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Yoko Kanno: The Uniqueness of Creation

The Japanese composer's unique approach makes her one of the most desired composers in the world

7th Nov 16

If you're a fan of anime, then there's a high chance that you've heard of Yoko Kanno.

She’s a Japanese composer, arranger and musician best known for creating soundtracks for anime films such as Cowboy Bebop, Darker than Black and Macross Plus. In addition to this, she has often worked with established directors such as Yoshiyuki Tomino, Shinichiro Watanabe and Shoji Kawamori. Having produced the soundtracks for a grand total of thirty-five anime projects, it can be said that Kanno is one of the most prolific composers in the industry.

You can see a sample of her work here:

Ghost in the Shell: Torukia

Her work is multilayered, unique and always develops in motion, which allows her to work with live-action films, video games and advertisement. However the focus of her creativity is in the anime industry. Each one of her tracks brings a sense of uniqueness, although many people disagree over precisely what it is that makes her compositions so great.

When observing her involvement within creative projects, it can be seen that directors receptiveness to her creative freedom speaks volumes about their trust in her skill as a composer.

Her soundtracks are not written to support the visuals of a film. Rather, the visuals of a scene are typically intended to support the atmospheric tone of her music. Kanno’s work with director Shinichirō Watanabe displays this. She frequently creates tracks that he has not asked for. But these extra tracks tend to create a unique tone when accompanied with his visuals. The result appears to be a series of mini-music videos inserted within a wider plot. This is fascinating; it means that a whole host of directors now create anime series and film scenes simply in order to support the tracks that she produces.

Her spontaneity is perhaps her greatest gift, because when she writes music, she quite literally inspires new scenes. In doing so, she effectively co-directs the shows that she's involved in. This is a role that is rarely played by composers. Her influence runs deep. In Cowboy Bebop for instance, she produced some of the tracks before the creative teams had even given the show a title. The mood of her music controls emotional shifts felt by the audience, and significantly alters the tone of the visuals. For example, if Kanno writes tribal music for a mecha series, then the visuals will portray a more religious vibe. When she is writing more experimental music, the scenes may become more eclectic and colourfully fragmented as both diagetic and non-diagetic sound mesh together.

But what does this mean for us?

Maybe Yoko Kanno can teach us a lesson about how the world works. She did for me. She taught me that you can shape and even redefine the role you play within society and the creative industries by honing your talents, your gifts and by approaching your creativity with an element of uniqueness that is difficult to emulate. Yoko Kanno is a specialist composer. She is approached because her involvement with a project will automatically transform it.

So ask yourself:

How will you redefine the roles handed to you?

How will you hone your talents?

How will you be impossible to emulate?

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