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Maestro Mario: How Nintendo Transformed Videogame Music into an Art

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“Pa-dum-pum-pa-dum-pum—PUM!” Super Mario Bros. for the NES contains some of the most recognizable tunes in popular culture, and yet it’s safe to say that only a handful of people have thought beyond the music’s entertaining surface. After all, what could possibly be art-worthy about an early Mario score? Or any early game sound for that matter? In search of answers to these “Pa-dum-pum-pa-dum-pum—PUM!” Super Mario Bros. for the NES contains some of the most recognizable tunes in popular culture, and yet it’s safe to say that only a handful of people have thought beyond the music’s entertaining surface. After all, what could possibly be art-worthy about an early Mario score? Or any early game sound for that matter? In search of answers to these questions, Andrew Schartmann takes us on a journey from the primitive “pongs” of arcade machines to the complex musical fabrics woven by composers of the NES era. Where does that distinctly Nintendo-flavored sound come from? What sets NES music apart from its predecessors? And how has that iconic ‘80s videogame sound “invaded” popular culture?


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“Pa-dum-pum-pa-dum-pum—PUM!” Super Mario Bros. for the NES contains some of the most recognizable tunes in popular culture, and yet it’s safe to say that only a handful of people have thought beyond the music’s entertaining surface. After all, what could possibly be art-worthy about an early Mario score? Or any early game sound for that matter? In search of answers to these “Pa-dum-pum-pa-dum-pum—PUM!” Super Mario Bros. for the NES contains some of the most recognizable tunes in popular culture, and yet it’s safe to say that only a handful of people have thought beyond the music’s entertaining surface. After all, what could possibly be art-worthy about an early Mario score? Or any early game sound for that matter? In search of answers to these questions, Andrew Schartmann takes us on a journey from the primitive “pongs” of arcade machines to the complex musical fabrics woven by composers of the NES era. Where does that distinctly Nintendo-flavored sound come from? What sets NES music apart from its predecessors? And how has that iconic ‘80s videogame sound “invaded” popular culture?

30 review for Maestro Mario: How Nintendo Transformed Videogame Music into an Art

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Carlin

    I don’t read much non-fiction, so pardon my biased lens. When I saw this book I imagined some sort of narrative or premise -> conclusion theme. It had none of that. More or less it was just fact after fact and 200 level music theory. I was unimpressed, but I did learn that space invaders funded Chuck E. Cheese, so I guess it wasn’t a total loss.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Aj

    This was very much not aimed at me. That said, in terms of expository writing, it's all over the place. It starts strong with a central argument - and this really reads as someone's senior thesis rather than a full narrative with cohesive arguments and structure - but doesn't focus on that to the finish of the book. It IS an interesting topic, but it's nowhere near comprehensive and doesn't do very much of a good job in terms of comparing and contrasting the journey of video game music to wider This was very much not aimed at me. That said, in terms of expository writing, it's all over the place. It starts strong with a central argument - and this really reads as someone's senior thesis rather than a full narrative with cohesive arguments and structure - but doesn't focus on that to the finish of the book. It IS an interesting topic, but it's nowhere near comprehensive and doesn't do very much of a good job in terms of comparing and contrasting the journey of video game music to wider art theory. Basically, this is a decently written thesis, but not a comprehensive or cohesive book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Galley

    When I don’t 100% get along with a book, I often find myself asking whether or not my criticisms are of what the book actually is, or whether I came in with unfair expectations. It’s something I always keep in mind before I condemn any aspect of a book as it’s not fair for me to hold the book to my expectations if it wasn’t trying to be what I projected onto it. For a while I thought that this would be the case would some of this book… then I read the title and description again. The rating I hav When I don’t 100% get along with a book, I often find myself asking whether or not my criticisms are of what the book actually is, or whether I came in with unfair expectations. It’s something I always keep in mind before I condemn any aspect of a book as it’s not fair for me to hold the book to my expectations if it wasn’t trying to be what I projected onto it. For a while I thought that this would be the case would some of this book… then I read the title and description again. The rating I have given this book is reflective of the book’s balance of very interesting relevant information, and the tedious unnecessary context it couldn’t help but ramble about. I bought the audiobook for £1.50 (my lunch when I don’t prepare it the night before costs more than this) so I’m hardly feeling ripped off, but it left a lot to be desired. The narrator, Kaleo Griffith, definitely has my preferred kind of voice for audiobook narration. Maestro Mario has some good stuff in it… but it’s not nearly got enough to warrant its publication as a book in its current state. At present it feels far more like a book proposal or extended article than it does something ready for publication. I’m probably better versed in the history of video games than your average consumer so I know that part of the tediousness will have been particularly frustrating to me as I was being told information I already knew. Why I think that it’s a problem regardless is that the information is not relevant, but rambles on. Take the history of the various Mario Brothers games for example: the audiobook spent a solid 15 minutes explaining about how the game came to be created, as well directly following a decent sized history lesson about the Video Game Crash of 1983 and Nintendo’s business savvy to sell the NES as something that wasn’t a video game console. I get that the stage was being set for the music of Mario, but the context was far too lengthy and of no relevance, especially when it lead into a line which said that the music usually gets overlooked (we’ll come back to this). To understand why this is a problem with the book, let’s pretend I’m writing a book about the weapons that were used in the First World War. If a particular gun was used during a particular battle then I might offer a bit of context as to how we came to that battle… but swiftly move onto the gun. If I spent a large amount of the chapter declaring the reasons for how WW1 started and which countries were involved, you would probably agree that it’s irrelevant to the book I’m proclaiming to write. There is an interesting history to be sure, but that’s not the book being written. So how would the book have been better? Simple… condense the history lesson. Something along the lines of: “Super Mario Brothers is undeniably one of the most famous, influential and beloved games in history. It single-handedly saved the Video Game Industry following the disastrous crash of 1983 and put Nintendo on the map, as has been documented by many a scholar on the subject. One thing that doesn’t get enough attention when discussing the legacy of the game is the music which was equally revolutionary”. Maybe that’s still a bit long but it’s far shorter than the one we got, acknowledges the game’s importance, and jumps straight to the subject that the book purports to be about. The book we do have feels like it was padding to make a required book length and is far from the most compelling account of the video game crash that I’ve come across. It didn’t work for me and what was especially frustrating was that the author repeatedly writes of music and sound effects “these could fill an entire book”. If there was so much information to fill a book, why didn’t you fill this one with the information instead of padding it with far too much irrelevant context? Setting aside that the statement that the music gets overlooked (it’s one of the most famous pieces of music composed within video games and is largely celebrated within the industry), the book then starts talking about the relevance of the music itself and how it was a good evolution of the music that had come before. I’m no music scholar, but the claims about how it’s influential and naturally fitted the game were very easy to understand. My recommendation for this book? Know that before you buy it that the new information you’ll get is extremely limited. What you get is good, but it’s not enough to buy it at full price. If the book is still £1.50 on Audible at the time of my writing this, that’s the way to go.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Stahl

    Having been a keen fan of video game music ever since my childhood introduction to the Nintendo 64, I was very interested in this book which deals with what I consider a sadly neglected field of thought. While I remember annoying my mum by insisting on the Age of Empires soundtrack in the car (back then you could literally play the PC disc in the CD player) and riding my bike with the loop-rock beats of Goldeneye 64 in my head, I rarely came across other people who specifically appreciated video Having been a keen fan of video game music ever since my childhood introduction to the Nintendo 64, I was very interested in this book which deals with what I consider a sadly neglected field of thought. While I remember annoying my mum by insisting on the Age of Empires soundtrack in the car (back then you could literally play the PC disc in the CD player) and riding my bike with the loop-rock beats of Goldeneye 64 in my head, I rarely came across other people who specifically appreciated video game music. Thanks to YouTube there is now a wealth of nostalgic pleasure to be had in uploaded game soundtracks even of the most obscure, wonderful renditions on Spotify and all sorts of other throw backs to my shared Millennial past. This book, though regrettably short and limited in scope, does good service to a subject I am passionate about and so I enjoyed it quite a lot. From the casino-origins of manipulative sounds being used to entice would-be consumers, Schartmann traces the development of game music and sound effects through the seventies, eighties and early nineties, with some very interesting exposition of how innovation led to artistic ingenuity in a genre of music unjustly scoffed at by many. A worthy read if you are interested in video game music, culture or history. I just wish it were longer and covered all the 90s and 00s as well. There was no mention of my two favourites, the '64 and the Playstation 2.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Matt Musselman

    Maestro Mario is a quick and really interesting jaunt through a music analysis of early video game music, with particular emphasis on the early video game era (Pong, Space Invaders, Asteroids, Rally X) and the Nintendo NES era (Super Mario Brothers, Zelda, Metroid). I particularly enjoyed the easy-to-understand technical discussion of the Nintendo sound chip (1 triangle wave voice, 2 pulse wave voices, and a noise/rhythm voice) and how those 4 simple voices were utilized in specific music in Supe Maestro Mario is a quick and really interesting jaunt through a music analysis of early video game music, with particular emphasis on the early video game era (Pong, Space Invaders, Asteroids, Rally X) and the Nintendo NES era (Super Mario Brothers, Zelda, Metroid). I particularly enjoyed the easy-to-understand technical discussion of the Nintendo sound chip (1 triangle wave voice, 2 pulse wave voices, and a noise/rhythm voice) and how those 4 simple voices were utilized in specific music in Super Mario, Zelda, and Metroid to create songs that were often only around a minute long but interesting enough to repeat indefinitely without sounding tired. I feel like I appreciate the artistry of those songs so much more, and now I've also had the Mario song in my head for almost a solid week.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Wesley Rea

    A great primer on the origin of video game music and how Nintendo really helped to shape the genre with Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. While some of the more technical aspects of music composition went over my head, I enjoyed it nonetheless. I would very much like to read a similar volume about 16-bit music and beyond.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    Good overview of early video game music. Listened on audible and wished their version could have had the sound snippets directly embedded in the recording.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jason Comely

    I listened to the audiobook, hoping I'd hear some of that 8-bit music from my youth, but none was included. Still, it's a great book that video-gamers and music lovers will enjoy. 4.5 stars. I listened to the audiobook, hoping I'd hear some of that 8-bit music from my youth, but none was included. Still, it's a great book that video-gamers and music lovers will enjoy. 4.5 stars.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Honey Bee Lee

    RTC

  10. 4 out of 5

    Noah Gray

    Interesting retrospective, but not a lot of substance or insight

  11. 5 out of 5

    Alan Cheung

    I listened to its audio version. The audio book could do so much better by playing the music alongside reading.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Books, Brews & Booze

    Having knowledge on musical theory and video game history is best, when listening to this.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marvin

    Don’t get me wrong, I love all things game history and music, and you get some of that throughout this short read. However, I found the academic analysis of melodies and sounds rather boring after a while. Still, it’s not a huge time commitment, so if you’re still reading this review, perhaps it’s worth a shot.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Chris Jennings

    Interesting topic and great execution. This book provides just enough nerdy technical detail and just enough general overview on how video music was created and refined. Whether you're a hardcore gamer, composer, or just a pop-culture enthusiast you'll get something out of this. Interesting topic and great execution. This book provides just enough nerdy technical detail and just enough general overview on how video music was created and refined. Whether you're a hardcore gamer, composer, or just a pop-culture enthusiast you'll get something out of this.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    At times a bit technical, and dreadfully lacking samples of the songs it cites, it's a genuinely interesting book. A good reflection on how music became a core component of video games, and how some types of music are unique to video games. At times a bit technical, and dreadfully lacking samples of the songs it cites, it's a genuinely interesting book. A good reflection on how music became a core component of video games, and how some types of music are unique to video games.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Cristóbal Sepúlveda Cobo

    6/10

  17. 4 out of 5

    Neilina Corbeau

    This was great. Quick read. Informative. Nostalgic. Just the right amount of academic and technical. Still quite accessible and enjoyable. Recommended.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Scott Lewis

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mogtaba

  20. 5 out of 5

    Edward

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tim Sederberg

  22. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  23. 4 out of 5

    Shorsh

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tim Thompson

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alvin

  26. 4 out of 5

    Marcelo Garcia Barrese

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Howe

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sonia

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jorge Akef Rodriguez

  30. 5 out of 5

    Julian

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