Some of Nintendo's most iconic tunes were created by Koji Kondo, making the Japanese composer one of the most listened-to artists in the world - even if people don't necessarily know his name.
A 2001 interview with Kondo - taken from Game Maestro Vol. 3 - has been freshly translated into English by shmuplations.com, and gives insight into how he came up with the various tunes and sound effects which are so famous today.
Kondo talks about working with the Famicom, going into the technical details of creating audio on the 8-bit system:
The Famicom uses square waves, which have a richer harmonic content than normal instruments. This means that when you're writing chords, its better to use wider intervals rather than shorter ones. For example, take a 1-3-5 (do-mi-so) C-major chord… with the Famicom, open voicing (ie. wider intervals between the notes in a chord) sounds much clearer. That was a principle I discovered before I made Super Mario Bros, which is why I think Mario's songs use chords with an open, wide feel to them. The Famicom only has three channels for sound, but using this technique, I was able to make it sound more like 5. It was something I discovered while creating different sound effects. And Super Mario Bros. was the first time I got to practically apply that theory.
He also reveals his key influences:
I had always liked Latin music. There was more going on than just a Latin influence, but I do like those bright, happy Portuguese songs. Sadao Watanabe's music was also an influence, I think. The overworld theme in Mario might show some influence from the Japanese fusion band T-SQUARE, too. The rhythms in their music were easy for Japanese listeners to follow. Sadao Watanabe's Nabesada was like that too.
Kondo was also in charge of creating sound effects, and explains how the seminal Super Mario jump sound came to be:
The jumping sound was even used on a TV quiz show. I recognized it right away as my sound!
I seem to recall the director asking me to make a sound like that, for Mario's jump. I remember saying something like, "…but your feet don't make any special sound when you jump!!" Anyway, I thought that since this was a video game, I would like to create a sound that no one had heard before, which harnessed the Famicom's capabilities, and maybe something funny. Those were my main ideas.
I actually have several favorites from each game, but for Majora's Mask, it would be the Mayor's Meeting theme. At the very last minute, just before the deadline, I was asked to change the mood of what I had written. And I had very, very little memory to work with. It's one of the songs I hear and think, "Yeah, I nailed it!" I think it really fits the feeling of a conference or meeting.
Needless to say, if you have any interest in Kondo's work or video game music in general, the full interview is well worth a read.