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  The Con Suite

Kanno Yoko Press Interview

For day two of Anime Expo 99, the members of the press were pleased to have an opportunity to chat with anime composer, Kanno Yoko. It was a great opportunity to see what Kanno-san has been up to, what some of her hobbies are, and how she got into anime composing. So now, here's a look into the world of Kanno Yoko. Enjoy!

How did you get started doing music for animation? Did you want to do it or did some director or producer ask you to do it? They just asked me. I didn't want to do animation because I don't know animation and I don't like to see TV shows. Even now, I only see my work, not other animation.
Are there any hidden skills or hobbies that we don't know of besides your music? I used to take ballet lessons so I'm pretty good at choreography.
The music on both your solo albums and your soundtracks, there's such a wonderful blend of so many styles of music. How were you exposed to so many styles of music living in Japan? In Japan, various genres of music that are reflected in my work are already played on the airwaves in the forms of commercials and whatnot so I was exposed to it. Especially in Tokyo.
Things like choir music and blues guitars, things of that nature? I remember a lot of the styles if I listen to it once. So if I'm ever exposed to it once, that's how I do it.
What challenges does composing for anime have that are different from live action or your personal compositions? There is no difference. Usually you'd think that you'd be bound to the limitation in the animation, but I don't feel that way. I feel it's the same.
Even in terms of timing? Yes.
Recently Sunrise made the announcement of the Escaflowne Movie. How's the music going to contrast to what was in the TV series? I haven't thought of it yet because I haven't gotten the plot script for the movie yet.
So the music hasn't been started yet? Well... [laughing] A couple of the songs will be similar to the TV series, but the music hasn't been started yet.
From what I saw and heard of your performances at Otakon, it was more jazz piano than anything else. Are there jazz performers in the US that you have learned from or would enjoy playing with as part of a combo? I don't know that many jazz composers, but I would like to play with Pat Methany.
You say you watch the visuals for your normal compositions. What do you have for inspiration for your compositions? I usually look at the visuals or the plot of the thing, but sometimes I imagine myself dancing along to the tune that I'm creating, or for like the more military-like things, I imagine a military parade inside of my eyes and sometimes I get a little serious about my composing and I start crying as a result.
Since this is your first Anime Expo, what are your impressions or what do you think of AX and do you have any plans on coming to the next one or, in the near future, another one? I would like to come again if my schedule permits. In Japan, most of the people are too shy to say what they think is good, but in the case of the Americans here at Expo, they weren't too shy to say what they liked and they weren't afraid to have a standing ovation. It gave me a lot of courage and power. And I don't know how I got so famous.
You've done a lot of compositions, have you ever sung vocally yourself in the past or on any of your songs? Uh, me? I can't tell you. [laugh] It's top secret. Just imagine.
For all of the soundtracks you have done for anime, there is such a large amount of music, like several CDs for each series. Do you get to decide which songs go on which CDs and is there a lot of music that you compose for a series that doesn't end up on the CDs? I do all of them. I pick the song titles and also, I usually get involved in the creation of the liner notes and the jacket cover.
Is there a lot that is not included at all on any of the CDs? There is a lot.
What is your work schedule like? In a given week, since I do a lot of commercials, I have about 2 or 3 commercial songs that have to be created. I have meetings with the advertisers and I go and record the piece and then I make a demo tape out of it for the 2 or 3 commercials per week. Most of the time that I don't spend on the commercials, I spend on the one big other title, because I only select one anime piece or other piece, one per year, so I have the meetings and the recordings for that to fill my spare time.
Well, since you don't like anime, what kind of movies do you watch or like, besides David Lynch? Well, I haven't seen enough of David Lynch's stuff to have a mass following. Most of the time, I don't go out to see movies and I don't watch TV shows. I would rather go out on walks or travel around.
Would you ever considered doing music for non-anime movies? I have already made soundtracks for two movies in Japan. But nobody knows them. [laughs]
I've loved your music since I heard it in Macross Plus. But it took me by surprise cause after Macross Plus, you did Escaflowne. I was like "Oh, that sounds like Yoko Kanno." Brainpowrd. "That sounds like Yoko Kanno." Then Cowboy Bebop came along and it was... "THAT'S Yoko Kanno?!?" The change, the different side of your music, was that something that the creators expressed that they wanted you to go into or is that how you saw the story? The Director of Cowboy Bebop is very keen on the music scene but he didn't give any direction on where I should go. He learned working with me on Macross Plus that I don't follow his orders even if he gave any.
The previous question alluded to your growth musically through Macross Plus to Cowboy Bebop. We can obviously hear the changes, but how would you describe your musical growth? I'd be troubled if I didn't see any growth. But at the same time, I feel that I'm still not at the level that I can be.
What level do you hope to be at? Now, it's very low for me. In my head, more and more beautiful and cool music is in my brain, but I can't express it.
When you have worked with the different groups that you have worked with over the years, like with Macross Plus you worked with the Israel Philharmonic, how involved do you get with the direction of those groups? I start by asking the group that I want to play with. When they get the actual music, I will actually be in the orchestra or be playing with them or directing so that I actually gets my expressionism through to the music group. I feel that many of the male composers in Japan are too shy so that they can't just go into the orchestra to play with them or directing for them, so that they just usually just send the music and that's it.
You use a lot of 3/4 time in your composition work. It seems that everything else is in straight 4/4. Any particular reason why? Is it a dance reason? When I started composing when I was 3 years old, the first song I did was in 3/4 time and I haven't changed since.
Have you ever considered doing a tour in Japan or do you consider yourself more a composer than a performer? I feel that I'm more of a composer than a performer and I don't really like performing in front of a large audience. But I do like performing in background of another person.
Macross Plus was very well received, the music, the visuals, the story and everything like that. You've also had success in your other projects as they have definitely been above average, if not the best of those areas, especially with Cowboy Bebop now. How have you done such a great job in following great anime to put your music to? I have a theory that if the anime is not too good, if you add a not too good soundtrack to it, then it would be mediocre at best. But if you put top notch music to mediocre anime that it might be better. So I try to make top notch music to any anime that I do. I have had cases where many a director was feeling more optimistic about the series because the music was so good.
What do you think of your music being so popular in countries far from Japan? In Japan, the anime industry is not really looked upon, in fact it's rather looked down upon, so it feels good to know that what I've been doing in the anime industry is good by getting all the positive feedback from other countries.
You said several times that you've done a lot of commercial work. Could you tell us a little history on how you became a professional musician up to the point where you started doing anime soundtracks? I was a literary major in college. I quit after one week. I did some extracurricular activities in part of a pop group in college. Then I started doing the background accompaniment for a couple singers in Japan. Then the director of the group said, "You want to write some music?" And that was for a game and was my first composition. Then someone from the commercial industry, who listened to the game said, "Hey! You want to do a commercial?" Then someone in the anime industry heard the commercial said "Hey! You want to write an anime soundtrack?" Connection, connection.
You've talked about commercials now a few times. How does your work on commercials influence your film scores? Because commercials have to get the attention of all ages, from little kids to elderly people, I learn a lot from making the commercials so that I can grab the hearts of everyone in such a short time.
With some of your music, like in Macross Plus, there were a lot of multilingual songs. There was one song in English, one song in French, a few in Japanese. How involved do you get with the people that are writing the lyrics? For example, did you intend one of those songs to be in French? I ask the lyricists. I also ask them to put this kind of stuff in the lyrics. I nitpick a lot. Because anime is fiction, I feel that something that you just don't hear normally be presented in the lyrics, so I have a lot of weird phrases that don't make sense in my lyrics.
Which do you prefer doing? Songs that have lyrics or songs that are more instrumental? Both together. A mixture.
You said that you like to travel a lot. Do you actually travel a lot around like to different countries or just around Japan? I go out a lot. My passport is filled with stamps, so the INS people kinda flag me every time I go back. I've been to Ireland, England, France, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Israel, America, and Mexico. That's it. Not Africa. I want to though.
Are these private trips? Yes, all private trips.
Do you have hobbies other than traveling? Playing with animals. I've been getting interested in photography as of late. I have taken a lot of pictures already as a professional photographer.
You mentioned before that there's a lot of music that you write for a specific series that does not end up on the soundtracks. With any of the music that you have left over, do you ever use it again or rework it for another series? Or if not, is there any idea of possibly seeing that on it's own on a separate CD? You seem to want such a compilation. [laughs all around!] I will if I run out of materials to produce, but not for the time being.
Do you have or own your own recording studio? No. [laughs]
Is there any type of movie that you would like to do music for? I don't like dark feelings. It would be something lighthearted, some comedy. Maybe something involving animals. I want to do a movie that features all animals, but haven't gotten any offers.
You had said that the director for Cowboy Bebop didn't ask you to do a specific type of music because he knew you didn't listen to his directions. What inspired you to take it to the 60s jazz feel that permeates Cowboy Bebop? That's from the 60s? [laughs all around] It naturally came to me... "This would be a good type of song." I didn't think about whether jazz would be good. It just came to me.
Since Bebop has a lot of English, we all read everything that comes in the English. With that there's a lot of information about Seatbelts. Is Seatbelts a fictional group or do you actually plan to do more work with those musicians? [laughs] Yeah, I want to. They're called the Seatbelts, but I have been working with that same group of people since Macross Plus and Escaflowne as well.
Now the background stories about Seatbelts in the Cowboy Bebop material, did anybody pass that by you at all or talk about what they were gonna put in there? I asked them to write most of them that way.
From your earlier reactions, you seem to not only enjoy but love travel. How does your travel, and more particularly the sounds that you might hear while traveling, influence your soundtracks? A lot of them have been influenced by it, but I travel to empty out my mind instead of filling it with knowledge.
You said that a lot had been influenced. Can you give us an example? For example, in Brain Powerd, she was influenced by the bagpipes in Scotland.
With the different music styles that you've had, we have heard the music from Macross Plus, Escaflowne, and Brain Powerd, and from the reactions of most people, the music in Cowboy Bebop is quite a departure from earlier music you had done in anime. Would you consider doing more of the jazz type music on a solo album or if another anime project comes along that calls for the same type of music? I haven't thought about making such a thing and actually, I didn't think that the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack would sell. I thought it was kinda old music so that none of the younger generation would listen to such a thing. I was very surprised that it sold so well.
Back to the way you compose, do you like sit down away from everyone or do you like to have objects around that you can look at and hold? I'm usually alone when I'm composing, like I can be lying around, rolling around on the floor in my room or I can be walking outside, but I'm usually alone.
So you don't force, "I've got to go in and do this!" and lock yourself in the room? No, you just need to relax. But when I write a music score, I like to go to a cafe, that's very good for me. I feel that I need a crowd around me because if no one is watching me, I feel that I'm going to procrastinate.
You do commercials, music albums, anime... Do you treat all your projects the same or do you have a particular type of project that you like to work on? All the mediums like dramas, films, anime and commercials are all the same, except game music is a little different. For games, because you can't exactly do it all by yourself and because games usually have a lot of people dying. I feel that makes you feel more stupid, but that may just be me.



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