David Wise is an English video game musician, and is one of the most popular ones in the industry. He is known for composing music to many popular games such as the Donkey Kong Country, Battletoads, and Wizards & Warriors series. His best known song is probably Aquatic Ambiance from Donkey Kong Country (SNES), which he says took him an entire month to write.
Wise's passion for music started around when he was 8 years old and his older brother was taking piano lessons. Due to fairness, he had to wait until he was his brother's age until he could get piano lessons. He found out beforehand that he could learn music by ear. However, he still received piano lessons. He also learned how to play the trumpet around then and eventually joined a brass band. When he was 14, he had a paper route and used his earnings to save up for a drumkit. After buying the drumkit, he joined a band.
Later, Wise started working at a music shop, working in the drum department until a Yamaha CX5 arrived at the store. He learned how to create music on it. He demonstrated the computer to many customers which led to the sales of many of them. One day, Rare's founders Chris and Tim Stamper came into the music shop and asked Wise to demonstrate the computer for them. While David was doing so, he was playing his own compositions. Chris and Tim were mesmerized by his music so instead of buying the computer, they offered Wise a job at their company, Rare, as a sound composer, and Wise accepted their offer.
The first game Wise worked on was also the first NES game developed outside of Japan, Slalom. To create music for the NES, Wise had to learn to program the music using hexadecimal numbers for notation, as was required by Rare's sound driver. Wise has said that he was confined to the two square waves, triangle, and noise channels of the NES' RP2A03, as the company didn't have the space to use the DPCM channel's sound sampling capabilities. While some of Rare's NES games did use this feature, Wise never used it himself.
During Rare's NES development, they usually handled arcade conversions, so Wise had to take the challenges of learning the original arcade's music by ear and replicate a good 8-bit conversion which he was always successful in doing. David composed the music for over 40 NES titles, which is probably more than any other NES composer. In addition, besides Nintendo, many other companies contracted Rare to develop games for them. However, most of these games were rushed by said publishers, resulting in poorly executed games. Usually, Mark Betteridge and other Rare staff handled sound effects, while Wise handled music. Wise said he was sometimes required to do an entire soundtrack in a week, working twelve-hour shifts seven days a week. He worked on all of Rare's soundtracks up until the SNES era when Rare hired other composers and sound designers, in which Wise would usually work alongside them. Some of these composers include Grant Kirkhope, Graeme Norgate, and Eveline Fischer. Wise stayed with Rare up until 2009 when the company was acquired by Microsoft. Wise also cited major changes to the company as his reason for his departure.
Wise still continues to create video game music to this day, and he likes to use Cubase and Pro Tools for his music. He also has a video series on YouTube through the DK Creations Ltd. channel called SoundsWise.
According to Wise, regarding his NES music, he would get inspiration from Japanese-developed games, mostly from Nintendo and Jaleco. This explains why he rarely used arpeggios in his music like other Western chiptune musicians did. Most of Wise's musical style consists of many elements ranging from classical, hard rock, and jazz.
For the Battletoads arcade game, Wise wrote the music in assembly hex code and sampled his instruments from a Roland U-110 and Korg Wavestation, but composed the songs on an Roland MT-32. The music was then converted to Brian Schmidt's sound driver, as he invented the BSMT2000 sound chip which was used in the game.
On another occasion, Wise said the samples may have been sourced from a Roland D110 or an Emu synthesizer.
Wise most likely used the same method for X The Ball.
Wise used the same exact method as with his NES music; he used hexadecimal numbers for notation using a driver by Chris Stamper. The driver was most likely expanded by Mark Betteridge.
According to Wise:
From David Wise's OCRemix interview:
David went into a little more detail in an interview:
According to Wise, Chris Stamper programmed the first version of the sound driver, and a later version of the same driver was programmed by Mark Betteridge. For the arcade conversions, he was sometimes given sheet music for the original arcade music, but other times wasn't, and had to learn it by ear.
Despite various publishers rushing Rare to make games quickly, Wise said he was never given a set time limit depending on the publisher, and instead worked a week straight getting the music done. Wise stated on rare occasions, he would be given two weeks, but was never aware of the deadlines given to the Rare staff by the publishers.
According to Rare graphic artist Kev Bayliss, Wise would demonstrate his compositions for him using his synthesizers. Kev talked about this in his video about his work on Cobra Triangle.
At about 7:55 in this video, Wise explained that he was trying to make the music sound like 80's synthesizer music, and did his best to adapt it to the NES.
While many SNES developers had more accessible music tool to develop SNES music, Rare's SNES sound driver still required the use of hexadecimal notation. Wise wrote in 65C816 assembly machine code using hexadecimal notation, similar to his NES music. His instruments for his SNES music and the Battletoads arcade were sampled from the Korg Wavestation and Roland U-110 sound modules. He wrote his music in the text editor called Brief. The sound driver was originally programmed by Chris Stamper and later reprogrammed by Mark Betteridge and Philip Wattis.
The samples for Aquatic Ambience in Donkey Kong Country were taken from a Korg Wavestation. Wise spent five weeks writing the song, as he was experimenting with the keyboard.
Marshall Parker also used identical Roland sound samples.
Most of Wise's early works omit staff rolls, as it was a company policy of Rare to prevent developers from being hired. However, few games would credit him as D. Wise to obscure his first name.
For Wizards & Warriors II, Wise was credited under the moniker Rare Ltd. This was most likely due to Zippo Games being the developer, and the company outsourcing their sound to Rare. In addition, they probably received the music files from some random Rare employee, and the music code either didn't have it, or they didn't bother to check the music code for Wise's name.
While not an alias, in the Japanese version of Super Smash Bros. Melee, Wise's name is spelled in katakana; デビッド ワイズ (Debiddo Waizu).
- davidwise.co.uk/ - Official.
- facebook.com/david.wise.9028 - Facebook.
- twitter.com/David_Wise - Twitter.
- youtube.com/channel/UCyJf_ttROaCNMIPJ8BAKncg - YouTube.
- medium.com/cuepoint/enter-the-jungle-donkey-kong-country-vs-hip-hop-7b2b5abc8271 - Interview.
- youtube.com/watch?v=ueln2O1eJDU - Interview with the Legacy Music Hour.
- youtube.com/watch?v=tsa3nkE8mkA - Wise talks about Battletoads.
- w.atwiki.jp/gamemusicbest100/pages/611.html - Atwiki.jp (Japanese).