Game Music Highlight: El Pájaro es la Palabra

The Smash Bros. series features a large roster of various characters, spanning quite an impressive library of games. Each brawler has a unique gaming history, having been part of past titles over the years; some newer, and many with beginnings in older titles. Along with each character comes a vibrant, impressively broad range of musical compositions associated with each franchise. With the release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS, not only did an official soundtrack release, featuring the many songs between the two titles, but a fan-made soundtrack was offered to the public for free.

Harmony of Heroes is a fan-made collaboration you can download for free
Harmony of Heroes is a fan-made collaboration you can download for free

Harmony of Heroes is a massive collaboration of musicians bringing their interpretations on familiar game compositions, all based on characters that are, or have been, part of the Smash Bros. series. In addition to the base album, an extension titled “Final Smash” was released months later. The project was a huge undertaking, with six people doing all the behind-the-scenes work; but it was well worth it. The complete collection gives an enormous amount of amazingly crafted renditions.

One franchise, the Legend of Zelda series, has quite the musical library by itself, filling up a substantial amount of the album. Specifically, there is one song that has truly stood out amongst the others on the album; it’s flow, dynamics, and instrumentation have left a lasting impression upon me. “El Pájaro es la Palabra” is a composition by Laura Intravia, while featuring Davey Patterson. The piece is based on my favorite Zelda title, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, but more specifically is the theme song for Dragon Roost Island. This interpretation is simply fantastic, for a few different reasons. Before I get into that, have a listen.

Firstly, I truly appreciate the instruments used for this piece; I believe it is exactly on par with the original feel to the composition. Even though the song first appeared on a Game Cube title (essentially still in midi form), it managed to omit a Spanish flare to the listener. So, it makes complete sense to incorporate the usage of a Spanish guitar style. What also helps to fuel the Spanish-like flame is the 2-3 clave used for the rhythmic foundation of the song.

What’s even more impressive about the usage of instruments, especially since we are speaking about rhythm, is that there are no percussion instruments outside of a shaker and what sounds like some type of percussion block. The song feels very big later on – I’ll get to that a little later – even though there are no booming percussion or drums in the background driving the volume up. This also has to do with the producer and sound engineer, but the piece alone manages to feel full and “thick” without a dedicated percussion or drum section.

As far as the solo instrument, Laura does an excellent job with the flute, mimicking the original piece very closely. Her usage of breath and the choice of runs is…well, it’s darn near flawless. It never feels like it is too much or overriding the guitar, bass, or rhythm section; yet, it doesn’t feel like it is underused, either. The bright tone of the flute is a perfect combination with the deeper tones of the guitar and bass, and stands out quite nicely when she chooses to.

Laura Intravia does a great job with this rendition
Laura Intravia putting on a show

Another aspect that I really enjoy about this piece is the sheer musicianship; these musicians are darn good at their craft. Everything is clean, everything is clear, and all the right musical choices are made. What I mean by that is this: the creative musical interpretations (ie – notes, chords, and runs that may not have appeared in the original) are all on point. The song begins with guitar, and isn’t quite recognizable as the theme to Dragon Roost Island, but doesn’t stay there too long; listeners want to hear the familiar hooks, right? The fuzzy radio effect at the beginning of the flute introduction helps to establish the rhythm for the rest of the song, as well as helping to add dynamics, making it fresh to listen through. The flute and guitar solos are tastefully done; they stand out when they need to, and blend the rest of the time.

Many times when I hear cover songs or renditions of musical pieces, I enjoy about 70-80% of the artistic interpretations the musicians play, while the other 20-30% I’m not impressed with. However, with this rendition, I personally think it takes the [amazing] core composition and improves upon it all around.

"El Pájaro es la Palabra" means "The Bird is the Word." Which is funny, due to who the Rito tribe are
“El Pájaro es la Palabra” means “The Bird is the Word.” Which is funny, since the residents of Dragon Roost, the Rito tribe, are bird-people

Which leads me to my favorite part of the rendition: the dynamics. The song starts a little slowly (with that “unrecognizable” guitar intro and fuzzy radio effect), but this is all to build to the climax. The main hook for the Dragon Roost Island theme begins fairly quickly (at the 40 second mark), but doesn’t stay too long or get too repetitive. As the song progresses, the guitar and flute take sections to showcase the skill of the respective musicians – they share the audio compression incredibly well. Before the listener realizes it, the song has picked up the pace (not the tempo) and feels like it has gotten exponentially “bigger” and faster, though the tempo hasn’t sped up at all.

At the 2:54 mark, in order to break any type of aural fatigue that might be building, there is a brief moment of calm where strings are used. This is a musical “calm before the storm,” soothing the listener with a more fluid section in the piece. However, it doesn’t take long for the other instruments to jump back in, with a little more volume and intensity than before the break. In addition, the flute run Laura manages is quite the subtle amazement: her sticcato usage and notes are so clear and played so quickly, it impresses me every single time I hear it. Finally, the flute leads the rest of the instruments all the way to an abrupt ending, which I found to be so very nicely done. No fading out, or ending “nicely” to wrap up the song: the hard, sudden stop gives any closure the listener may need.

The Dragon Roost Island theme is one of my favorites, and Laura Intravia does a great job with it
The Dragon Roost Island theme is one of my favorites, and Laura Intravia does a great job with it

Wind Waker is an amazing game, with some of my absolute favorite music in a Zelda title. I’m so very glad the Dragon Roost Island theme was chosen to add to Harmony of Heroes, and I believe that Laura Intravia did a superb job with the foundation piece she worked off of. I highly recommend checking out the fan-made album and additional Final Smash, and I hope you enjoy “El Pájaro es la Palabra” as much as I do.

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