Catching Up With the Man Who Made Donkey Kong Country's Brilliant Music

When it comes to iconic 90's gaming soundtracks it's impossible not to include the world-renowned Donkey Kong Country series. Behind these upbeat jungle jams and haunting underwater lullabies was a Rare Ware composer known as David Wise. Wise has worked on dozens of classic titles over the years, including RC Pro-Am, Battletoads, and Diddy Kong Racing.

After a 12 year absence Wise has made his return to console gaming, and to the world of Donkey Kong Country with the release of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for Wii U. I was lucky enough to interview him briefly about his past and future works, as well as his process when composing for his various projects. Well I had hoped Mr. Wise would go more in depth I found that he is not a man of many words, so prepare yourself for some quick answers!

Hello David! Let me start by saying I'm a huge fan of your work. The Donkey Kong Country titles were one of the very first series I can remember playing as a young child. They have made a lasting impression on me as both a gamer and a music enthusiast.

What are your very first memories of music and of video games?

My first memories of music are probably classical music, which my parents used to listen to. The Ping Pong tennis game, a very long time ago, and Mario on the NES were my first real memories of video games.

Is there game that you truly loved working on that you wish had received more attention?

There are many. Donkey Kong Racing* would have been great if it had ever made it to production.

*Donkey Kong Racing was a title announced for the Nintendo GameCube in 2001. The game was canned when Rare was bought out by Microsoft, despite the fact the game was touted on the back of the GameCube's box upon launch.

Did you have any idea that tunes like Stickerbush Symphony and Aquatic Ambiance would become so popular? Many regard your tracks as some of the best in video game history. What is your reaction to your work being held in such a positive and profound light?

Obviously I'm very pleased many people like them. Initially, both were written for my own technical enjoyment.

Sometimes it's hard to analyze one's own work, but what track that you have composed (Donkey Kong or otherwise) has always been your favorite over the years?

I couldn't possibly say. There were a few tracks on the game Dinosaur Planet that became Star Fox Adventures which never made the final game, but which I really liked.

Did it take much convincing to get you on board for Tropical Freeze? Is there a level or an environment that really excited you this time around?

No convincing at all. I was pleased the underwater sections were in this version.

Catching Up With the Man Who Made Donkey Kong Country's Brilliant Music

Do you take the time to play through as much of a game as you can before you score them or do you simply look at the level layouts and settings? What is your creative process?

That's pretty much it. Look at the level - play the level - get a feel for it. Get the tempo and a basic rhythm working, and then start adding different textures.

Jungles, frozen mountain tops, deep sea caverns - What aspect of your past or your current life has helped you compose such a wide array of tracks?

I think it's more the experiences I've enjoyed throughout my life that help me create music. From taking the local music in whilst on holiday to watching films and playing video games.

What kind of music do you listen to on a daily basis or to get you in the mood for composing?

I listen to all sorts of music all the time. I don't think I have a particular favorite. If I enjoy listening to it, and it connects with me emotionally, then it's good.

Who is your favorite Donkey Kong character and why? Have you completed all the games in the series to date?

I like all the Kongs, but I haven't completed a game yet - they get far too difficult for me.

I know you collaborated on the musical aspects of Tropical Freeze with Kenji Yamamoto, who is known for his work on the Metroid series. What was it like to work with another musician who is so well known in the world of gaming? How did you communicate during the games development?

It was a great honor to work with someone as inspirational as Kenji Yamamoto. We met over at Retro Studios is Austin, Texas, and communicated via video conferencing several times throughout the project.

You also have the paper pop-up epic Tengami coming out this year. What can you tell us about this title and the music involved?

The game is a more relaxed and meditated game than any I have worked on previously. It's also a fairly dark game too. But I love the pop-ups - they are so cool! That and the art style really make it for me.

I've read that you have played in many different bands. Are you still in one today? What instrument(s) do you play? Any tour dates?

I play saxophone, percussion, keyboards and guitar. We're rehearsing at the moment, but no tour dates yet confirmed.

Catching Up With the Man Who Made Donkey Kong Country's Brilliant Music

Well, I'm certain I'm not the only one who is elated that you've returned to composing beautiful soundtracks for the world of gaming. Thank you for answering my questions Mr. Wise.


For more info on David Wise you should head over to his website or follow him via Twitter. If you'd like to hear more about Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze you should check out both The TAY Review and The Kotaku Review.