Throughout the ages, music has influenced people all over the world in so many different ways. We’ve heard so many different kinds of music in so many different places that we’ve begun to associate different sounds with different stories, places, even emotions.
The same applies to the music of Zelda. You hear the simple guitar chords overlapped by a flute and violin, and you immediately think of the bright cel-shaded colors of Wind Waker’s title screen. You hear the low, sad hum and the delicate piano on top, and you remember the lament of the people laced within the famous “Song of Healing.” You hear the castanets bouncing across the dry air as guitars and trumpets tell you of the shimmering sand and the fiery sun in Gerudo Valley. You all remember these songs and these places. Koji Kondo and the franchise’s other composers have magically made it impossible to separate the two, a fact much under-appreciated. So today, let us appreciate this magic and explore what makes some of the music of Zelda so fitting.
Twilight Princess‘ “Gerudo Desert” has some of the best instrumentation the series has ever seen. Maracas and tambourines laced with short guitar chords tell of the shifting sands and burning sun that scorches the landscape. The deep voices blowing the main theme across the dunes leave you with a mystical, almost ancient feeling. The mysterious clarinet echoes through the canyons set in the dry stone. The strings dance on the wind with a strange wave, depicting shifting mirages dancing across the dry air. The song gives you a clear picture of the scorched landscape, and leaves you with an unquenchable thirst.
A Link to the Past‘s cave theme has a very interesting combination of instruments. The insistent bass almost beating out the chord changes overlapped with plips of water dripping from stalactites. The bass drum is your heartbeat, pounding on the inside of your chest as you twist and turn in the dark cavern. Quiet trumpets depict the creatures lurking in the shadows, the high percussion-like strings telling of the moment of pure terror. The carefully chosen combination of instruments leaves you with the creepy crawlies, making even the brightest room dark and full of secrets.
On the exact opposite side of the spectrum is The Wind Waker‘s “Great Sea.” The consistent snare giving you a sense of motion while you ride on waves of strings lifting you up and down on a sea of beautiful blue. The trumpets and trombones push you over the foamy crests into the sunlight on your bright red boat. The French horns blow a clear, bold wind into your billowing white sail as you explore this vibrant new world. The strings begin the melody, handing the waves to the low brass and woodwinds. The trumpets echo the strings triumphantly, spraying you with salty foam. The song, even outside of the game, gives you a sense of purpose and pleasure in the bright sun, surrounded by vibrant color and a pleasant salty breeze pushing your hair back.
“Kokiri Forest” is full of so much life and energy. The pizzicato strings underneath the song give it a bright feel accented by bassoon and bass clarinet. On top is a bright, happy tune played by a piccolo and xylophone, depicting children at play. An oboe and clarinet act as small animals dancing across the grass. The more legato string licks play out as the leaves rustling in the trees as quiet horns act as wind. The harpsichord runs across the ground and over rocks and pebbles in a beautiful, bright river. The bright feel gives you a sense of innocence and paradise among the trees.
Majora’s Mask is plastered in dark, mystical music like this. “Stone Tower Temple” has an essence of the past highlighted by the whole tower flipping upside-down, changing the arrangement in the process. When the tower stands tall, toms and tambourines beat out a mystical rhythm, with low voices droning the chord changes. A bassoon adds the staccato baseline on top. The ocarina comes in with the melody, quickly joined by the guitar. The sound it creates gives the song a Mesopotamian feel. The ocarina duet that follows sounds like an ancient chant… or curse. The piccolo whispers an ancient legend, carried on the dry wind. Then, the tower flips. High, spirit-like voices whisper the chord changes with a quiet, mystical concertina. Strange glisses bounce off the ancient stone walls, created by who knows what. The guitar comes in with the mystical bass line. Another guitar echoes the ancient melody, joined by an oboe. A guitar duet plings the ancient chants. And once again, an ancient legend carried on the dry wind, this time, an ocarina. The whole song pulses, getting louder and softer as it echoes away through the hard, red stone. As you hear these whispers, you know spirits of the past surround you in this timeless, cursed land.
To end this philosophical collage of music, I give you one of my favorites: The Wind Waker‘s “Pirate Ship.” This bold, bouncy, brassy
, bumbling melody brings out the best of Koji Kondo’s characterization skills. How can you not think of large, clumsy pirates? The snare beats out a consistent, flowing rhythm like that of a ship slowly cresting each wave. The trumpets quietly accent the rhythm with chord changes like each of the planks to be scrubbed and ropes to be pulled. The timpani and trombones add the weight of the giant pirates to the tune. Cymbals crash as waves splash onto the deck. Tubas and horns toss the melody back and forth as each pirate bustles about the ship. Flutes and clarinets accent the melody here and there, depicting the seagulls flying by and the fish flopping on deck. The song is spunky, catchy, and describes the everyday life of Tetra and her gang.
And so concludes this session of appreciation. I’d like to express my thanks to Koji Kondo for giving us this beautiful music to bring us back to so many beautiful places. These few songs are just some of the masterpieces he has created. I’m sure you all have many other songs in mind. So, which ones are they? Which song transports you far away? I’ll be watching the comments!