ReMix:Super Mario Bros. "Reflecting Pool" 3:21

By JohnStacy

Arranging the music of one song...

"Swimming BGM"

Primary Game: Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo , 1985, NES), music by Koji Kondo

Posted 2019-09-11, evaluated by the judges panel

John Stacy sends us one of the most creative takes on the swimming/underwater theme from Super Mario Bros. we've heard, slowing it wayyyyy down into a mesmerizing, reverent brass chorale perhaps best categorized as contemporary classical or avant garde:

"Few years back, I arranged a concert of big band music (my first submission to this site was from that project). One of the arrangements on there was a brass-only arrangement of the "Underwater" theme from the original Super Mario Bros. that really didn't fit in with the rest of the concert. Originally written for 4 flugelhorns, 2 horns, 4 euphoniums, and a tuba, I played all the original parts on horn minus the flugelhorns for this version. In addition to the different instrumentation, the tempo also was lowered down to 22.5 BPM (from 50 in the original). I also branched out a little bit, and used a combination of not only recorded horn with electronic processing, but also basic synth work.

The premise is somewhat of a study in patience. That is to say, the arrangement goes through the original loop of the music only once, but slowed down to roughly 10% speed. The rest of the arrangement is filled with dense 7-part counterpoint that reharmonizes the original melody and gives motion that would otherwise be very static."

Truth in advertising; if you're looking to quickly identify & appreciate this as an arrangement of a relatively familiar theme, you'll need to at *least* double the playback speed. This rightly caused some consternation and gave the judges' brains something to chew over - the source is definitely there, yes, but temporally elongated to a significant degree. At some threshold, that would certainly make it unrecognizable, but then the question becomes: what is that threshold? And does this arrangement meet or exceed it? The panel was divided, and had I weighed in after only one listen, I probably would have rejected this mix myself due to the source being too far removed. I'm glad I didn't; repeated listens helped my brain connect the dots, and coupled with the title, helped me appreciate the submersive, introspective, & almost spiritual experience I hope many listeners share. Gario weighs in:

"This is a pretty interesting idea - at over three minutes, the source only plays through once, which means it's been stretched to roughly 3-4x it's original length. Rather than acting as the focal point, this arrangement builds something rather different using the source as the backing glue to keep it all together. Intriguing; while I can see others perhaps saying it doesn't sound enough like the source, I'd argue it doesn't need to - having something sound so different while still TECHNICALLY containing the source in it's entirety is a very interesting way of interpreting OCR site rules.

The performances are quite good, and the recordings are generally clean. The one issue I have with this (and it's not a small issue) is the overuse of production effects; the flangers, the phasers, etc., really do sound slapped on, rather than letting the music speak for itself. It's the artist's choice and all, but considering everything else it just makes no sense to layer special effects on a brass septet like that.

The pacing takes getting used to, but I like the idea. I don't think the random special effects sprinkled in there take this below the bar, so I'm all for this one. I could see a differing opinion on the arrangement on the panel, though, so I bid good luck on the rest of the panel!"

I didn't have any issues with the effects; to me this is a psychological piece, first and foremost, isolating & submerging the listener and achieving a feeling of floating in a vast expanse, almost like a sensory deprivation tank, and part of that is abandoning the traditional acoustics of a standard brass ensemble. Being an arrangement of an iconic theme & being relatively challenging, I expect this will be a divisive mix; I hope that listeners give it some time, listen in a dark room, and let their minds wander. Props to John for having the creative cajones & imagination to make something that asks a bit more of us, but rewards with reflection & depth.



Latest 11 comments/reviews; view the complete thread or post your own.
on 2023-12-05 19:18:42

Experimental for sure, but it's not bad at all. Not sure if I'm perfectly suited to have the patience for it, but I can at least appreciate it and I'd personally listen to it as a whole performance rather than on section, but that just me. Cool idea.

prophetik music
on 2019-09-18 08:18:53
On 9/12/2019 at 12:15 PM, JohnStacy said:

So in the most sincere way possible, I REALLY don't care that the Mario fanbase wouldn't listen to this and be reminded of Mario. That wasn't the point. That wasn't even close to the point.

what a delightful approach to this (for real, no sarcasm here). i'm no stranger to arrangements that break the boundaries - i think when we talked about this right after i became a judge, i pointed out that my animal counterpoint track from the Link's Awakening project was just as much an artpiece as this. personally i love it when people really break down the walls. at least part of that's my background in classical music, where pushing the boundaries is an expectation rather than extranormative. while i know where the lines are as a judge, from a personal standpoint i've always wanted there to be more of a focus on the technical side of arrangement and composition, and less about if it sounds like the original. i can't wait for the first time i hear a track submitted where the original melody is entirely inverted or something and the production doesn't sound like someone's garbage disposal. i'll mash that like button so hard people will think i'm watching youtube.

i found this work to be so, so, so interesting, and i loved it (although like others have said i'd have preferred it to be without the processing). the continued attention to using cadential movement to push the work forward in spite of the tempo was really well done. fantastic job. stick to your guns and keep making your music, for you. even if you wrote a thing that everyone hated but did what you wanted it to do, that's growth and a positive thing.

on 2019-09-13 09:09:37

Like I said in the YouTube comments, I can really appreciate the artistic value of using a source and using it in a very different way than just taking the main melody and changing a few notes here or there. I'm a bit biased here because I've done this before as well (and probably will do this in the future). These kinds of remixes can sometimes feel like a puzzle, trying to get the source from it and then going "aahhhh that's what (s)he did with the source". For me, it's very exciting in a very different level than for pure nostalgia.

What I'm trying to say is very well done - this might not be for everyone, but as an artist I can really appreciate how you handled the source material! This is the "abstract art" style of making ReMixes

Mr. Hu
on 2019-09-12 16:10:37

This is certainly an experimental approach to the water theme (which I couldn't pick out last night but did today!), and a lot of good experimental music divides people. But I think this remix will find/has found an audience that will appreciate it for what it is.

YouTube is maybe the biggest forum for video game music ever, and is also the land of instant gratification. People like their EDM, chillwave, orchestral, etc (me too), and will slam that dislike button - even if they don't truly dislike it - and quickly move on. If this remix was created to be a patience-tester, you've dropped it in the right sample group!

on 2019-09-12 12:37:24
21 minutes ago, JohnStacy said:

So in the most sincere way possible, I REALLY don't care that the Mario fanbase wouldn't listen to this and be reminded of Mario. That wasn't the point. That wasn't even close to the point.


5 minutes ago, Jorito said:

Ultimately OCR of course needs a bit of both elements, but the listener may struggle a bit. C’est la vie.

The vision of the site has always been to have a big enough tent for both; we could have fewer headaches, and probably more followers, if we stuck to popular games, or genres, or gave flagrantly disproportionate emphasis to either, but then I'd have to punch myself in the head every day and die w/ regrets, etc.

on 2019-09-12 12:32:22

I think both approaches are equally valid... maybe not from a listener/OCR audience perspective per se, but from an artist perspective I completely understand. Sometimes you just gotta paint outside the lines a bit, even if it can be divisive (I’ve been there (voice acting reggae, anyone?) only not as out there as you did).

I can appreciate your track from a intellectual and musical perspective, but I can understand the feedback from a listener perspective too. Ultimately OCR of course needs a bit of both elements, but the listener may struggle a bit. C’est la vie.

on 2019-09-12 12:15:40

I have read the comments on the youtube, and one comment really stuck out to me that I think explains why it is so divisive, mainly relating to the philosophy of creating new arrangements of video game music.

The comment, let me find it:


This would be better if it was a song on it's own. It's a huge flop as a remix. This misses the bulls-eye, hell, it doesn't even hit the target. Play this to the Mario fanbase and 0% will say it makes them think of a Mario game, let alone the track it's based on.
then a later comment
Isn't that the point of a video game remix? To portray the song in the game, or a song that seems reminiscent of that game?

So this is probably the largest difference in the way I process game music vs how I think others do, mainly in the general public who do not produce music actively (casual listeners). This isn't a right vs. wrong issue, this is really more of a perception and philosophy difference/disagreement. This is healthy and should happen in any community that isn't toxic.

For the most part, game music for me is divorced from the game it comes from. I have been told on some of my previous work (back before I had an internet presence) that "this doesn't sound like a battle theme" or similar comments. At one point I did a stripper tempo swing version of Megalovania from Undertale. It went really slow, just to play up the sleaze. For the most part, it was *destroyed* by people who heard it, almost like I committed blasphemy.

OCR is full of creative arrangements, but the whole line is accessibility. For the most part, if you did a calm, ending theme as an upbeat 80s synthwave track, nobody would really complain about it because they can relate to the style. Something much more classically oriented that's out of left field like this doesn't really give much to relate to (unless you listen to a lot of music in this style). It is kind of like listening to some avant-garde jazz and not enjoying it because you don't really listen to a lot of it and don't really "get" its nuance (I am like this with most of the more distant subgenres of metal, for example).

When I do arrangements of game music, almost always I'm trying to do one of two things, and you can hear this from the things posted on this site.

1. Have some fun with a tune I really enjoy or remember fondly, combined with writing some fun stuff to play (Cazador, Journey Never Ends, unrelated but everything I do for Materia Collective falls under this category). This usually ends up being very relatable for most people.

2. Experiment and really push myself in something I'm not familiar with, or explore a style of music I enjoy (Protoman, Reflecting Pool, As Blew the Winds). These are mainly used to develop my skills, and I really don't give much consideration to the audience or making it an way that it means anything outside of itself. This is where the disagreement lies.

So in the most sincere way possible, I REALLY don't care that the Mario fanbase wouldn't listen to this and be reminded of Mario. That wasn't the point. That wasn't even close to the point.

on 2019-09-11 23:18:02

Well, having visited the YouTube comment section for this remix, I have to say, you're right; this remix has been very divisive so far. And as it happens, the thing I was going to say in that comment section was similar to something I just read in the description here. I would say something like, "Hey, everyone who's complaining about this song? I have a suggestion. Take a couple deep breaths, calm yourself, let go of your expectations, and listen to this a second time. I can almost guarantee you'll like it much better."

Now that I can see I'm not the only one who thought so, I'm glad to know that suggestion has some validity, at least.

And, with that aside, I'm coming to love this piece. It calls to mind the memory of a long, leisurely ride in a kayak, or the feeling of playing trumpet just to make myself feel better, or of eating a comforting stew. (Weird. One of these things is not like the others.)

Yes. It's definitely different, but excellent work, Sir JohnStacy.

on 2019-09-11 21:17:51

I wanted to test something out so I loaded this up in Audacity and sped it up 4x, and here is the result.

Still...I agree it's sort of pushing the site standards at least a bit.

on 2019-09-11 16:38:13

Oh boy, I remember this! Sir Nuts linked me to the decision thread not long after I got added to the Judges and asked which way I'd vote on it.

Here's what I thought: once the melody started at 0:21, the source clicked for me there and then. The harmonies and effects contributed actively towards subtractive arranging, which is heard as the main arrangement attraction. The horn performances and manipulations were spot on, added to that textural thickness and are all cleanly placed out in the mix.

And do you know what else this track brought to mind? It reminds me of the Tortoise section of Camille Saint-Saens's Carnival of the Animals suite. Saint-Saens used the main melodic riff of Offenbach's "Galop Infernal" (otherwise known as the Can-Can) and slowed it down by 2.5x, while here the source is brought down to 4x its speed. This arrangement is a more extreme case, but at the end of the day, the BGM is dominant and has an interpretation approach seldom seen around the VGM scene, period. If I were on the panel at the time, I would've been in the Yes camp.

Nevertheless, you did boldly, and I hold mad respect to the result that popped out. The original Super Mario Bros has tunes covered a vast number of times, but this is a sign that proves there's still room to make something unique out of it. Nice work! :)

on 2019-09-08 01:23:28

What did you think? Post your opinion of this ReMix.

Sources Arranged (1 Song)

Primary Game:
Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo , 1985, NES)
Music by Koji Kondo
"Swimming BGM"

Tags (7)

Brass,French Horn
Production > Live Instruments

File Information

4,926,003 bytes


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