Most Zelda fans know this by now, but the theme song for Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is actually “Zelda's Lullaby” in reverse.
I'm not sure what Nintendo's thinking was behind this decision. There doesn’t appear to be a connecting narrative between the two songs. I've always enjoyed turning melodies around or changing the mode of a familiar riff to come up with new ideas. Perhaps Nintendo’s choice was as simple as that?
Anyway, one year at MAGFest, it hit me. So few video game bands choose to cover arguably the most popular video game tune of all time: "World 1-1" from Super Mario Bros. The release of Skyward Sword around that same time may have triggered my revelation. If the music from 1-1 is so catchy, it has to be somewhat catchy in reverse, right? Maybe?
RETROGRESSION: VOL.1 is a short musical experiment developed with this concept in mind.
I am not the first one to do this. There are artists (such as Xoc) that have been doing way more complex (like Xoc) and creative (did I mention Xoc) versions of this very same idea. Take Xoc's NESTERBABIES project for instance. You're welcome.
I wanted to keep the instrumentation clean - Minibosses style - and the NES chip has a distinct number of usable channels. Two guitars, bass, and drums make sense with NES music. And as we all know, NES also has some of the best music.
I actually chose from a larger pile of NES games, but strangely, some of the most catchy tunes were simply not that interesting in reverse. “Dr. Wily” from Mega Man 2 was at the top of the list, but backwards, it wasn't all that captivating. While Metroid is a part of me, and I thought the title screen music would take us on an interesting journey, it just sounded off. “Vampire Killer” from Castlevania was just... kind of a mess. However, several songs emerged as unexpectedly cool in reverse. In addition to Mario 1-1, I landed on three other concise tracks for the experiment.
I learned a few things about the challenges of attempting a flipped arrangement:
- If you consider four measures of music, a transitional segment or "fill" almost always occurs on the fourth measure before going into the next part of the song. In reverse, this becomes the FIRST measure, which causes all kinds of odd musical challenges.
- Mario 1-1 has tons of shuffles and triplets. In reverse, the melodies ALWAYS start on an offbeat, which sounds TERRIBLE.
- Listening to the reversed song objectively without any percussion, you can come up with cool ways of handling musical oddities by creating new starts and stops on drums. You can guide the listener and force them to perceive the sections in a different way than they might otherwise.
The Bandcamp download includes my recordings in reverse for reference. You can hear where I adjusted the timing of certain notes to account for the reversal. There are a few sections that were lengthened. Some segments got smashed together. Other times, the bass guitar changes slightly to account for build-ups, etc. For the most part, the original melodies are intact to the note, but I made a few changes for listenability. Other tracks are virtually unchanged.
Is this what happens when you've been arranging game music for too long? Perhaps. Yeah, probably.
Big thanks to cubosh (from Arm Cannon) for the awesome artwork! HIRE THIS GUY.
That's it! Feel free to comment or email me with thoughts or questions. This was a fun diversion. :) More music a comin'!