Posted on March 11 2019 by Matt Pederberg
Music is a defining feature of The Legend of Zelda series, so much so that it becomes its own character. The soundscape molds Hyrule around Link and his friends, giving character to those he interacts with and helps the player connect with them on an emotional level. The awe-striking music from The Legend of Zelda played a significant role in why I chose to pursue Bachelor’s Degree in music, and it is why I have decided to take an in-depth look at different tracks throughout the scores that inspire me as a musician. I thought a good starting point would be Breath of the Wild, one of the soundtracks that I am least familiar with. Now, seeing as Breath of the Wild has a little over 4 hours worth of music (that’s 211 tracks, wow!), I figured I would start with working my way through the Sound Selection CD included in all limited editions of Breath of the Wild’s original release.
It is amazing to think that such diversification can come from one person, but Manaka Kataoka continues to astonish with her otherworldly compositions. She fully utilizes Breath of the Wild’s soundtrack to clearly distinguish the decaying overworld of Hyrule from the technology of the well-preserved Shrines. This difference is well displayed by the hectic contrast of today’s Sound Selection with our previous overworld battle theme.
Introducing the Piece
Track number 5, ‘Battle (Shrine),’ is one well known to Breath of the Wild veterans. This theme is heard during any combat with a Guardian Scout, but most notably in any Test of Strength trial. This composition is much more energetic than many of the previous tracks we’ve explored, and leans heavily on the techno/modern vibe motif of the shrines. The diversity of instruments, like our last battle theme, is monstrous! This piece truly sets the mood for the technological enemies gunning for Link.
Kataoka certainly has a way of painting intensity. Seemingly on of her favourite tactics is mixing all sorts of different instruments. On the roster for this track include many of our favourites, including the bongos, bass drum, crash cymbals, various shakers, the güiro, a violin, and our ever important glue, the piano. Newcomers include the double bass (imagine a cello, but even bigger!), a set of hi-hats (like from a drum kit, my primary instrument by the way!) and a myriad of synthesizers with various altercations that alter the attack pattern of each note (see chart to right), including some quirky tweets and beeps. Perhaps the most compelling instrument, however, is the reprisal of the bagpipes, which we’ll talk about in the next section. For me, the most interesting thing about this piece is the way that all of the instruments interact with each other in their syncopation, awkward beat patterns, as well as their complete uniqueness from one another.
At a glance this piece sounds quite complicated. That’s because it is! It is certainly the most convoluted piece on the list so far. This is largely owing to the fact that, for the majority of the piece, nearly none of the instruments keep a steady beat. The only way to know when the tune has reached beat one is to listen to the double bass, which in itself can be easily missed in the rest of the conglomeration. This chaos is likely what Kataoka’s imagined the player would be feeling seeing such a technological weapon for the first time. It was her way of setting the player off-balance, and having them second guess their decision of challenging the machine. Some sections, mainly the bridge (at 0:52), are more rhythmically heavy, making it easier for the player to solidate themselves in the battle at hand. The piece also recalls the bagpipes from the regular Shrine Theme, giving it one total note in all of its occurrences:
This is to remind the players that this is still the same area they were just in, and all it will take to get back is dealing with the challenge at hand. The apparently random beeps (first heard right at the beginning), which of course are not random at all, give off the impression of computer noises, much like the ancient Guardians are meant to give off a mechanical vibe.
This piece is an absolute monster to sift through everything going on. Between all the different sounds, weird time changes, and tricky rhythms, this piece overwhelms even theoretically trained musicians such as myself. Fortunately, we don’t have to deal with seven sharps, or some other ridiculous time signature as it is in the nice and easy C-Major. My guess is that Kataoka chose to set it in C so that it could easily flow from the main Shrine theme which, as we discovered last time, is tonally centered in C. A big feature, and one of the most complex musical ideas is the amount of syncopation. For those unfamilar with the term, syncopation essentially means when rhythms don’t line up with the beat:
The piece starts in 4/4, but by 4 seconds in, it’s already off to the strange 13/4. This is where the piece sits for its majority, until the bridge at about 0:52, where it goes through a plethora of progressive time changes:
Thus, in about ten seconds, the time signature goes through six separate changes. That’s more changes than many prog rock songs do in their entirety! However, the strong double bass beat pattern, paired with more synchronicity from the other instruments, keeps the bridge rooted.
This piece is essentially every rhythmic nerd’s dream. So naturally, as a Percussion Major, I find it incredibly fascinating. I love the genius of Kataoka and the musical skill and thought behind this piece more than I like the music itself. Don’t get me wrong, I still think the piece is a fitting tune for what it’s written for. I remember the first time I heard the shift from the atmospheric Shrine music into this jumpy, schizophrenic feeling piece and the feeling of just not knowing what to expect. I’m sure seconds later I got blasted by a Scout, and didn’t know what hit me. As I got more familiar with the piece throughout the course of the game, I was hit the the profound use of rhythm. I’m still completely blown away by the complex rhythms from all the percussive instruments and the different synths. Needless to say, this was not one I’ve ever attempted to play myself! It’s a fitting tune that takes the intensity of the above ground battle music and puts it into the techno music of the Shrines.
What are your thoughts on this track? What were you feeling the first time you heard it? Do you think it suited the situation? Let us know in the comments below!
Matt Pederberg is part of the Writing Team at Zelda Dungeon, holds a Bachelor of Music, and has used that knowledge to develop his love of excellent music in excellent video games!