The soundtracks written by Nintendo’s composers during the 90s and 00s are some of the most brilliant ever written for the video game medium, if not any medium, past and present.
The work by artists like Koji Kondo for games such as Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda is timeless in a way that is likewise achieved by top composers in the realms of cinema and experimentalism, and has maintained a legacy that continues to enamour and inspire.
That being said, these compositions tend to fall by the wayside compared to those by contemporaries like Philip Glass or Hans Zimmer. The sonic confines of 16-bit instrumentation, while imparting an inherent magic, mean these video game soundtracks have never quite reached the prestige of to their orchestral counterparts.
Switched On SNES is a project by Texan artist Will Patterson aiming to expose these compositions for the masterpieces that they are, by reimagining them in a slightly more accessible format using analog synths and drum machines.
His compositions reflect the haunting, blissful aura of the originals and elevate them to a new realm. He kicked off the series with the soundtrack for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to The Past, one of the most iconic of all time, which included many compositions that would feature on Ocarina of Time, arguably the greatest of all time.
We reached out to Will to ask him about about his process, his revere for these soundtracks and when we can expect to hear the next instalment.
Chatting to Will Patterson, the man behind Switched On SNES – a project aimed at bringing the compositions for Nintendo soundtracks to live with analog synths.
Hey Will. Tell us a bit about your musical background.
I grew up with a musical family with pretty supportive parents who encouraged me to be in bands and record music. I got my first Moog synthesiser when I was about 14 and recorded my first album, which felt really exciting to me. I continued to play in bands and record records when I was picked up by Capitol Records band Sound Team and recruited as their Moog player. So, I graduated high school early and moved to Austin about 10 years ago. Since the band broke up, I got into composing for film and currently spend half my days working on films and recording my own music.
You’ve tackled one game so far, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to The Past. Why start here? What is it you love about that soundtrack in particular?
It was a pretty random choice and just happened to be what I was experimenting with. Its definitely one of my top SNES soundtracks, so that’s one of the main reasons. I had no idea it would turn into a full soundtrack and musical project when I was making it. I recorded it in a couple of days, put it on Reddit, and it blew up of Fact Magazine and the AV Club. Ever since then, I’ve created a pretty good base of listeners and its encouraged me to put a lot of effort into the next soundtracks.
What synths are we hearing on that track?
I use a Sequential Circuits Pro One. a Moog Concertmate, and a Korg Minilogue.
How about drum machines?
There actually aren’t any drum machines on this soundtrack, but there will be on the next ones. I use the Ace Rhythm Tone, Univox, and an 808 once I get my hands on one.
Did you have heaps of gear to choose from?
Throughout the years I’ve been collecting any instrument I can find as well as tape machines. I probably have about ten reel to reel recorders that I experiment with.
What is it about these classic video game soundtracks that enamours you so much?
It just comes down to how amazing these composers are. So many of these tracks are just as good, if not better, than many modern composers like Phillip Glass, Steve Reich, etc. Many of the melodies are powerful and have innovative progressions. All of this just kind of gets overlooked by the public outside of the game world, and these composers’ music isn’t taken seriously. Also, most covers of game music is either too orchestrally lush, or is cheesy, so it doesn’t always translate well to many listeners.
Despite the disparity in technological mediums – 16bit instrumentation vs analog synths – the covers very much hold true to the originals in that they evoke a real sense of magic. Tell us about the process of arranging the songs on analog gear.
I’m using a program to extract the SPC from the game, which gives me the exact arrangement of the tracks. Then I arrange it with the types of analog synth sounds that I think are fitting and live dub the tape echoes Lee Scratch Perry style.
You’re looking to cover some other SNES classics like Donkey Kong Country, and Secret of Mana – how far along are those?
I’ve done some rough recordings with Donkey Kong, but am currently working the most on Secret of Mana.
So, when can we expect the next instalment of the series?
Secret of Mana should be out by Christmas. Anyone who buys a Link to the Past cassette will receive a free digital copy of Secret of Mana.
Check out Switched On SNES on Banpcamp.