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The Solo Violin in Mario Kart 8 (2014)!

Joshua Iyer

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Published: July 16, 2014 at 6:14 PM [UTC]

I just got back from this morning's rehearsal for Shrek the Musical (playing violin, obviously)! It's a lot of fun, but musicals sometimes involve a lot of counting and some tricky rhythms, but I'm working on it when I practice in my own time. Also, on Sunday morning, I watched a documentary on Stravinsky, whom I'm now becoming somewhat obsessed with, and I've been working on a giant orchestral work sort of with his style in mind - particularly with "The Rite of Spring" and, possibly towards the end of the piece, with the finale of his "Firebird Suite" - and, from three days of work I've gotten eight minutes of music done! So yeah. Maybe more on that when I finish. :)

Anyways, this morning before heading to rehearsal I had the idea to talk about the soundtrack to Mario Kart 8 for the Nintendo Wii U, which is a fantastic game not only because its art style is gorgeous, but also because this is the first Mario Kart game with live musicians recording its soundtrack. While the soundtrack does contain a lot of "big band" brass and electric guitar stuff, there are also various tracks that feature a solo violin, and I thought I'd talk about some of those pieces in this article, since I've sort of grown up with Mario Kart since 2008 and really enjoyed hearing some of the MIDI renditions of the past trashed for live music. Just many reasons why music is better live! :) Anyways, hope you enjoy!

Sweet Sweet Canyon - In this track, the violin follows and plays off an accordion - which in this case, both instruments are able to sound like each other in a way. The percussion section is very light, allowing for these instruments to stand out as they play off each other. It's a very sweet course and the violin gives it a very nostalgic feel, as if one were going to eat apple pie and hot chocolate and cookies. Yum!
Listen to "Sweet Sweet Canyon"

Bone Dry Dunes - In 2011, I wrote my first string orchestra piece called "Desert Winds". My point is, I've always been fascinated by the augmented second used in a lot of "desert" music. The violin here follows a very modal scale with that augmented second, as well as has small turns that add to the desert feel. The instruments in the background add to the desert tone as well, making the music sound like a desert... and me like a broken record.
Listen to "Bone Dry Dunes"

Twisted Mansion - This is a very spooky course, and violin here sometimes follows the melody of the synthesizer, but also just adds as a background tone. There isn't much use of effects I would call "Halloweeny", like glissandos or sul ponticello, but the melody is creepy enough that hearing the tone of the violin allows it to work.

Listen to "Twisted Mansion"

Shy Guy Falls - This one sounds really cool! The flute is what begins the adventure through this track, and the violin comes in later, playing off the flutes and also playing on its own with a countryesque melody of sorts. The banjo helps create the country feel of the rapids and a grand adventure in this track.
Listen to "Shy Guy Falls"

Cloudtop Cruise - This one doesn't use one violin, but I wanted to mention it because it has the orchestral feel of Super Mario Galaxy - and even uses a melody in the violin section towards the end. It's one of the most orchestral tracks in the score, and sounds quite grand and epic for that reason.

N64 Yoshi Valley - I'd used the MIDI rendition of this track before in my old 2008 video games, and hearing it live - with a real violin playing now - sent shivers down my spine! It's a very country tune, with the violin playing a bouncy tune, then backing off to let the steel drum take over for a bit. I really like how for this track, the performer (probably) did a little improv at the end, which allowed the piece to be a little different than it was in the past.
Listen to "N64 Yoshi Valley"

Wii Moo Moo Meadows - This was my sister's favorite track when we played that game, I remember, and the violin has another country feel, with the main melody leading up to a couple of turns and ornaments. It's a short melody, which is repeated twice, doubled with synthesizer, and then more improv where the violin strays from the original melody and glissandos up to the last two notes of the piece. It's another unique take on a past melody from the Mario Kart series, and it's really cool to hear orchestrated versions of these older games.
Listen to "Wii Moo Moo Meadows"

There are more violin moments as these, but I just picked some of my favorites. And of course, the whole soundtrack is great, even without the violin, so give it a listen. I read somewhere that the main reason they wanted live music was to back the beautiful HD graphics they'd put in the game. I don't own a Wii U, but I've played it four times now and it's been a ton of fun each time, especially when my musical ear turns on and starts to sing in happiness. Now time to learn all these tracks by ear... :)

Oh, and for the record, my favorite character in the Mario Kart games is Koopa Troopa. :)

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