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Mario's Music Sight-Read
April 27, 2009 4:19 PM   Subscribe

Fans of video game music and/or piano aficionados, I present three pieces from the Super Mario Bros series: Super Mario World's Air Platform rag, SMB2 overworld theme, and SMB1 overworld theme, expertly played "blind" by ragtime pianist Tom Brier.

According to the video descriptions, Tom doesn't play video games and hasn't heard any of these tunes before. If you're a ragtime enthusiast, you can see more of his playing in Keeper1st's video stream. His ability to sight-read ragtime is mind-blowing.

I don't know these guys, but I've found myself watching these videos over and over, and decided more people should see them. Hopefully the attention isn't unwanted, but either way, please go easy on the snark (I know, it's a lot to ask).
posted by knave (41 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
I tried to wait until I had watched them all to comment, but I cannot.


This is totally awesome, halfway through the second vid.
posted by lazaruslong at 4:36 PM on April 27, 2009


Wow, the SMB1 overworld theme was really cool when he made it all tango-y. These are awesome, thanks for sharing them!
posted by Nattie at 4:37 PM on April 27, 2009


OK, no snark, but this really isn't very good. Playing blind is a neat stunt which doubtless requires a lot of talent, but this really hammers home the value of practice because it's no fun to listen to. I love the SM2 theme song (particularly what happened when you hit the pause button -- upright bass solo!) but the mistakes he was making in these videos were painful.

By the by, has he been living in a cave for 20 years never to have heard the SM1 theme song?

I suspect you're about to receive a snark pile-on, if only because you asked people to go easy on you. Playground survival tactics apply here -- you've offered an open invitation to bullies, and on the internet, everyone's a bully. Don't take it too hard. It happened to me after I wrote this abomination, and I survived.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:37 PM on April 27, 2009


Well, I enjoy these. Cool find. Poking around a bit there I found some improv piece he did that was actually pretty cool as well. It occurs to me that there is a strong absence of ragtime in my music library.
posted by Stunt at 4:40 PM on April 27, 2009


It was really a genius call, back in the eighties, to score these games with old timey music rather than contemporary synth pop.
posted by HeroZero at 4:44 PM on April 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


I have to say, I was blown away by his performance of Yoshi's Island Athletic Theme. There, yes he's doing his sight-reading thing, but it's actually a technically demanding (and athletic) piece. And he and his buddies are clearly having an absolute blast, which to me is the soul of music.
posted by Humanzee at 4:44 PM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Playground survival tactics apply here -- you've offered an open invitation to bullies, and on the internet, everyone's a bully. Don't take it too hard.

It's not for my sake. Pick on me all you want. I just didn't think it would be fair if people came here to bash the person the post is about, unbeknownst to him.</derail>

posted by knave at 4:44 PM on April 27, 2009


If you read the comments, apparently he recognized the SMB1 song while he was playing it.
posted by zixyer at 4:45 PM on April 27, 2009


What makes these above-grade is Brier's fresh interpretation to sounds we grew up with. When he slows the SMB theme to a relaxed and gently playful tango it becomes something just as beautiful and expressive as the original, possibly more so. I can almost see Peach biting on a rose stem as Mario leads her around a dark ballroom.

A great find: thanks, knave.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:46 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


a better title for this may have been "raccoon leaf rag".
posted by the aloha at 4:49 PM on April 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is fucking awesome. Ok, the song sucks but since this is MetaFilter and lots of us understand music and what "blind read" means, this is incredible. That guy has chops as pointy as his neckbeard.

I'm having this cool daydream right now. I'm back in 1900 or so, visiting in my time machine, blending in with the population in costume. I slip into a respectable tavern for a sandwich and a cold one. They have a good piano and it attracts good players. Everything is appropriately old-timey and then...

Suddenly I recognize the music and no matter how much I want to keep my cool I'm flabbergasted - compelled to turn and stare at whomever is playing that damn song. I've blown it. He knows I'm a time traveller, and I suspect he is too. He flashes me the universal two-handed gesture of holding a d-pad controller and mashing buttons, and I'm out of there. I knew it. Fucking time cops.


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: telling knave what for is like trying to teach your grandma to suck eggs. i know you mean well and are being gentle but he probably doen't need instructions on how to make a post and take his licks as they come.
posted by loquacious at 4:50 PM on April 27, 2009 [20 favorites]


OK, no snark, but this really isn't very good.

What? No snark, but I do not enjoy this would be appropriate, but this isn't good? Where on your scale of 1 to good does this fall? Why would you think a comment that subjective is not snarky?


Playing blind is a neat stunt which doubtless requires a lot of talent, but this really hammers home the value of practice because it's no fun to listen to.

It's not supposed to be as "fun to listen to" as the actual piece. The mistakes add to the credibility of the person sight reading it and can serve to point out areas of intense difficulty in otherwise innocuously cute songs. The whole point of the "stunt" as you call it is not for maximum smoothness but for the enjoyment of a good musician tackling something for the first time without hearing it before, and transforming what starts as literally nothing more than ink and paper into music using a brain and body. The contrast between the accepted standard style of performing the piece, with a sightread that does not allow for preplanning in terms of things like velocity or sustain, trusting only the player's instincts and dexterity and feel, is delicious to me.


I love the SM2 theme song (particularly what happened when you hit the pause button -- upright bass solo!) but the mistakes he was making in these videos were painful.

It's always "painful" to know a piece of music really well and hear someone play it and make a mistake. If you can't get past that to enjoy the premise of the video, why those mistakes are being made in the first place, then you shouldn't watch them.


But saying "this really isn't very good" makes me think you are either trolling or just totally missed the meaning of the moment.
posted by lazaruslong at 4:55 PM on April 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


ooooh that last one where we got to see the process of creation was a thing of beauty. I just want to hug the man.
posted by spacediver at 4:56 PM on April 27, 2009


Sorry one more:

loquacious, I think that's the coolest premise for time travel I have ever read or thought about. Ever. Of course it would come out of the entertainment area of the private sector!

posted by lazaruslong at 4:57 PM on April 27, 2009


These are really good, thanks.
posted by flatluigi at 4:58 PM on April 27, 2009


This is kick ass shit. I'm glad I got to see it. Thanks, knave!
posted by ignignokt at 4:59 PM on April 27, 2009


They're great. I prefer them to the bleeps and blorps I've heard a billion times over. Refreshing.
posted by Submiqent at 5:34 PM on April 27, 2009


This is entirely entertaining.
posted by D.C. at 5:39 PM on April 27, 2009


I am so tempted to snark - not because this guy (and his beard) aren't amazing sight readers (you thought the beard wasn't helping? it WAS!), but merely because, knave, you tempted me to by asking us collectively not to. So really you brought it up, and I can't help myself.
Snark! Snark! You deserved that, and it feels good, like jumping on an evil mushroom and popping its little head wide open. Also, I think you might be a homosexual. Thanks for the rag', if you know what I mean.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 5:54 PM on April 27, 2009


I'm a pretty sharp sight reader on the flute, but the piano is another beast entirely and I tip my hat to this guy who has serious skill and talent. Also, I <3 Mario.

I have a friend who is similar to this guy, but spent a good deal of his musical education accompanying choirs. So instead of just being able to read through piano music, he can read all five or more lines of a choral piece together on the piano at once. It's insane to watch him do it. It's like watching a cat walk on two legs. The brainspace that requires is just boggling.
posted by greekphilosophy at 6:14 PM on April 27, 2009


Yeah, this is called "sight reading," not "playing blind," though I guess the actual term doesn't sound as cool. Most professional piano accompanists can do this. Jazz players can do it by ear. *shrug*
posted by speicus at 7:01 PM on April 27, 2009


In which case it's called "playing by ear" instead. WOO
posted by speicus at 7:05 PM on April 27, 2009


Thank you Mario. But your sister is in another piano!
posted by erniepan at 7:56 PM on April 27, 2009


Jazz players can do it by ear. *shrug*

Nobody can read music by ear. That doesn't make any sense.
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 8:20 PM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is not a good post. This is an EXCELLENT post.
posted by JHarris at 9:10 PM on April 27, 2009


saying "this really isn't very good" makes me think you are either trolling or just totally missed the meaning of the moment.

I totally missed the meaning of the moment.

lazaruslong: the mistakes...can serve to point out areas of intense difficulty in otherwise innocuously cute songs.

I'd never thought of sight reading that way before. It's still not my cup of tea to listen to, but that helps me see why you like it. What I'm really be ashamed of is that I thought these links were just a matter of sight reading...

that last one where we got to see the process of creation was a thing of beauty

Process of creation? What process of creation? It's just sight reading! [back to youtube] Oh. Oh, so the video isn't just him running through a quick sight reading. If I'd bothered to watch the whole video I would have heard him transmogrify these pieces into a genre I really like, and do it on the fly. Wow! I used to be in a dixie band for crying out loud -- I love this stuff! [favorite added!]

So now I'm eating humble pie with whipped shame on top and a side dish of iced ignorant arrogance (ignogance?), and yet I'm still glad I made my idiotic comment, because if I hadn't I would have missed out on something beautiful. knave, thanks for this best-of-the-webbish post.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:28 PM on April 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Being a skilled sight reader is mainly about familiarity with musical forms and the instrument. When you know the genre, you have some good guesses about how the rhythms are supposed to go. It's not as if Koji Kondo created these pieces from whole cloth Similarly, it's easy to pick up on chord progressions and so on (in the Yoshi's Island Atheltic video, they point out this out to the tuba player).

So he's good, sure. But not much better than any other professional ought to be. I mean, we have sheet music because it is in fact possible to read the music as you play. That people do in fact do this shouldn't be terribly astounding.

Still, it's an objective fact that he's far better at the piano than I am or ever will be.
posted by pwnguin at 10:01 PM on April 27, 2009


Whether or not he's sight reading it doesn't matter at all to me, it's just really lovely to hear these pieces played well and in an interesting way for once. Instead of the usual checkitoutIcanplayitreallyfastbycompletelyignoringpausesaren'tIamazing shit that youtube commenters seem to love.
posted by lucidium at 4:10 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I really need to get a piano. I use to play it when I lived at my parents but now not so much. I was never as good as him but I remember part of that song and thinking I was awesome.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 5:58 AM on April 28, 2009


This stuff is just as enjoyable as the fellow who travelled back in time, gave Django Reinhardt a listen to the SMB2 theme, and said "Now you try it!" At least, that's almost what the recording sounded like.
posted by Spatch at 6:08 AM on April 28, 2009


Professional pianists, generally, can sightread anything. This guy can most likely sightread pieces way more difficult than Super Mario music.

By the time you get as good at piano as this guy and others like him, sightreading is second nature.

I have a memory of an anecdote about someone watching Vladimir Horowitz sightread a Ferruccio Busoni concerto, or the cadenza from it, or something. I'm familiar enough with the nature of Busoni's music to know that it is probably a technically ridiculous piece.

Mr. Brier seems to be a very good pianist--but now, when you see any other gifted pianist performing, know that they more than likely possess this extra skill as well. It's one of those things that takes a long, long time to learn, but once you've got it you've got it, and you don't even have to think about it.

As a pianist of 20+ years who is an atrocious sightreader, I naturally hate all of these people and wish them the absolute worst that life has to offer.
posted by Darth Fedor at 6:36 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sometimes Mefi brings out the snark and sometimes Mefi brings out the joy. Today its the joy. Huzzah!

I'm reminded of other reinterpretations such as; Nintendo a cappella and my personal favorite; F-Zero thrash metal style! (ignore the video I can't find the track on anything other than this stupid Guitar hero custom)
posted by Molesome at 9:13 AM on April 28, 2009


Here's some other great jazzy Mario 2 renditions: Adrian Holovaty and Estradasphere
posted by Chris Brummel at 9:46 AM on April 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nobody can read music by ear. That doesn't make any sense.

I know, that's why I corrected myself in my next comment. Anyway, "playing blind" would make more sense if it meant "playing by ear."
posted by speicus at 11:31 AM on April 28, 2009


What would be really impressive is if "playing blind" meant playing the piece without ever hearing the piece OR reading the music!

Actually, never mind, I know some monkeys who can do that. (They're also excellent typists.)
posted by speicus at 11:33 AM on April 28, 2009


While we're sharing links to other renditions, I might as well share my favorite piano performance of Metroid.
posted by knave at 12:13 PM on April 28, 2009


This is so unbelievably awesome. When he first has difficulty with the SMB1 overland theme (which is, admittedly, a weird ass song) you really have to stick it out till he gets his bearings. once he starts again, more slowly, and starts embellishing it, I found myself clapping my hands to my mouth. He'd taken the basic soundtrack of my childhood and made it sound sweeter and more compellingly emotional. It was really incredible. especially since he hadn't even known the song.

It reminds me of this time that I was working one of our tournaments, and as I was walking back to the hotel with my boss from the venue, we hear that very song being played on a piano somewhere nearby. Being the video crew, we had a camera on hand and rushed up already rolling tape. The kid just kept playing that and a couple other classic video game songs. the weirdest thing was all these kids who play at the tournament and are usually 16 if not younger, coming up like "yo, what's that song? what are you filming?" they didn't recognize the mario theme song. it blew my mind. these kids were either professional or aspiring professional gamers. and they had no idea.
posted by shmegegge at 2:15 PM on April 28, 2009


Awesome post. Thanks for this.
posted by hellphish at 2:58 PM on April 28, 2009


The link to "Yoshi's Athletic Theme" (here) blew my mind. Thanks for that and the OP. Brightened a bad day.
posted by SeanMac at 4:29 PM on April 28, 2009


This is excellent and reminds me again of how brilliant some of those Koji Kondo compositions are. Now that I think about it, it must be listening to his music for hours on end as a kid that gave me a love for melody and a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward lyrics.
posted by tepidmonkey at 6:29 PM on April 28, 2009


Thanks Chris, those are immediately going on the iPod for random joy moments in the future.

Knave, I'll see your Metroid and raise you a SMB3. In fact, have another!
posted by Molesome at 4:17 AM on April 29, 2009


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