This is post 6 (of 8) translating the discussion about Melee’s sound and music, found on the Japanese Melee website. Here, Sakurai and the team talk about recording the Monkey Rap, and they share a few stories about other songs as well. Enjoy!
Monkey Rap: The rap song that plays on Kongo Jungle. The original is from Donkey Kong 64.
Ando: Ah yes, the Monkey Rap.
Sakai: Can I speak first? On the first day of recording for the Monkey Rap, I was at the office doing work as usual when I got a call from Mr. Ando, who was in the studio. He said, “Mr. Saka~i, my computer isn’t working.” (Laughs)
A call from Mr. Ando in the studio: At first, the plan was that just Ando would conduct the recording, but problems arose, so Sakai and Sakurai came to help later on.
Ando: Eventually, we simply played back the audio as if it were on tape, and then recorded the rap on top of that, so somehow things ended up working out that day.
Ikegami: The Monkey Rap definitely couldn’t be sung live, right? Because of the rapid-fire vocals?
Sakai: The original song had a slower pace, but this arrangement is faster, yes.
Ando: That’s right. The Monkey Rap in Donkey Kong 64 had a fixed tempo, so it was relatively laid back. But for Melee, the song’s tempo needed to speed up a bit, or slow down, depending on the character. So on top of arranging the music, the lyrics had to fit within the structure as well. There were spots with constraints like, “These words have to be squeezed into this measure,” which made things a little difficult. That’s why, while the DJ was practicing in the studio, we recorded it and connected the parts that turned out well, and that’s how we made the track.
Depending on the character: The 5 members of the DK Crew have parts in the song — this doesn’t refer to the characters in Smash Bros.
Ikegami: So originally, it’s sung at that tempo?
Sakai: No, it’s not. It was recorded with the tape speed slowed down. That’s why there are parts where the voices are a little higher-pitched.
Parts where the voices are a little higher-pitched: The vocalist had to perform as several characters, so he did several different recordings with varying results.
Ando: Some parts are like that. But, I think it’s fine for the high parts to have their own charm to them.
Sakurai: Well, it doesn’t sound bad, so I guess it’s probably just a “slight” adjustment. Since the tempo doesn’t change that drastically.
Ando: I bet it was probably really tough to practice.
Ikegami: But, we played back what was recorded normally, and our first impression was, “Wow, impressive.” It was like a tongue twister. Now, we might’ve just felt that way because it’s English, but even so, we still thought, “Wow.”
Ando: Yeah, because even sung normally it’s still quite fast.
Ikegami: So then, it was a matter of cutting the song up into sections, and then slowing the speed down to record it, I guess?
Ando: Though it wasn’t too extreme.
Sakai: “Slightly,” right?
Ando: Given that the vocalist was extremely talented.
The extremely talented vocalist: Mr. James W. Norwood Jr. A Black rapper. 195cm tall.
Sakurai: At any rate, he was enormous.
Sakai: His body and his voice (laughs).
Sakurai: He poured so much milk powder into his coffee that his ordinary coffee looked more like an espresso. It was impressive.
Ikegami: I was busy working on sound effects around that time, so I wasn’t able to go to the recording. I wish I’d been there! The same thing happened during the recording for Mute City’s guitar parts.
Sakurai: Oh, is that so? How did that go?
Sakai: It was done by a guitarist named “MARO,” from Data East, also of Gamadelic.
Gamadelic: Data East’s house band, formed by their sound team. They put out a number of CDs back in those days.
Sakurai: The name “Gamadelic” sure brings back memories.
Sakai: We’ve been good friends for ages. And so, at the start of the recording we had some technical issues that ate up a lot of our time, but in the end we were able to complete the recording in about an hour.
Ikegami: I heard about the situation from Mr. Ando. He said, “It was a really good session.” That’s why I wish I’d seen it.
Sakai: At that time, the person playing the drums was a guy named Kitta, from Creatures, and as Mr. Ando watched him perform, he said, “Man, being able to play an instrument is great, isn’t it? Maybe I ought to learn to play something.” (laughs)
Ikegami: Speaking of instruments, for the song “Onett,” we talked about having a saxophone play the melody, but in the end we weren’t able to do that before things wrapped up.
Ando: Everyone was practicing their instruments…
Ikegami: Gonna play in the HAL band?
Sakai: Incidentally, how many days did it take to record the Monkey Rap?
Ando: It was 2 days.
Ikegami: Everything was mixed and completely finished in two days?
Sakai: Yeah, it was. The first day was supposed to be for the background track, or in other words, recording the orchestra. We planned to record the vocals that night, but there were problems syncing things up, and so we were only able to do the vocal recordings. So instead, Mr. Ando brought the recorded vocal work back with him to Yamanashi, adjusted things in Logic Audio so that they fit together perfectly, and everything was mixed down and completed in the end.
Sakurai: Changing the subject… One of the reasons I picked Dr. Mario to be in the game was because I wanted to use the Dr. Mario music.
Sakai: The music for Doctor Mario was created by the president of Creatures, Mr. Hirokazu Tanaka. And, Mr. Tanaka and I happened to work in the same building, so I was able to get direct feedback from him about my arrangement.
Mr. Hirokazu Tanaka: Formerly a musician at Nintendo, currently the president of Creatures and composer for the Pokémon anime.
Mr. Tanaka and I worked in the same building: Pokémon Center Tokyo, Creatures, HAL Labs Tokyo, and Pokémon (the company), are all packed into the same building.
I invited Mr. Tanaka to my sound booth to listen to the song, and then he said to me, “Why don’t you just use a drum machine for all of this?” I replied, “Well, I wanted to give it a 50’s sort of feeling,” and he understood what I was trying to do. Later on, Mr. Tanaka said something like, “The reason there’s so much variety in this song is because a game like Dr. Mario challenges you with a bunch of different situations, some of them easy, some of them hard. So, I didn’t know if it would fit every situation, but I wanted to make a tune like this.” Then, I emailed that story to Mr. Sakurai.
Sakurai: Yes, I read that and thought, “Hey, that’s just like how Melee is!” What he said about different situations was spot on. The games created in the end are totally different, but once when I was listening to the song from Doctor Mario, I thought, “Smash Bros. essentially goes to the same tune.” That faint feeling led to the song’s selection. I remember thinking, “Man, that was awfully good synergy.”
Sakai: The songs by Mr. Tanaka that I was in charge of arranging were “Brinstar” and “Brinstar Depths,” and as I mentioned earlier, “Doctor Mario” and “Onett.” For this project, it was a lot of responsibility being in charge of Mr. Tanaka’s and Mr. Kondo’s songs, since I personally have a lot of respect for those two. Even though I haven’t really played much of the games themselves, it was still extremely important to familiarize myself with the creators of the original songs.
Sakurai: See, that’s what I was saying earlier about doing your duty.
Sakai: Right, you could say that.
Sakurai: Since of course, they’ve made a career out of it. It’s good to think about things like, “What kind of feelings was that song created with?”
Sakai: When I was making the song for “Brinstar”, I was instructed by Mr. Sakurai, “You should include the music that plays in front of the elevator.” So I asked Mr. Tanaka, “Please play the elevator room music from Metroid, so that I can record it,” and he said, “You know, yesterday, in a different place, somebody asked me the exact same thing. They said, ‘I love the elevator room music, so please play it!’ But, well, I don’t remember it.” (Laughs)
Sakurai: Is that what he said? (Laughs)
Sakai: It made me think, “That’s surprising. I guess original creators are like that, huh?”
Ikegami: Mr. Sakurai, in your case, you’ve probably experienced similar things with Kirby, right? Instances where you’re a bit removed from the feelings of people that play Kirby games.
Sakurai: Of course, it happens. Since things like “I wanted Meta Knight to be in it!” and “I wish King Dedede was in it!” are common opinions.
Ikegami: But, if it’s your own character, it’s hard to know how to handle them. Don’t you start feeling like, “I wonder if it’d be OK to put in Meta Knight?”
Sakurai: Yeah, you’re right. I know that this time around, he was more popular than I’d thought.
– 9/11 –
Next up is “Streaming Playback.” There are just 2 parts left to be posted, so stay tuned!