This article discusses fan adaptations of music from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000), arguing that the creators of these adaptations pick up on semiotic meaning in the game’s original music and maintain this meaning while changing some structural features of the music to place the original pieces into new stylistic and generic contexts. The musical meaning in the works is sometimes subtle, but it can be determined through a combination of semiotic and hermeneutic methods. In both the original soundtrack and the adaptations, the meaning of the music is also tied to the in-game narrative context associated with it, which is often sad or anxious in emotional character. Remaking the music into adaptations helps fans of the game contextualize the meaning in new ways and understand how it relates to their own social and emotional circumstances. The adaptations help fans with “world building” and “organizing social life.”1
After an overview of Majora’s Mask that situates it within Nintendo’s corpus, the Zelda series and its fandom, and composer Koji Kondo’s oeuvre, the article discusses and analyzes multiple adaptations of three specific pieces from the game: “Clock Town,” “Song of Healing,” and “Stone Tower Temple.” The adaptations discussed include amateur remixes and mashups, professional studio productions, covers in different genres, and a full-length opera by composer M. Bulteau. When making this new content, creators “wear people’s faces” (like the protagonist Link does with masks in the game) by taking on the emotional meaning of the works and putting it into new contexts that imitate, but do not replicate, the original music.
The Legend of Zelda is one of the most recognized video game series of all time, and its music is beloved by fans worldwide. In Zelda games, music has many functions, and it is an integral part of the player’s experience; in addition to the background music that helps create an atmosphere of adventure, the series is known for having some of the first action-adventure games that incorporate interactive music-making into their stories.2 Fans of the series have long connected with its music, and one of the ways they most commonly pay tribute to it is by creating new adaptations of their favorite pieces from the original soundtracks.
One of the Zelda games whose music is frequently adapted is The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Nintendo, 2000), originally released for the Nintendo 64. Majora’s Mask has managed to stay relevant to the Zelda fan community throughout the twenty-first century, and this article discusses fan-made adaptations of its music, including dubstep remixes, metal covers, albums that sound like the soundtrack to a horror film, and even a full-scale, classical-style opera.3 Specifically I will argue that the creators of these adaptations pick up on semiotic meaning in the game’s original music and maintain this meaning while changing some structural features of the music and placing the original pieces into new stylistic and generic contexts. New meaning is added as well, but in the adaptations I study, musicians also keep what is signified in the original music. Fans who interact with the original soundtrack in this way are repurposing the meaning to make it significant in new ways for their own lives.
The study of musical meaning has a long history, with different approaches having various degrees of formalism.4 Two general ways of discussing musical meaning are through semiotics and hermeneutics. The crucial difference between them is that semiotics identifies signs in “the music itself,” whereas hermeneutics finds meaning through interpretation, which is subjective.5 One of the most prolific writers about musical semiotics, especially for popular music and music in multimedia, is Philip Tagg.6 His approach involves finding “paramusical fields of connotation” in an “analysis object” (a piece of music) and comparing the analysis object with other pieces (“interobjective comparison material”) to find similarities, such as shared “items of musical code.”7
A simple example of musical semiotics is how an ascending glissando signifies an increase in height every time Mario jumps in Super Mario Bros.8 When Mario is big as opposed to small, the glissando is an octave lower, signifying the character’s increased size, because larger instruments make lower sounds.9 These are just two examples of how congruence between meaning in audio and visuals is important for allowing players to be immersed in a game.10 In more recent games with soundtracks that have more layers, meaning can be created through smoothness or disjunction between multiple musical “modules,” based on the similarity or contrast between musical elements like timbre, meter, and pitch.11 Elizabeth Medina-Gray shows how smoothness and disjunction can be used to affect players’ experiences in two scenes from other Legend of Zelda games: Wind Waker (2003) and Skyward Sword (2011).12
A different, “post-semiotic” method that has been highly influential in music analysis is “topic theory,” which started with Leonard Ratner’s book Classic Music: Expression, Form, and Style.13 Ratner defined topics as “characteristic figures” and “subjects for musical discourse.”14 Some examples in eighteenth-century Western European music include the march, military and hunt music, and “the singing style.”15 A related concept is that of a musical trope, defined by Robert Hatten as “a manipulation of a topic through the juxtaposition of contradictory or unrelated types.”16 Kofi Agawu and many others have applied topic theory with great depth to music of the classical Western canon,17 but some have applied it to music for multimedia as well.18 For example, Sean E. Atkinson outlines a methodology for applying topic theory to video games, discussing similarities and differences between meaning in video game and film music, as articulated by Tim Summers.19 One of the important differences is due to the interactive nature of video games.
Another approach to the study of musical meaning is hermeneutics, most notably articulated in the writings of Lawrence Kramer.20 Kramer describes hermeneutic analysis as “open interpretation” such that “the meaning produced by interpretation is inextricable from the interpretive activity.”21 Similarly Nicholas Cook says, “It is through the interaction of music and interpreter, text and context, that meaning is constructed…it is wrong to speak of music having particular meanings; rather it has potential for specific meanings to emerge under specific circumstances.”22 Tagg essentially conflates the concepts of semiotics and hermeneutics,23 but Kramer and David Neumeyer claim that interpretation goes beyond understanding referential musical signs.24 Although the hermeneutic methods of Kramer and Cook have primarily been used to analyze Western classical music, they have also sometimes been applied to music for multimedia settings as well.25
This article will employ both semiotics and hermeneutics in my discussions of musical meaning. The fan adaptations I study show awareness of musical signs and topics in the soundtrack of Majora’s Mask, and they create new musical signs that signify the same things in new ways. The adaptations also often move beyond that, however, providing new interpretations of the musical meaning in the original soundtrack based on how their creators have experienced the game and its story.
In both the original soundtrack and the adaptations, the meaning of the music is not just local to a particular musical object, but it is tied to its context within the game’s story, as experienced and interpreted by the player.26 Signs in the musical structure (some of which are more obvious than others) provide commentary on the events in the game and the emotions of the characters in the story, while other aspects of the game such as its dialogue and visuals provide interpretation of the music.27 This reciprocal relationship is reminiscent of how meaning is constructed in film and even opera. Speaking of the relationship between music and “textual documents” such as program notes or a libretto, Tia DeNora says:
“When we are confronted with a kinaesthetic medium such as opera, we may look to the music for cues about how to interpret character and plot, and, simultaneously, look to the plot and characterization to make sense of the music.…Musical and textual meaning are interrelated, co-productive; the specific properties of each may be used—by a sense-making observer—to clarify the other.”28
Musical and textual meaning are particularly acute in Majora’s Mask, since the game has a highly developed world with many characters, each having their own story, and more mature themes compared to other Zelda games such as death, grief, and self-sacrifice. The music helps set the melancholic scene and creates emotionally poignant moments, such as when Link (the protagonist) plays “Song of Healing” to heal characters’ souls and help them accept their own deaths. These factors have contributed to the game developing a cult following and spawning many new fan-made creations.29
Much of the fan-created content relates to the game’s music, and adaptations of the music are common. Some of these new musical creations are remixes or mashups that use direct samples from the original soundtrack and modify them or recontextualize them.30 Other adaptations are covers or arrangements that use the melodies, harmonies, rhythms, or general style of the original but do not reproduce the exact timbre and performance qualities of the game’s recorded soundtrack.31 In general these remixes, mashups, covers, and arrangements by fans can be considered different enough from the original to be new texts or performances, but similar enough to the original that they are the same work.32
The next section of this article will provide an overview of Majora’s Mask that situates it within Nintendo’s corpus, the Zelda series, and composer Koji Kondo’s oeuvre. The rest of the article will discuss and analyze fan adaptations of three specific pieces from the game: “Clock Town,” “Song of Healing,” and “Stone Tower Temple.”
The Social and Historical Context of Majora’s Mask
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (abbreviated MM) is the sixth main installment in The Legend of Zelda series but only the second to use three-dimensional graphics and gameplay, after The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo, 1998, abbreviated OoT). OoT was immensely popular with both consumers and critics from the start, and it has been hailed by many as one of the best video games of all time.33 It was on the heels of this success that Majora’s Mask was released as a sequel in 2000. Initially MM was not nearly as popular as OoT, perhaps because it was released in North America during the same week as the PlayStation 2, because it required the additional accessory of the Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak, and because it was so different from previous Zelda titles.34 Over time, though, it has become more popular and appreciated on its own merits, and now both games have developed long-lasting legacies. They have both been rereleased on Nintendo’s “virtual console” (OoT in 2007 and MM in 2009) and been remade into new versions (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, 2011, Nintendo 3DS, and The Legend of Zelda:Majora’s Mask 3D, 2015, Nintendo 3DS).
The primary composer for the soundtracks of both these games (and many others in the Zelda series) is Koji Kondo. For MM, Kondo also worked with Toru Minegishi. Kondo was hired by Nintendo in 1984 and was the first employee of the company specifically hired to write music.35 He is well-known for composing many of the most recognized themes in the Super Mario Bros. and Zelda series, and he is still writing for Nintendo today.36 Kondo was also involved with the production of a special CD that commemorated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Zelda series in 2011 with orchestral arrangements of many Zelda songs, and the subsequent concert series The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, which toured the world from 2012 through 2017.37 His style is eclectic, drawing on a wide variety of musical topics and cultural references to emphasize synchronicity between the atmosphere and rhythms of a game’s world and of its music.38
To help the reader understand references made throughout this article, I will now provide a brief plot synopsis of Majora’s Mask. The game is a third-person action-adventure game, where the protagonist Link roams throughout the fantasy world of Termina trying to defeat the evil spirit within the legendary Majora’s Mask. At the beginning of the game, the opening cutscene shows Link on his horse searching for his lost fairy companion after the events of Ocarina of Time. He is suddenly attacked by the Skull Kid, wearing Majora’s Mask, who steals his horse and ocarina and turns him into a Deku Scrub, a small member of the tree-like Deku species. Link then meets the Happy Mask Salesman, who he knows from OoT, and the salesman tells Link that he must acquire Majora’s Mask and return it to him before the end of three days; if Link fails to do so, the moon will crash into the earth.
After reclaiming his ocarina (the ocarina of time) in a battle with Skull Kid just before the end of the three days, Link uses its magical powers to go back in time to when he had just met the Happy Mask Salesman. The mask salesman then teaches him a powerful song that can heal souls: “Song of Healing.” This song returns Link to his normal human form and creates the Deku mask, which Link can subsequently wear to assume the form of a Deku and reach areas only accessible to that form. In order to stop the moon crashing into the earth and defeat the Skull Kid (wearing Majora’s Mask) once and for all, Link then travels to four regions in Termina to fight evil spirits within dungeons and break the curses set by Majora’s Mask on each area. To reach the various areas, Link must use “Song of Healing” to heal two more souls, those of a dead Goron (a race of rock people living in mountainous regions) and a dead Zora (an aquatic race), so that he can acquire the Goron Mask and the Zora Mask in order to assume their forms as well. Breaking all the curses then allows Link to wake four giants, who when summoned are able to hold up the moon before it crashes. Now strong enough to fight Majora’s Mask, Link summons the giants and travels to the moon to defeat the mask in a final showdown.
Overall the plot of MM is quite different from other Zelda games. It strays far from the typical “save the princess” plot that other games in the series have used (and other franchises such as Super Mario Bros. have notoriously repeated time and time again). In fact the character of Princess Zelda only appears in a dreamlike sequence at the beginning of the game, and references to other staples of the series such as the villain Ganondorf and the Triforce are absent too. The gameplay is also unique, since it heavily revolves around a recurring three-day time cycle, with a clock even showing the exact day and hour during the entire game (except for the beginning and ending sequences). This is something not seen in any other Zelda game. These features, along with the game’s dark plot and bleak worldview, created a polarizing reception among fans of the franchise.
In the 2010s, however, MM had a resurgence in popularity, especially among young adults who first played it in their childhood and now believe that it is among the most intellectual and artistic Zelda games, with the richest narrative.39 This growth in the game’s popularity can be viewed as part of the trend of retro gaming, fueled by nostalgia,40 but it has also occurred because of a reciprocal relationship between the fans and Nintendo’s game designers.41 After the release of the game on virtual console (2009), fans created an abundance of new content, including visual art, fan fiction, speed runs, YouTube videos, theories, creepypastas, and a fake “trailer” that went viral for a supposed remake of the game for Wii U.42
Garry Crawford shows how producing this kind of content, as well as game mods and walkthroughs, is a frequent activity among video game “audiences” (a term he prefers to fans).43 These creations and the discourse surrounding them exemplify “participatory culture” as defined by Henry Jenkins, where fans “poach” content from mass media and reshape it to create new content and community surrounding it.44 In a participatory culture, fans are not merely passive observers, but active participants.45 Nintendo finally released the remake for 3DS in 2015, introducing many new players to the game and giving loyal fans more impetus to create new content.
The rest of this article will discuss three of the most commonly adapted works from the game: “Clock Town,” “Song of Healing,” and “Stone Tower Temple.” These three pieces are commonly adapted and discussed in fan communities, and each has generally agreed-upon meanings that fans interact with and interpret when making new creations. I will first analyze the original versions of these works, showing how their musical features communicate meaning linked with their place in the game’s narrative,46 and then discuss how adaptations of these works pick up on that meaning and express it in new ways.
One of the most important musical themes in Majora’s Mask is the one associated with the central hub area in the game, Clock Town. The town is the cultural, economic, and geographic center in the world of Termina. Each year it hosts many tourists for the annual Carnival of Time, but during Link’s time in Termina (which starts three days before the carnival), it gradually becomes less lively as more and more people flee to escape the moon crashing into their town. Those who remain behind become increasingly anxious about the moon, which seems to grow larger as it comes closer and closer. The emotional states of the townspeople (and perhaps the player of the game) are reflected in the different settings for the Clock Town theme on each in-game day. There are actually four settings of the theme in the original soundtrack: one for each day and one in the “Title Theme” (which plays over the title screen in the game).
The version for the first day (called “Clock Town, First Day” in the official soundtrack) is transcribed in Example 1.47 The main function of this version is to create an atmosphere of happiness, liveliness, regularity, and historicity. Clock Town is a “home base” area that Link returns to frequently, and it contains merchants, stores, a hotel, a bar, and even a bank. Link also returns here automatically each time he resets the time cycle (which also saves the game’s progress), and the music for the first day of the Clock Town theme starts up again. The track is mostly diatonic in the key of D major (communicating happiness) and repeats a simple, closed harmonic progression every eight measures. There are three distinct melodies, which are used in three sections of sixteen measures each, so the phrase structure and hypermeter of the piece communicate regularity. The upbeat tempo and rhythmic activity signify liveliness in the music and, by association, in the town. The atmosphere of historicity is achieved by using a musical texture and timbres associated with a medieval dance style (a woodwind melody with accompaniment by strings and drums), which fits within the medieval style of the Zelda series more generally.
In many ways the piece is remarkably simple and conventional. There is nothing particularly special about its pitch and phrase structure, but they are comfortable and quotidian. There is, however, some metric ambiguity in the first melody and drum parts, such that they could be interpreted as being in simple triple meter (3/4) instead of compound duple meter (6/8), as shown in Example 2.48 Against the clear ternary groupings in the accompaniment, the potential binary groupings in the melody and drums are mostly latent, but as we will hear later, some adaptations of the work exploit them.
The different versions of the Clock Town theme in MM’s original soundtrack communicate different meanings about the town and its emotional ambience. This is achieved primarily, but not exclusively, through tempo changes. In the “Title Theme,” the tempo is approximately 95 beats per minute (bpm). On the first day of the cycle, the tempo is around 110 bpm. Both of these tempos suggest a relative calmness, compared with the 125 bpm on day two and 150 bpm on day three, which suggest high energy levels and potentially fear.49 Both “Clock Town, Second Day” and “Clock Town, Third Day” also have no percussion parts, which signifies a removal of some dance-like aspects of the theme. For day two, the sound effect of rain is added, accompanying the visuals in the game. On day three, there is no percussion and no rain, but open fifths in the bass register are added, moving in dissonant chromatic lines that indicate the fear in the townspeople as the moon comes ever closer to crushing the town.
Fan adaptations of the Clock Town theme show awareness of its semiotic meanings and how they change over time in the game. The sound designer and composer Theophany includes a version of the Clock Town theme on track four (“Clocktown”) of his album Time’s End: Majora’s Mask Remixed (2012).50 In this arrangement, the instrumentation is different from the original and more countermelodies are added. People’s voices and bells tolling are added as sound effects to communicate the lively setting. Speaking about his goals for the arrangement, Theophany said, “I tried to create a sense of euphoria or nostalgia with Clocktown. To me the arrangement needed to be a joyous celebration of growing up, experiencing the sights and sounds [of] childhood. I wanted it to feel visual, like exploring your hometown.”51
The metric ambiguity discussed earlier is also highlighted in this arrangement, since every second measure contains three quarter notes in the accompaniment, suggesting a simple triple meter instead of a compound duple meter. From 1:49 to 2:07 the melody is absent but the meter is made explicitly triple. Then at 2:07 the melody returns and the music switches back to compound duple meter. At 2:42, however, triple meter begins to be suggested again, and gradually the piece becomes more clearly in three as it builds to the climax. Triple meter is used for the rest of the track, so that the melody can easily be heard as notated in Example 2 (at 4:49), and it is paired contrapuntally with “Zelda’s Lullaby,” which first came in to the texture at 4:14. “Zelda’s Lullaby” is a song from OoT, the prequel to MM, and is another favorite song of many Zelda fans. Theophany included it in this arrangement to foreshadow its use in another track on the album (“Lover’s Mask”) that is “much sadder and more tragic.”52 The version of the Clock Town theme presented by Theophany in this arrangement is a joyful one that represents the feelings of the townspeople on day one of the time cycle in the game.53
The different emotions of the townspeople on days two and three in the time cycle are communicated through another arrangement of the Clock Town theme on the same album by Theophany. In track eight, “Majora’s Wrath,” the main melody (Melody 1 in Example 1) is presented again and remains throughout, but now it is part of a setting fit for a horror movie. The once light and jovial theme is accompanied with dissonant chromatic harmonies. The melody, harmony, and tempo undergo continuous transformations, such as pitch slides and accelerations. These continuous changes signify tension and instability, and this is partly why they are commonly used before scary surprises in horror films.54 There is also a large crescendo in background sound effects, leading to a climax at 2:37, when samples of the Skull Kid’s laugh then scream can be heard, followed by bells tolling and fireworks, which represent the start of the Carnival of Time in the game and nearly the end of the three-day cycle, just before the moon crashes into Termina. In Theophany’s words, the piece “needed to evoke the apocalypse while fitting the universe of Majora’s Mask.”55
Another version of the Clock Town theme that realizes the increasing anxiety of the townspeople is a metal cover called “Clock Town Medley (Metalized)” by Artificial Fear.56 This version makes the difference between the three days explicit, segmenting them with a video introduction from the game’s visuals for each.57 The tempo for each day’s music increases, and the day-three music adds dissonant power chords over the bass line from day three in the original soundtrack, often emphasizing the lowered second scale degree (invoking the frequent use of Phrygian mode in metal music).58 In the day-three segment the primary melody is also sometimes doubled at the interval of a tritone. This dissonant interval is associated with tension and evil, and it is also frequently used in metal music.59 It is fitting for representing a time in the game when the moon, controlled by the evil spirit Majora, is about to crash into Termina.
The Clock Town theme is used in a different yet related way in the opera Majora (forthcoming) by M. Bulteau.60 Rather than being a remix, cover, or single arrangement, this is a large-scale derivative work. Bulteau has composed this opera in three acts, and it is currently undergoing final revisions. As a young adult who has grown up with a simultaneous love for Western classical music and video games, he has found a way of paying tribute to the game.61 Bulteau started composing the opera after playing through the game a second time in 2011 and seeing the success of the aforementioned twenty-fifth anniversary concert series of the Zelda Symphony. Although the music is based on fairly strict arrangements of Koji Kondo’s soundtrack, there are liberties taken to fit within the plot and time limit of the opera (it will be approximately three and a half hours long). Recitatives, arias, choruses, dances, and instrumental breaks also bring the game to life musically in a more forthright manner than the soundtrack of the original game.
Interestingly the plot of Majora does not include the game’s main protagonist Link. The opera instead contains two parallel stories, with the main characters of Kafei (a tenor), and the Happy Mask Salesman (a countertenor) working to recover their respective masks. Majora (a coloratura soprano) is the main antagonist. The story of Kafei and Anju (a lyric soprano in the opera) is revealed as part of a side quest in MM and has been elevated to a prominent plot line in the opera. In the story, a thief called Sakon steals Kafei’s wedding mask, the Sun’s Mask, which must be reunited with Anju’s Moon Mask in order to confirm the marriage bond and create the Couple’s Mask. Meanwhile, the Happy Mask Salesman is seeking to reacquire Majora’s Mask, stolen from him by the Skull Kid when possessed by Majora. The three acts of the opera coincide with the three days of the game’s time cycle, and the events of each day are based on the very precise times at which they take place in the game’s elaborate side quest.
The detail that the game inserts regarding the personal lives of Clock Town’s residents is one of the reasons Bulteau feels MM is well-suited to be the basis for an opera. “I find that a lot of Majora’s Mask’s story works very well in an operatic setting due to its highly emotional and personal content. The fact that you get to know about the more private side of characters and their routines provides a lot of material, as opposed to most other adventure-focused Zelda titles that wouldn’t suit the genre as well as this one does.”
In the opera Majora, Bulteau uses many of the game’s melodies as leitmotifs, which are “developmental associative themes that comprise an integral part of the surrounding musical context.”62 He breaks the Clock Town theme into two different leitmotifs, with the first (Melody 1 in Example 1) representing the town and its emotional atmosphere, and the second (Melody 3 in Example 1) representing determination (usually Kafei’s determination).63 The full Clock Town theme is used in Act I, first instrumentally and then as a chorus, as heard in Bulteau’s seventh demo video, “Clock Town Choir & Kafei’s Recitative.”64 From 2:04 to 2:11 in this video, the tempo slows down and the energy of the music diminishes, coinciding with the end of Melody 3. This was intentional, and it happens in other parts of the opera too. It stems from Bulteau’s interpretation of the meaning of the chromatic descent at the end of the theme. He says, “Every time the towners sing this (just like in demo 7), the whole build up is killed by the shy retreat of the chromatic descent at the end.”65 In other words, the chromatic descent signifies a lapse in determination, after the determination leitmotif. It is used in this way near the end of Act I when Kafei realizes he must work with the thief Sakon in order to help him retrieve the Sun’s Mask, and in Act II when the town’s carpenters try to motivate themselves to keep working on building a tower for the festival but then realize the difficulty of their task.
Also near the end of Act I, as Sakon is sneaking around the town preparing for another robbery, the “town’s leitmotif” is put into the harmonic minor mode and accompanied by a long tremolo (Example 3),66 communicating the sinister motives of Sakon, one of the townspeople. During the subsequent robbery, the leitmotif “returns in an angry and frantic minor as the singers crisscross its melody between tutti hits” (Example 4).67 In these ways Bulteau’s use of the Clock Town theme shows awareness of the semiotic meaning in the original version and knowledge of potential adaptations of the theme to communicate new meaning. The adaptations of the theme by Theophany and Artificial Fear also show understanding of how the music is used expressively in the original soundtrack, and they communicate that understanding in new musical ways.
Song of Healing
“Song of Healing” is another piece from Majora’s Mask commonly adapted by fans. It is one of the most emotionally charged pieces of music in the game, and many fans have incorporated that energy into their adaptations, which often sound like ‘inspirational’ film scores. In the game, it is a song Link learns to play and it can be used to heal other people in physical or metaphysical ways.68 Notably, in some French versions of the game it is called “Chant de l’Apaisement” (song of appeasement) and in German versions it is called “Lied der Befreiung (song of liberation).”69
As mentioned in the plot synopsis, Link learns “Song of Healing” from the mysterious Happy Mask Salesman, who says, “This is a melody that heals evil magic and troubled spirits, turning them into masks.” During this scene the song plays in the background and reflects the demeanor of the Happy Mask Salesman. For example, it plays calmly in the background as he explains the power of the Deku Mask, but then stops and plays agitatedly, quicker and with drums, as he gets angry when he finds out that Link has not yet been able to acquire Majora’s Mask.
Fans have a deep awareness of, and appreciation for, “Song of Healing” and its functions in the game.70 On the popular streaming website Twitch, while watching a speedrun of MM that was currently featuring “Song of Healing,” I posted in the live chat “isn’t song of healing awesome?” The first user to respond did so with a simple yet fascinating reply: “song of healing = wear people’s faces.”71 This comment alludes to the fact that when you play the song in the game it not only allows you to heal someone’s soul but also to take on their bodily form by wearing a mask of their face, referencing many cultures’ use of death masks. In a way, this is what fans also do when they adapt music from MM. They are paying tribute to it by taking on some of its features (like a mask that resembles something original but can never quite replicate it) and remembering it even though the game is many years old.
Within the game, “Song of Healing” does not gain its expressive power from one extended hearing, as in other non-diegetic background pieces.72 Rather, it is heard for only a short time, but at multiple times throughout the game that are significant to the game’s plot and are emotionally charged. When Link plays “Song of Healing” for the dying Zora Mikau in order to obtain the Zora Mask, Mikau is shown moving through a deep, dark void, before he reunites with his band members and holds his girlfriend’s hand as they walk together, accepting the inevitability of death. The speedrunner EnNopp112 is known for playing the piece on piano during this scene in his speedruns, and sometimes improvising or adding countermelodies.73
A transcription and analysis of “Song of Healing” is shown in Example 5 and points toward some of the piece’s semiotic meanings. In some ways the song sounds like a lullaby. It has a relatively simple melody (at least in the first part), with simple rhythms in triple meter, and many repeated parts. The long, open fifths in the synth part add a sense of dreariness and tiredness as they accompany this melody. They have unstable or unclear pitches and rhythms, due to the use of vibrato and a long release time for the notes.74 Since these pitches are open fifths, they also do not have a clear chord quality (as in major or minor), and therefore these synth sounds also communicate unsureness or insecurity.
In other ways, though, the variation and progression in the song communicates change and growth from sadness to hope. This is reflected in the changing modes and tonal centers of the piece. Measures 1–3 first seem to imply the F Lydian mode, but then mm. 1–4 can be reinterpreted as a phrase in A minor, ending with a Phrygian half cadence. Then, surprisingly, at m. 9 the bass line continues descending down to C, making this the new temporary tonic and resting place twice in this section (mm. 11–12 and 15–16). At m. 17 the bass continues its descent even further, now traversing into a new diatonic space with one flat, and leading to a quasi-cadence in F major at m. 24. After starting this four-measure motion again, the composer chooses to evade the cadence in F major and instead brings back B-natural to instigate a half-cadence in the original implied key of A minor, with a complete dominant chord and leading tone this time. So the overarching key of the piece is A minor, but it is not confirmed with any tonic chords or authentic cadences.
The change from sadness to hope is also communicated in other ways. In the first parts of the piece, many chords are “incomplete” with missing thirds or other chordal members. This communicates a sense of emptiness or loneliness. Toward the end, the chords are more often complete. Similarly the contour of the melody is generally descending within each measure and from the beginning to the end of most phrases, but more melodic ascents are gradually incorporated, and in the last phrase the melody moves toward a climactic high point on a consonant pitch that is the root of a chord. Also the dissonant melodic span of a tritone that pervades mm. 1–16 does not re-sound from m. 17 onward. The first sixteen measures of the piece communicate a sense of enduring sadness that is then “healed” with hope in the next parts of the piece, just as the song heals characters’ souls by easing their grief and regrets in the game.
Fan adaptations of “Song of Healing” show semiotic awareness of these ideas in various ways. Theophany wrote two versions of the work, one on the aforementioned album Time’s End and one on its sequel, Time’s End II (2016).75 The first, “Terrible Fate” (track three on Time’s End), is persistently sad in character. Tonally it is consistently in the key of A minor (more specifically, A Aeolian mode). In terms of timbre, it heavily utilizes strings, vocals (singing “terrible fate,” a reference to the Happy Mask Salesman saying to Link “You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?” near the beginning of the game), and samples of the Happy Mask Salesman laughing. The melody is also set in an ironic, contrasting waltz style from 1:02 to 1:33, which seems to mock the sadness of a referenced character and trap them in that emotional state with repetitive rhythmic patterns. Notably, and consistent with the hermeneutic analysis of the original version presented earlier, this version by Theophany only uses material from the first sixteen measures of the original (Example 5). Theophany wanted this piece to be “a dreamlike narrative of feeling disembodied and powerless, against the backdrop of an overpowering and inevitable fate.”76 He strived to communicate this by using “flavors” of Russian orthodox music and an operatic style.77 The way he describes this is essentially wanting to invoke those styles as musical topics.
Theophany’s second adaptation of “Song of Healing,” titled “Believe in Your Strengths” (track three on Time’s End II), is much different. It communicates hope. Theophany wanted it to be about “healing trauma.”78 Unlike “Terrible Fate,” “Believe in Your Strengths” uses all the melodic material of “Song of Healing,” but in reverse order compared to the original version. First, the melody from m. 17 of the transcription is alluded to at 0:50, before it is fully presented vocally at 1:04, then repeated contrapuntally. The melody from m. 1 of the transcription begins in the solo piano at 2:37. From 3:40 to 5:17 there is a gradual crescendo and ascent in the vocal line, indicating a sense of growing energy and optimism. After the climax, the energy tapers off, and the end of the track communicates pessimism again by sounding the vocals mostly alone (sometimes accompanied by a low, dark bass note), with the sad motive from the first phrase of the original piece. This may be an attempt to show that healing trauma and grief, which Theophany was going through at the time of composition, is not a straightforward, linear process.79 Nevertheless, this adaptation picks up on the hopeful progression within the original version of the piece, and specifically in mm. 17 ff. in the original (Example 5).
Rozen’s adaptation (“Song of Healing, feat. Julie Elven”) on the album Children of Termina (2018) is similar to “Believe in Your Strengths.”80 It too uses the entire melody but provides more variation and development on it. In this track, there is a large increase in energy from 1:45 to 2:30, achieved through a gradual crescendo, thickening of texture, and ascent in register. From 3:00 to 3:44, hope is invoked in another, more specific way, through the quoting of another work from MM’s original soundtrack, “Oath to Order.” In the game, “Oath to Order” is what Link plays to summon the giants near the end of the game, and thus it is this music that enables the world to be saved by the giants holding up the moon. Parts of “Oath to Order” include major subdominant chords, which add salient brightness to the adaptation here. In Rozen’s adaptation, this is followed by the return of material from the second half (not the sad, repetitive first half) of “Song of Healing.” Additionally “Zelda’s Lullaby” from OoT is briefly referenced at 3:59, perhaps indicating that Rozen understood aspects of “Song of Healing” as being a comforting lullaby.
In Bulteau’s opera Majora, parts of “Song of Healing” (usually the melody from mm. 3–4 in the original, Example 5) are used as another leitmotif in a way that reflects the piece’s semiotic meaning in the game. Bulteau says the leitmotif represents “an effort to right a wrong, to keep a promise, and/or to ease someone’s troubles.”81 Notably, all three of these are action statements, suggesting that the leitmotif is about changing from one state of being to a better one, or at least trying to. In the opera it is frequently associated with the Happy Mask Salesman, so it also represents that character in a more neutral thematic way, but the progressive aspect of the piece is reflected in examples such as when Kafei sits down to write Anju a letter and says “I must soothe her aching soul” (Example 6). Another example is when the ghost of Goron hero Darmani expresses his regrets at not being able to help his people (Example 7). In these examples the leitmotif is not just in the orchestra but is sung with lyrics that Bulteau added, to further emphasize the meaning of the leitmotif in the opera. All the adaptations of “Song of Healing” discussed in this section show awareness of the piece’s emotional poignancy and progressive nature.
Stone Tower Temple
“Stone Tower Temple” (transcribed in Example 8) provides the underscore for the longest and most difficult dungeon area in Majora’s Mask, which means that unlike the Clock Town theme and “Song of Healing,” the player will likely hear this music for a long time in one extended play session without any stops. Stone Tower is commonly thought to imitate the Tower of Babel in its design and story of creation.82 During this last main part of the game, Link has to use all the items and masks from his previous adventures to free the last giant. Doing this will also break the curse in the surrounding region (Ikana) that forces the dead members of the Ikana Royal Family and their servants to remain among the living as undead monsters, without fully passing on.
The music for the temple has three distinct pitched layers and one percussion layer. The pitched layers form three different strata, as represented in Example 8. Hermeneutically the three layers can be used to represent Link, the undead people in Ikana, and truly dead spirits. The top layer has three different melodies, all played by the ocarina, Link’s instrument. There is frequent activity and change in this layer; it is full of life and energy. The diatonic mode of this top layer is A Aeolian, containing B-natural. Contrasting this is the bottom layer of deep synthesized vocal sounds, which is in A Phrygian mode, containing B-flat. The bottom layer is also static and repetitive, moving only in stepwise motion and in parallel open fifths. In between these two layers is a “neutral” middle layer with a bassoon sound that contains neither B-natural nor B-flat. The middle layer is also more active than the bottom one, especially rhythmically, but it is more steady and repetitive than the top layer. This layer represents the undead members of the Ikana Royal Family, who are in between life and death. There are dissonances throughout much of this piece, between B-flat and A in the bottom and middle layers, and between B-flat and B-natural in the bottom and top layers. These further separate the three strata. At the end of the piece (although end is not the most appropriate term here since the piece loops throughout the player’s time in the dungeon), Link’s ocarina melody is left alone. This could symbolize how his vitality makes him isolated in this space. Yet he keeps fighting on, his melodies clashing against those of the dead and undead, in order to preserve life for the residents of Termina and restore peace to those whose time has passed.
Two main aspects of musical meaning are picked up on in fan-made adaptations of “Stone Tower Temple.” One is more semiotic and the other more hermeneutic. First, medieval or Renaissance dance and folk music is evoked as a topic. In particular the style of the theme in the original soundtrack is similar to that of a French estampie, due to the diatonic modal nature of the melodies, the parallel open fifths drone, the ornamental melodic figures, and the drum parts.83 Second, the hermeneutic interpretation suggests a sense of determination or persistence, particularly with the top line’s frequent changes, and both the top and middle lines having rhythmic energy. One fan described it this way in a countdown video on YouTube:
The soundtrack for the Stone Tower Temple is similar to that of the entire area, and contains one theme that is prominent: death. Now, in the world of Majora’s Mask everybody is living in fear, and by the time you reach this dungeon, Link’s thoughts would be along the lines of “What’s the point? I just can’t do this anymore.” And then you hear the flute [ocarina] appear in the track, and the flute symbolizes hope, and the chance to succeed. And as you hear the flute, you are ready to finish what you started, and you go through the temple and you do succeed.84
Bulteau’s adaptations of “Stone Tower Temple” in the opera Majora incorporates both of these meanings. In Act III when Igos, the undead King of Ikana, “gets lost in reminiscences of the golden days of his kingdom,” the first melody is set in the lively dance style of a tourdion (a French dance from the Renaissance period), with compound duple meter (Example 9). Shortly after, when the Happy Mask Salesman is thanking Kafei for rescuing him, Bulteau quotes a specific tourdion dance and puts it in counterpoint with the compound-meter version of “Stone Tower Temple” (Example 10).85 It is only later on in Act III that the standard version of the theme is used, in simple quadruple meter, and this choice was laden with meaning for Bulteau:
This is an intentional contrast between ternary [compound] and binary [simple] time signatures, wherein I want to underline the difference between the world of life and light in the ternary 6/8 version (owing to the actual encouragement of ternary music in the Western medieval and Renaissance times by the church, as symbolic of the holy trinity and life), and the world of death and darkness in the original binary 4/4 (owing to the Japanese dislike of the number four as a symbol of death, which permeates the whole game, from the map right down to the day the moon falls.86
Another adaptation that focuses on the medieval and folk signs in “Stone Tower Temple” is by Josh Barron. This track is on the compilation album FATE: A Tribute to Majora’s Mask (2018), and it has the same title as the piece from the original soundtrack.87 Barron sets the theme for hand drums, strings, and flute, which associates the arrangement with medieval and folk music.88 The improvisatory nature of some sections and the use of the Phrygian dominant scale (notably at 2:00) further emphasize a connection with folk music.
Rozen’s version (“Stone Tower” on Children of Termina) uses different instruments but has a similar folk style and also uses the Phrygian dominant scale (for example, at 1:36).89 From 1:55 to 3:12 there is a gradual dynamic and textural crescendo, representing the energetic determination in the original piece. This is also aided by an “elevating modulation” from A minor to C minor at 2:52, a syncopated bass line, and the increased presence of drums.90 During most of this climactic section, from 2:14 to 3:12, there is no conflict between Phrygian mode and Aeolian mode, as there is in the beginning of the track and in the beginning of the original (Example 8). The Aeolian mode of the melody takes over during this section that is full of life, fitting with the hermeneutic interpretation of the original soundtrack described above. At 2:14 Melody 2 from Example 8 is used, then the neutral middle layer (representing the undead) becomes a melody that is accompanied with countermelodies in the Aeolian mode. Shortly after this, from 3:35 to 3:53, the music undergoes a reversing effect, and then the track does an inexact repetition of its first parts again. The reversing effect could symbolize the vertical inversion of the temple, which is a required part of beating the dungeon in the game.
Other adaptations of “Stone Tower Temple” do not use the medieval or folk associations of the original, but they do communicate the association of the melodies with life and energetic determination. For example, Lee Prisby’s “Stone Tower Temple” on the compilation album FATE is a metal cover with a high level of energy.91 This is most evident at 0:20–0:30, 0:40–1:00, 1:41–2:01, and 2:21–2:51, because of the quick rhythms in those sections. From 1:41 to 2:01 there is a virtuosic guitar solo in an improvisatory style, over the bass line from the bottom pitched layer in the original (Example 8). Improvisatory sections are common in many “Stone Tower Temple” covers and remixes (we have already heard one in Barron’s version), perhaps because of the static, repetitive bottom layer.92 This also fits with the hermeneutic interpretation described earlier, where the melody layer is filled with life (representing Link) and the bottom layer represents the dead.
The interpretation of “Stone Tower Temple” representing energetic life and determination can also fit well in other genres and styles. Electronic dance music (EDM) works particularly well for communicating energy and growth because of its repetitive beats with rhythmic groove, as well as its risers and climactic drops.93 Some EDM remixes of “Stone Tower Temple” demonstrate this. One remix in the dubstep genre is by Will & Tim ft. Ephixa.94 This remix starts with not much change from the original, and all three pitched layers going on at the same time. For most of the rest of the track, though, only Melody 1 and occasionally Melody 2 are used (see Example 8), with no hint of the “dead” bottom layer (and its Phrygian mode) or the “undead” middle layer. Instead, the melody is harmonized with a repetitive chord progression in a syncopated rhythm, and the pitches in the dominant harmony include both the subtonic G and leading tone G-sharp. The use of G-sharp signifies that the music is even further away from the Phrygian mode than the Aeolian mode is, with two pitch classes changed, and thus more full of life according to the hermeneutic interpretation of the pitched layers. The remix’s buildups and drops that are characteristic of contemporary EDM also signify life and youthful energy through their association with dancing and clubbing.
One especially notable remix is “Depths of My Heart” by DJ the S.95 This track incorporates both “Stone Tower Temple” and “Song of Healing” in a fast-paced EDM mashup.96 In order to fit this style, the melody of “Song of Healing” must be reinterpreted in two significant ways, as is shown in the transcription of 0:35 to 1:07 (Example 11). First, it is now incorporated into the quadruple meter from “Stone Tower Temple,” so that a 3+3+2 pattern in quarter notes can be heard in terms of the high points of each descent. Second, the “Song of Healing” melody is transposed up a perfect fourth and reinterpreted as being in the Phrygian mode rather than the Aeolian mode. The low melodic goal pitch was formerly scale degree 5 in Aeolian mode but now it is scale degree 1 in Phrygian mode. As the track progresses, “Depths of My Heart” only continues to grow in energy and intensity. It becomes faster, adds more syncopation and rhythmic embellishments, and has an “elevating modulation” up a whole step.97 Therefore, this remix and mashup shows awareness of the potential meanings in both “Song of Healing” and “Stone Tower Temple” described in this article, since the former can be interpreted as being about progression from sadness to hope, and the latter as the persistent determination and energy of life in the face of death.
In The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, music is used in conjunction with on-screen dialogue and other visuals to set the tone for the bleak world of Termina and create many emotionally poignant moments. The Clock Town theme conveys a sense of home and familiarity, but also urgency and anxiety, particularly in the third-day version. “Song of Healing” helps in-game characters move from sadness to hope with music that changes progressively to reflect this emotional change. “Stone Tower Temple” communicates a sense of persistent determination in the face of adversity. Each of these pieces has meanings that deeply resonate with many fans of the game and are understood by those who work with the original soundtrack to create new adaptations. The adaptations discussed in this article communicate their creators’ understanding and interpretation of these meanings by expressing them in new ways.
Studying these adaptations has shown that fans engage with the music from Majora’s Mask in meaningful ways. The game and its music continue to inspire many people to create new artistic content, as evidenced by the making of entire albums and operas almost twenty years after the game’s initial release. When making this new content, creators “wear people’s faces” by taking on the emotional meaning of the game’s original musical works and putting it into new contexts. This is similar to how gamers often take on the identity of their player characters and attempt to hear things in the game as if through the character’s ears.98
For listeners, the meanings communicated in the adaptations provide new ways of contextualizing the game and relating its story to their own lives. As Tia DeNora puts it, music can contribute to the way that people make sense of themselves and their “social circumstances.”99 “Music is a resource—it provides affordances—for world building.”100 One comment on Rozen’s “Song of Healing” cover demonstrates this, saying: “Very great music makes me feel like my ‘anguish’ and suffering is all but gone [and] turns into a mask.”101 This demonstrates how making meaning of the music from Majora’s Mask (whether from the original soundtrack or an adaptation) can help lead to a better understanding and acceptance of one’s own emotions, even in dark and anxious times.
Tia DeNora, Music in Everyday Life (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 44.
Roger Moseley, Keys to Play: Music as a Ludic Medium from Apollo to Nintendo (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016), 245–47.
In this article I use the term fan loosely, encompassing a wide range of those who like the game to various degrees and for a variety of reasons. All the fans I describe are part of a video game “audience,” as described in Garry Crawford, Video Gamers (New York: Routledge, 2012), chap. 3. The loose way in which the term fan is used in this article encompasses the three categories of fan, cultist, and enthusiast on the audience continuum as described in Nicholas Abercrombie and Brian Longhurst, Audiences: A Sociological Theory of Performance and Imagination (London: Sage, 1998), 138–47.
For a detailed summary of semiotic and “post-semiotic” studies in contemporary musicology and music theory, see Giles Hooper, “A Sign of the Times: Semiotics in Anglo-American Musicology,” Twentieth-Century Music 9, no. 1–2 (March 2012): 161–76, accessed July 23, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1017/S1478572212000242.
Two of Tagg’s most influential writings on semiotics are Philip Tagg, “Analysing Popular Music: Theory, Method and Practice,” Popular Music 2 (1982): 37–67, accessed July 23, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261143000001227; Philip Tagg, Music’s Meanings: A Modern Musicology for Non-Musos (New York: Mass Media Music Scholars’ Press, 2013).
Tagg, “Analysing Popular Music,” 47–49.
Zach Whalen, “Play Along: An Approach to Videogame Music,” Game Studies 4, no. 1 (November 2004), accessed April 28, 2020, http://gamestudies.org/0401/whalen/.
Karen Collins, Playing with Sound: A Theory of Interacting with Sound and Music in Video Games (MIT Press, 2013), 133–36.
Elizabeth Medina-Gray, “Meaningful Modular Combinations: Simultaneous Harp and Environmental Music in Two Legend of Zelda Games,” in Music in Video Games: Studying Play, ed. K. J. Donnelly, William Gibbons, and Neil Lerner (London: Routledge, 2014), 105–6.
Medina-Gray, “Meaningful Modular Combinations.”
Leonard G. Ratner, Classic Music: Expression, Form, and Style (New York: Schirmer Books, 1980). Hooper identifies topic theory as “post-semiotic” because it acknowledges meaning in abstract musical structures and in discourse about those structures. Hooper, “A Sign of the Times,” 173.
Ratner, Classic Music, 9.
Robert S. Hatten, Musical Meaning in Beethoven: Markedness, Correlation, and Interpretation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), 170.
Kofi Agawu, Playing with Signs: A Semiotic Interpretation of Classic Music (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991); Wye Jamison Allanbrook, Rhythmic Gesture in Mozart: Le Nozze Di Figaro and Don Giovanni (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983); Danuta Mirka, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Topic Theory (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014); Raymond Monelle, The Musical Topic: Hunt, Military and Pastoral, Musical Meaning and Interpretation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006).
David Neumeyer, Meaning and Interpretation of Music in Cinema, Musical Meaning and Interpretation (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015).
Sean E. Atkinson, “Soaring through the Sky: Topics and Tropes in Video Game Music,” Music Theory Online 25, no. 2 (July 1, 2019), accessed July 23, 2020, https://mtosmt.org/issues/mto.19.25.2/mto.19.25.2.atkinson.html; Tim Summers, Understanding Video Game Music (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016), accessed July 23, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781316337851.
Lawrence Kramer, Musical Meaning: Toward a Critical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); Lawrence Kramer, Interpreting Music (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).
Kramer, Interpreting Music, 2–3, 9.
Nicholas Cook, “Theorizing Musical Meaning,” Music Theory Spectrum 23, no. 2 (2001): 180, accessed July 23, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1525/mts.2001.23.2.170.
Tagg, “Analysing Popular Music,” 47–61.
Kramer, Interpreting Music, 21–25; Neumeyer, Music in Cinema, 51.
Daniel Goldmark, Lawrence Kramer, and Richard Leppert, eds., Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); Kramer, Musical Meaning, chaps. 7–8.
This is true for video games in general, as described in Sebastian Diaz-Gasca, “Super Smash Covers! Performance and Audience Engagement in Australian Videogame Music Cover Bands,” Perfect Beat 19, no. 1 (December 29, 2018): 59–60.
For more on discourse within video games, see Robert Buerkle, “Of Worlds and Avatars: A Playercentric Approach to Videogame Discourse” (PhD diss., University of Southern California, 2008), chap. 2.
DeNora, Music in Everyday Life, 28.
Victor Luckerson, “The Cult of ‘Zelda: Majora’s Mask,’” The Ringer, March 3, 2017, accessed April 28, 2020, https://www.theringer.com/2017/3/3/16040930/the-cult-of-zelda-majoras-mask-1b2b2382fb84.
For literature on sampling, see Kembrew McLeod and Peter DiCola, Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011); Kyle Adams, “What Did Danger Mouse Do? The Grey Album and Musical Composition in Configurable Culture,” Music Theory Spectrum 37, no. 1 (2015): 7–24.
For a classification of remixes, covers, and mashups see Virgil Moorefield, “Modes of Appropriation: Covers, Remixes and Mash-Ups in Contemporary Popular Music,” in Recorded Music: Performance, Culture and Technology, ed. Amanda Bayley (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 291–306.
For more on covers of video game music, see Diaz-Gasca, “Super Smash Covers!”
Mark J. Butler defines a work as a general, abstract “construct of musical identity,” as opposed to a text, which is a fixed, inscribed object, and a performance, which is a particular instantiation of a work. Mark J. Butler, Playing with Something That Runs: Technology, Improvisation, and Composition in DJ and Laptop Performance (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 27–40.
“Best Video Games of All Time,” Metacritic, n.d., accessed April 28, 2020, https://www.metacritic.com/browse/games/score/metascore/all/all/filtered.
Luckerson, “Cult of ‘Zelda: Majora’s Mask.’”
Andrew Schartmann, “Music of the Nintendo Entertainment System: Technique, Form, and Style” (PhD diss., Connecticut, Yale University, 2018), 18.
For a detailed history and description of Kondo’s role as a composer for Nintendo, see Andrew Schartmann, Koji Kondo’s Super Mario Bros. Soundtrack (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), chap. 1; DidYouKnowGaming?, Koji Kondo: From Punch-Out!! to Super Mario Maker 2 - Did You Know Gaming? Ft. Furst, 2019, accessed April 28, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbADp8j6XiA&list=WL&index=14&t=0s.
“The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses - Zelda Wiki,” n.d., accessed April 28, 2020, https://zelda.gamepedia.com/The_Legend_of_Zelda:_Symphony_of_the_Goddesses.
DidYouKnowGaming?, Koji Kondo.
Collin MacGregor, “Why Majora’s Mask Is Still the Best Zelda Game Ever Made,” Twinfinite (blog), March 10, 2017, accessed April 28, 2020, https://twinfinite.net/2017/03/why-majoras-mask-is-still-the-best-zelda-game-ever-made/; Alanna Okun, “Lost and Found in ‘Majora’s Mask,’” BuzzFeed News, February 8, 2015, accessed April 28, 2020, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/alannaokun/let-the-moon-fall.
William Cheng, Sound Play: Video Games and the Musical Imagination, Oxford Music/Media Series (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014), 77–78; Zach Whalen and Laurie N. Taylor, Playing the Past: History and Nostalgia in Video Games (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2008).
This kind of relationship between video game players and designers is described in Kiri Miller, Playing Along: Digital Games, YouTube, and Virtual Performance, Oxford Music/Media Series (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2012), 5.
One of the most important and controversial theories about the game is presented in The Game Theorists, Game Theory: Is Link Dead in Majora’s Mask?, 2013, accessed April 28, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7S1SVkysIRw. A creepypasta (derived from the word copypasta) is a horror image and/or story that spreads through the internet by being copied and pasted. The most famous creepypasta relating to MM is “Ben Drowned,” as explained in Luckerson, “The Cult of ‘Zelda: Majora’s Mask.’” The fake trailer video can be seen here: TheDailyJoypad, The Legend ofZelda: Majora’s Mask - Fan Made Wii U Trailer, 2012, accessed August 10, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=7&v=-JOChBfhta4.
Crawford, Video Gamers, chap. 7.
Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, Updated twentieth anniversary edition (New York: Routledge, 2012).
Henry Jenkins, Participatory Culture in a Networked Era: A Conversation on Youth, Learning, Commerce, and Politics (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2016), 4.
For a definition of narrative in video games, see Buerkle, “Of Worlds and Avatars,” 169.
All transcriptions in this article are by the author. These transcriptions put the music from the original soundtrack into Western staff notation. Although this is not ideal for representing all the nuance of the sophisticated sound-mixing the audio provides, it gives a clear representation of the basic ideas of the music. Each song/transcription repeats infinitely until the player stops the in-game actions required for its play.
In particular, the octave leap from D4 to D5 suggests that a new beat starts on D5, on the tonic.
David Brian Huron, Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), 325.
Theophany, Time’s End: Majora’s Mask Remixed, 2012, accessed April 28, 2020, https://theophany-rmx.bandcamp.com/album/times-end-majoras-mask-remixed. Theophany shared his gender pronouns with me in an email on February 27, 2020.
Email from Theophany to the author, February 27, 2020.
Email from Theophany to the author, February 27, 2020.
Another arrangement that is similar in style and emotional tone is track eleven, “Clock Town,” from the album Children of Termina (2018) by Rozen. Rozen’s arrangement is also joyful for most of it, but near the end becomes dissonant, using the bass line from day three in the original soundtrack, followed by “Majora’s Theme.”
Mark Brownrigg, “Film Music and Film Genre” (PhD diss., University of Stirling, 2003), 118–21.
Email from Theophany to the author, February 27, 2020.
Artificial Fear, Clock Town Medley (Metalized), 2011, accessed April 28, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9i9yHYahPPI.
During the first-day segment, “Melody 1” is set in triple meter from 0:59 to 1:17, as communicated by the drum beat. When “Melody 2” begins, though, the triple meter is abandoned in favor of the more conventional duple interpretation.
Andrew L. Cope, Black Sabbath and the Rise of Heavy Metal Music (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010), 53.
Majora is an opera by M. Bulteau based on themes from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, by Koji Kondo and Toru Minegishi. At the composer’s request, Bulteau’s full first name is left out of this article. Detailed information about the opera, demos of the music, and vlogs of the score’s development can be found at M. Bulteau, “Majora,” accessed April 28, 2020, https://www.mbulteau.com/majora/.
All details about Bulteau’s intentions and background were gathered in an extensive e-mail interview on March 18, 2015, and subsequent online communications through to the present. Bulteau confirmed his gender pronouns with me on April 28, 2020.
Matthew Bribitzer-Stull, Understanding the Leitmotif: From Wagner to Hollywood Film Music (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 7.
Conversation with Bulteau on Discord, October 10, 2019.
M. Bulteau, Majora - Demo #7: Clock Town Choir & Kafei’s Recitative, 2014, accessed April 28, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G0G6gKCA_g.
Online communication with Bulteau on October 10, 2019. Emphasis mine.
Examples 3, 4, 6, 9, and 10 are excerpts from Bulteau’s full transposing score for Majora, which is still undergoing revisions. The excerpts are reproduced with permission of the composer.
Online communication with Bulteau on October 10, 2019.
“Song of Healing” can be used to make a total of five masks in the game. First, Link plays it to heal himself from the curse that made him a Deku and receive the Deku mask. Second, he plays it to heal the soul and ease the regrets of the Goron ghost hero Darmani and receive the Goron mask. Third, he plays it to help the dying Zora guitarist Mikau accept death and pass on to the afterlife, receiving the Zora mask. Fourth, he plays it to heal a little girl’s father who was under a curse that was turning him into a Gibdo (a mummy), and receives the Gibdo mask. Finally, Link can play the song to ease the regrets of the ghost dancer Kamaro and receive the Kamaro mask.
“Song of Healing - Zelda Wiki,” n.d., accessed April 28, 2020, https://zelda.gamepedia.com/Song_of_Healing.
“Song of Healing - The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D Forum,” Neoseeker Forums, 2010, accessed April 28, 2020, https://www.neoseeker.com/forums/83829/t1516270-song-of-healing/#m28785982.
This discussion took place while watching Thiefbug speedrun the “All Masks” category on March 24, 2015.
On the use of the words diegetic and non-diegetic in video games, see Kristine Jørgensen, “Time for New Terminology? Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sounds in Computer Games Revisited,” in Game Sound Technology and Player Interaction: Concepts and Developments, ed. Mark Grimshaw (Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2010), 78–97.
Vexidus, EnNopp112 Playing “Song of Healing” on Piano During MM Any% Speedrun, 2014, accessed April 28, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsHqV99rnFk&t=2s.
These aspects of the sounds may have been created with the tremolo effect and with a long release time in the ADSR amplitude envelope for the sound.
Theophany, Time’s End II: Majora’s Mask Remixed, by Theophany, 2016, accessed April 28, 2020, https://theophany-rmx.bandcamp.com/album/times-end-ii-majoras-mask-remixed.
Email from Theophany to the author, February 27, 2020.
Email from Theophany to the author, February 27, 2020.
Email from Theophany to the author, February 27, 2020.
Email from Theophany to the author, February 27, 2020.
Rozen, Children of Termina, 2018, accessed April 28, 2020, https://music.rozen.audio/album/children-of-termina. Rozen did not respond to the author’s request for an interview.
Online communication with Bulteau on October 10, 2019.
“Stone Tower,” Zeldapedia, n.d., accessed April 28, 2020, https://zelda.fandom.com/wiki/Stone_Tower.
Timothy J. Mcgee, Medieval Instrumental Dances (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014), 10, 27–30, 36.
Billybo10K, Countdown: Top 10 Zelda Dungeons, 2013, accessed April 28, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kx3_2abMy34.
The specific tourdion Bulteau is quoting is Anon. - Tourdion: Quand Je Bois Du Vin Clairet, posted by Eric Boulanger, 2011, accessed April 28, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=191&v=rxlwCTOuTSs.
Online communication with Bulteau on October 11, 2019. The reference to the map being in four parts is because the world of Termina is clearly split up into four regions that each have one dungeon area and are associated with the four cardinal directions. Clock Town is in the center.
Josh Barron, “Stone Tower Temple,” on FATE: A Tribute to Majora’s Mask, Materia Collective, 2018, accessed April 28, 2020, https://bandcamp.materiacollective.com/track/stone-tower-temple-2.
Another adaptation with similar instrumentation is Big Hat, Stone Tower Temple Theme - Epic Folk Version, 2013, accessed April 28, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bte_xQVg7-Y.
Rozen, Children of Termina, 2018, accessed April 28, 2020, https://music.rozen.audio/album/children-of-termina.
Dai Griffiths, “Elevating Form and Elevating Modulation,” Popular Music 34, no. 1 (January 2015): 22–44, accessed July 23, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1017/S026114301400066X.
Lee Prisby, “Stone Tower Temple,” on FATE: A Tribute to Majora’s Mask, Materia Collective, 2018, accessed April 28, 2020, https://bandcamp.materiacollective.com/track/stone-tower-temple.
Another example that contains two improvisatory sections at 1:24 and 3:14 is dj-Jo / Zenpaku, Stone Tower Temple - Dubstep/Glitch Hop [dj-Jo Remix], 2013, accessed April 28, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phEmsNY2kbY.
For more on rhythmic groove, risers, and drops in contemporary EDM, see Mark J. Butler, Unlocking the Groove: Rhythm, Meter, and Musical Design in Electronic Dance Music, Profiles in Popular Music (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 246–47; Ragnhild Solberg, “‘Waiting for the Bass to Drop’: Correlations between Intense Emotional Experiences and Production Techniques in Build-Up and Drop Sections of Electronic Dance Music,” Dancecult 6, no. 1 (2014): 61–82.
DubstepGutter, Will & Tim Ft. Ephixa - Stone Tower Temple, 2015, accessed April 28, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kNwG2Tfx6Q.
DjtheSdotcom, LoZ: Majora’s Mask Remix - Depths of My Heart [Song of Healing, Stone Tower Temple], 2012, accessed April 28, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcB57BsM8TI.
Other adaptors of MM’s music such as Theophany and Rozen also frequently use mashups, but they have not been discussed in this article for clarity.
Griffiths, “Elevating Form and Elevating Modulation.”
Diaz-Gasca, “Super Smash Covers!,” 59–60; Mirjam Eladhari, “The Player’s Journey,” in The Players’ Realm: Studies on the Culture of Video Games and Gaming, ed. J. Patrick Williams and Jonas Heide Smith (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007), 171–87; Miller, Playing Along, pt. 1.
DeNora, Music in Everyday Life, 44.
Rozen, Song of Healing, 2018, accessed April 28, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzaenQiTT5Q.