On a recent journey to the homeland of my ancestors (read: my parents’ house), I was able to share in a nostalgia-made-modern moment with my father. We were sitting at his netbook (which looks adorably small in front of two giant men), watching the wonderful videos from acapella master Smooth McGroove. As someone who grew up in a house full of doo-wop music and video games, hearing the classic gaming tunes of my youth turned into vocal tracks was such a treat to share with my dad. He clicked through the themes that we both recognized (Tetris, Super Mario Brothers, Legend of Zelda), reminiscing on the sounds that resonated from our living room television for much of my childhood.
It occurred to me that the soundtracks of arcade games and home consoles of the late 80s and early 90s were a touchstone for my family. Even now, we all recognize the call to adventure from the Legend of Zelda’s main theme or the dark urgency of the ballads from Castlevania. This sentiment was certainly not unique to my family; so many of my friends and relatives lived in a similar state of chiptune bliss during that time period. In spite of this pervasive influence from video game music in our homes, most of us have little knowledge of the origin behind these beloved songs. Fortunately, Red Bull Music Academy has produced a great documentary series that sheds some light on the talent behind the tunes.
Debuting earlier this month, Diggin’ In The Carts delves into the history of video game music by focusing on the men and women who pioneered the field. Each episode is about a certain set of music and games, zeroing in on a specific time period in the industry’s growth. The series is well-produced and highlights the composers who created the classic sounds in a very digestible and interesting manner.
The episodes clock in at just over 15 minutes each, with plenty of stories and anecdotes provided through slick interviews with the composers. Some of my favorite moments have been the influence of reggae music on the NES/Game Boy work of Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka, and the fun origin of Blanka’s Theme from Street Fighter 2, courtesy of Yoko Shimomura. It’s these delightful tales that make Diggin’ In The Carts so accessible to any viewer. Instead of being a cut-and-dry analysis on the technical aspects of sound, we get a very personable look at the people who devoted themselves to making beloved music.
I urge all who read this (or anyone, really) to watch Diggin’ In The Carts. Video game enthusiasts will geek out at the historical content, music nerds will love to see the variety of influences that made their way onto carts, and the general public will finally see a face behind the music that filled their homes in the gaming days of old. With four fantastic episodes released thus far, it’s an ideal way to spend an hour.