VGM Wednesdays – “Dire, Dire Docks” from Super Mario 64

by Kenley

“Dire, Dire Docks” from Super Mario 64, composed by Koji Kondo and released in 1996

I think I was in Grade 6 the first time I played this game.  I remember being awful at the N64 controller and wanting to just play SNES again, so I mostly watched my friend and his brother play.

Fifteen years later, I’m still not very good at Nintendo 64.  I still get mad in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time when I miss with the slingshot and I still never, ever win at a game of GoldenEye.

But, fifteen years later, Super Mario 64 feels different.  The music retains its lively and feel that all of the Mario games have… except this one.  “Dire, Dire Docks” is really beautiful and to me, it sounds different from every other piece in the OST.

It’s smooth, it consists of mostly one instrument and one tone colour for the majority of the loop.  In terms of texture, it’s very simple but it illustrates an important rule of orchestration – don’t write more unless the music needs it.  But around 1:05, we have this subtle and elegant addition of the synth strings to complement the polychordal texture of the synth keyboard.  It’s so subtle that I didn’t even realize it was there until the instrument had been going for 10 or 15 seconds.  But by that time (1:20), you think that the loop is done, but there’s a whole other section that takes over while the left hand ostinato continues.

From there, Kondo fades in the drum tracks, like the new transition section is supposed to distract the listener while he creeps in the drums.  At around 2:10, the ride cymbal comes with this cool syncopated thing, but just for a couple of measures.  By then, the loop has already restarted.

The more that you think about the form, the more disorienting it becomes.  Blech! But that’s the beauty of it: The simplicity and florid parts just hide the cleverest form that weaves palettes of sound without the player even realizing.

Love it 🙂

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