A bit of culture today as we look at David Wise’s genius compositions—the legendary British composer has gifted some of Nintendo’s best games with stunning ambience.
His most famous work is for the SNES Donkey Kong County trilogy.
But he’s also performed on many other projects, including modern mobile games such as Tengami.
A flat out genius, the man was talent-spotted by video game developer Rare’s head honchos (Chris and Tim Stamper) in 1985. In his 20s, Wise was working at a music store and played the visiting brothers a few of his compositions on a keyboard.
They hired him on the spot—30 years on Wise is deemed one of the best composers in the industry. I say!
Our Top 7 David Wise Compositions
On the face of it, the Donkey Kong Country games would be better suited to a boopy boppy type game soundtrack. In hiring Wise, though, Rare provided the masterstroke for the series.
The games were elevated to an emotive and dramatic level through a series of two to three minute melodic compositions, with fantastic use of percussion and atmospherics.
Most fans will agree the Donkey Kong Country 2 (1995) soundtrack is the masterpiece.
However, technological advancements over the last few decades mean, by the Wise time worked on 2014’s Tropical Freeze, his most recent DKC soundtrack is arguably his best. Anyway, if you have a spare 20 minutes listen on in and enjoy.
1. Grassland Groove
The highlight from the Wii U’s masterpiece Tropical Freeze franchise entry. Certainly one of the most uplifting things you can ever listen to.
Grassland Groove is also one of the best levels in video game history, in our opinion. Quite the moving experience.
2. Stickerbush Symphony
World famous for being flat out amazeballs, this track occurs on one of the game’s most notoriously difficult and frustrating levels—Bramble Scramble. It’s bloody useful the track’s there to keep you calm.
3. Jib Jig
One of the quirky little numbers which populate the series. Big Jig is introduced early in DKC 2 on a wind and rain swept level up in the sails of a ship. It’s all rather glorious.
4. Bayou Boogie
This reminds us of Sing Swan Song by Can from the band’s 1972 album Ege Bamyasi.
Taking place in a swamp, you can’t help but put on your sternest expression as you take on the sheer emotional drama of this level. Best foot forward, sir!
5. Hot Head Hop
We love this one! It’s majestic! Like fire! The level’s set in a volcano and sees Diddy and Dixie Kong riding across hot air balloons.
Not the best level (requiring inch-perfect jumping and timing), but powered by this most glorious recording.
6. Aquatic Ambience
Set underwater, the level is actually a bit of a SOB. Luckily, you’ll be too busy tripping to this music to notice what the heck is going on around you.
Also, check out a bit further below on how Wise went about creating this composition.
7. The Pale Moonlight
Tengami was released recently and allowed Wise to show off his wider range of abilities. Which is, you know, awesome. All hail, David Wise!
David Wise’s Composing Technique
If you’re a composer looking for a few tips, in December 2021 Wise revealed his process for Korg.
It’s a fascinating video, showcasing how a creative vision comes together moment by moment.
And that’s for the magnificent Aquatic Ambience, a fan favourite from the first Donkey Kong Country game.