Saturday, 29 March 2014

Doll's Polyphony and In Search of the Distant Era

And now for something completely different, again. I have had a special love for Japanese Anime soundtracks. I suppose that's another thing I can blame my brother on. I had been a fan of anime's for some time but never really put much thought into the music that goes into it. Not until my brother got me into listening to the soundtrack to what I consider to be the best animation of all time, Akira. Mostly the soundtracks that are featured in Japanese animations tend be classical, symphonic music, sweeping and elegant. Down to Earth, yet flying across the heavens. Subtle, yet full of grandeur. Traditional whilst still retaining modern instrumentations like synthesisers. If there is one thing that makes Japanese anime soundtracks so great is how much international influence it incorporates but manages to sound so completely and utterly unique. One of the many many qualities a good Japanese Anime soundtrack also has is that there is always at least one song that sounds absolutely nothing like the others. There might be a J-Pop song, a  Mediterranean Jazz Lounge song, a song inspired by Enya, they will still sound impeccably composed and distinctly in place. There are so many composers, for example Akira Yamaoka and Yoko Kanno, to choose from, but I'll be mainly focusing on three.

Joe Hisaishi
Joe Hisaishi (Who's real name is Mamoru Fujisawa) has been actively composing since late 70's, early 80's. But his main claim to fame has been as the main composer for Studio Ghibli, which is an animation studio that everyone should know of and know about and watched at least 3 movies by them. He is possibly my favourite film composer going at the moment. His style is variable, he incorporates so many different ways of composing and playing that he nearly fits in every classical genre. Not only that, when he chooses to he can write even more contemporary tunes when needed for the film. Whether lounge, pop or rock. When in classical mode he seems to veer from the serene beauty of Vivaldi to the malevolence of Wagner into dark brooding sharpness of Holst. He does often throw in some experimental electronic sonic music as can be best heard on the Castle in the Sky soundtrack. It is nearly impossible to just choose one soundtrack by him because I honestly haven't heard a bad one. Most memorable soundtracks, in my mind, are probably "Princess Mononoke" and "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea". Though his work on "Spirited Away", "Porco Rosso" and "Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind" do also need to be mentioned. I personally first became aware of his musical prowess when I was watching "Porco Rosso" when he incorporated Mediterranean Lounge with his trademark symphonic prowess and created one of the best heroic soundtracks that I can remember. Throughout his career he's won plenty of awards deservedly so. He even got the honour of composing the soundtrack of the 1998 Winter Olympics. Generally when he releases albums outside soundtrack the focus tends to be on his piano playing with some orchestral flourishes added. I am pretty sure that whatever he would choose to do it would just sound perfect.



Kenji Kawai
Kenji Kawai. Though not quite as prolific as Joe Hisaishi, he has done some very high profile soundtracks. Most notable one being "Ghost in the Shell" and "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence". He is slightly more rhythm and rock'n'roll based than Joe Hisaishi, but he also incorporates a lot of traditional Japanese instrumentation and female choir singing. But for example in "Ghost in The Shell" after songs of brooding quietness we get treated to a wonderful J-Pop song called "See You Everyday", which does fit really well with the rest of the movie. Kenji apparently started in a Music Academy after dropping out of a nuclear engineering course. But he never finished that either, instead he decided to start a band with a few friends called MUSE. But that slowly disintegrated when they all got competent on their instruments. Kenji in the meantime decided to start writing music for commercials in his home studio. This did eventually pay out in the long run as he was encouraged and eventually hired to write music scores for anime's such as the aforementioned "Ghost in The Shell" and "Ranma 1/2". He doesn't just stick with writing soundtracks for anime's, he's also composed for Ringu, Ip Man and and Avalon.



Geinoh Yamashirogumi
Geinoh Yamashirogumi. Now I have to admit that for many years I actually thought that this was just a single person. I was wrong. It is actually, according to Wikipedia, a musical collective. Essentially it is a hobby club for people from all walks of life to just let their hair loose and have a little bit of fun without having to worry too much about the outside world. This group had started in the seventies, and the aim was to recreate folk music from around the world, using very traditional instruments but meshed with modern instrumentations and synthesisers. The common theme in most of the music they write is environmental and oneness with the Earth. They first came into prominence when they put out "Ecophony Rinne". After that they were asked to write the soundtrack for the best anime of all time, "Akira". This soundtrack is what really really turned my attention (Well thanks to my brother who couldn't stop recommending it) towards the rest of the Japanese anime soundtrack, but this one is still the best. But what is remarkable about the soundtrack is that none of the musicians saw a clip from the movie while they were composing for it, yet all of it fits so brilliantly with the mood of the movie. They haven't done a soundtrack since, which is a shame because I am sure that I am not the only one who wants to hear more, but they have kept on publishing albums on a non-regular basis the best being "Ecophony Gaia". But until they do another soundtrack enjoy this one in the meantime:

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