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The Musical Box #09: The aesthetic of nonsense

The Musical Box features 30 articles focusing on game music production and implementation. Edition #9: Katamari Damacy

Everything in Katamari Damacy is quite peculiar, even bizarre. Originally released in 2004 for the PS2, the game features the prince, son of the King of all the Cosmos. The prince is sent to Earth with a magical ball called “katamari” that literally picks up everything it touches. His mission is to make this ball larger by collecting objects that vary from a single button to entire continents. If successful, the prince will be able to use these objects to recreate stars and constellations.

To match Katamari’s unusual story and gameplay approach, the aesthetics of this game are equally bizarre. Japanese developers Now Pro and Namco focused on creating art, music and sound effects with a common premise: the crazier, the better.

Profile
Game: Katamari Damacy
Released: 2004
Platform: PS2
Developer: Namco, Now Production
Composer: Various

The Set-Up

It’s almost impossible not to smile when the first notes of the main musical theme start to play. The song is called "Katamari Nah-Nah" and features a male singing this melody with “nah-nah” notes in a very funny way. It sounds like a “scratch” melody that many composers use when they start to create a song.

The “nah-nah” singing is actually a very interesting method used in musical composition. It doesn’t have a formal name, but it’s useful for capturing moments of inspiration when the composer is enlightened by melodies that briefly appear in one’s head. In order to capture this melody, it’s possible to either write it down using pen and paper or record this melody using an instrument.

If these instruments (pen, paper or any musical instrument) aren’t available when the inspiration comes, it is possible to record “nah-nah” melodies in a portable recorder or even a cell phone. This is an incredibly useful technique, since these moments of inspiration are very rare and normally tend to fade away after a few minutes if they are not captured.

The next step is developing the melody, assigning it to the intended instruments and creating all necessary arrangements.

Whether this “nah-nah” melody in “Katamari Nah-Nah” was a scratch melody or simply a planned thing, we’ll never know for sure. You can hear a very simple version of this song during the “logo” screen in the first version of Katamari Damacy for the PS2. If you listen carefully, you can also hear the singer simulating some kind of percussion with his mouth. This is a very common thing to do when you have “scratch” music in your head and you want to materialize it somehow.

The Moment

During the opening sequence, there is the full glorified-epic-funny arrangement of “Katamari Nah-Nah”. Notice that the same melody is used, but with a more emotional and precise performance.

 

 

The Impact

Everything that is out of the ordinary grabs my attention. When Katamari Damacy was released, there were not a lot of games that had this nonsense aesthetic. The game also achieved financial success and became a franchise, and several iterations were released to this day.

I believe this game is a reminder that it’s important to innovate and try different approaches in game creation. Don’t be afraid to test your eccentric ideas, even if they sound incredibly crazy. This is one of the triggers for innovation, the most important driver of the game industry.

Special thanks: Gilliard Lopes, Rafael Kuhnen, Fernando Secco, Sandro Tomasetti, Rafael Martins (Sommastudio), and Fabiano Pimenta.

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