harmonies as far as harmonic structure/circle-of-fifths is concerned, you'd normally classify it as a centrist piece of music. It's not "tonal", so following harmonic patterns is nonsense, but it's not purposely avoiding a tone center, either (like Schoenberg or Webern did in their time). It's something in between - a note (or notes, in the case of bitonality) is obviously the reference everything else is taken from, but it doesn't utilize harmonic form to structure the piece.

Pretty cool stuff, here.

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