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Thread: Yoko Kanno Vs. Taku Iwasaki

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    Yoko Kanno Vs. Taku Iwasaki

    Well, I was feeling bored and up for some stimulating conversation with my fellow strange-tunes loving peeps, so I thought I'd start a little "Who do you think is better and why?" thread. Doesn't have to be all about these two, either. Maybe make a game of it where we compare and contrast whoever ya want, name your favorite tracks by whoever, anything. It's all fun and games, guys.

    I'm starting with Yoko Kanno(Escaflowne, Cowboy Bebop, Wolf's Rain, Macross Plus and Frontier, etc.) and Taku Iwasaki(Samurai X, Witch Hunter Robin, R.O.D., Gurren Laggan, etc.) because they're both extremely popular among anime music fans, for good reason, and they're both very alike in a lot of different ways; both are proficient composers who continually produce amazing, profesional-sounding tracks and tunes, both are incredibly varied in style and genre and, well, both are among my favorite musicians/composers. Admittedly, I've been listening a lot more to Iwasaki lately, mostly because I still haven't heard a large chunk of his catalogue while I can name pretty much any Kanno track from the first few notes. I didn't even always like him, but times and opinions change and his mostly excellent work grew on me.

    They've even worked together on a few projects...sort of; Oban Star-Racers features OP and ED themes by Kanno with Iwasaki on BGM duty, and Kanno handled the first two of Koei's Uncharted Waters video game series while Iwasaki(or at least, I strongly believe it's him; I can't find anything on the credited "John Chem" guy, and some of it sounds like Iwasaki to me) worked on UW Online.

    Of course, they also have many distinct differences, and it's around these that I'm structuring the whole "Vs" part of the thread.

    The first, most obvious one I can think of is style. Kanno's style is much more malleable and varied, bouncing between epic, orchestral bombast to romantic, classical melodies to brassy, growling free-form jazz to obtuse, weird experimentation to heart-racing rock and techno to earthy world music and upbeat j-pop with unbelievable ease, and that's not even counting the hge portion of stuff that melds genres together, shatters the barriers of genre and basically just defies description.

    Iwasaki's is highly varied as well, sing rock, techno, orchestra and etc., but he doesn't seem as willing to mix it up and try something bizzare and revolutionary as often. What experimentation he does try is usaully stellar(Libera Me from Hell or pretty much anything from Bincho-Tan or Soul Eater), so it'd be a treat to hear him try new things more often.

    Much of his work also strikes me as having a heavy electronic bent to it, often having all manner of pulsing, throbbing beats crackling and electrifying the audio channels. It's a neat trademark, and they both have plenty. Kanno has her dissonant horn and string sections, the always haunting, airy vocals of Gabriela Robin, the delightful, multi-tiered texturing in her orchestral and vocal work and a sweeping, emotional center that pervades everything she touches, and in turn, Iwasaki has the afore mentioned penchant for beats, ability to get the pulse-pounding with sweeping, almost "macho" scores and forceful, catchy melodies, an unusually robust and powerful string session that catches the ear in every track they appear in, and some of the most bizzare, distorted trumpet and saxaphone playing I've ever heard.

    I've noticed Iwasaki's newer work sounds a lot more...what's the word..."well-produced" than Kanno's, like it was tweaked and checked down to the last channel by a music-industy record label before release. It's nice.

    I've also noticed Taku uses vocals far, FAR less than his counterpart, typically saving them for ominous choral background accompainiment or the occasional appearance of Yuri Kasahara's operatic strains. He seems to have built a taste for writing hip, edgy sounding fare with vocals by the likes of Lotus Juice and such, and they certainly have an effect, but they're aren't the kind of thing I point to for examples of good singing.

    It's actually kind of a shame. Now that I think about it, Kanno and Yuki Kajiura are really the only composers I can think of, anime or otherwise, who put any kind of emphasis on vocals at all(for Kanno, I guess it comes from the pop band background), and I'm glad for that. I don't want to think of a world with no Blue, Yakusoku wa Iranai, Kissing the Christmas Killer, Rabbit Bed or Strangers, among many others, and the range of singers Kanno utilizes is truly staggering. Sure, ********* in the Still was nice, but the mind can't help but wonder what Taku would come up with if he took a similar approach toward vocalistic songwriting. (On an unrelated note, *********'s singer kinda gets on my nerves after a few verses.)

    The only other thing my tiny, sleep-deprived mind can think of atm is that Iwasaki's scores, however excellent, are very obviously "Soundtrack work". Whereas Kanno's OST's tend to sound, at least to me, more like concept albums than film scores(Napple Tale and Cowboy Bebop especially), you can easily sort Iwasaki's tracks in typical "tracks for action go here, tracks for sad or emotional scenes go here" pidgeonholes. It's to a point where, with the exception of Bincho-Tan, you can mix and match any selection of given tunes and it would sound like pretty much every OST he's ever written.

    That, and his slower, more emotionally-driven piano and orchestral pieces, while exceptionally crafted and performed, tend to take a looooong time to grow on me. When I say slow, I mean sssslllloooowwwww. It's just a personal nitpick, and I think he's a lot like Yoko Shimomura in that regard; He's at his best when being bold, fierce, irreverent and very liberal with the popping electro-beats. Am I the only one who finds it a touch depressing that so many composers, upon planning for a scene the demands power emotion or quiet introspection, invariably reach for the prozac and grand piano? Just go watch a given episode of Bleach to see what I mean. Trust me, you'll know it when you hear it.


    So, there's my stance on the two and how they differ and compare. I love them both, really, though Kanno edges out onto 1st place in my book. (Isn't it obvious? ) Now it's your turn. Agree, disagree? Totally uninterested in either and wanna have a discussion about two completely different musicians? Great. Go nuts. I wanna hear what everyone thinks. Just keep it civil. Don't start any shit and there won't be none. ;p

  2. #2
    Grand Shriner arthurgolden's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NaotaM View Post
    It's actually kind of a shame. Now that I think about it, Kanno and Yuki Kajiura are really the only composers I can think of, anime or otherwise, who put any kind of emphasis on vocals at all (for Kanno, I guess it comes from the pop band background), and I'm glad for that.
    I can't comment directly on this topic because I don't know the work of Taku Iwasaki (I focus on video game music), but you made an interesting point in the above quote. Now that the technology is here to get more human voices on recordings, there still seems to be some reluctance on vgm composer's parts to use that as a tool. Sure, in any RPG there's the main theme with vocals, but that tends to be it except for sparing use of choruses ala the God of War soundtracks. I know little about the technical side of things, and I suspect space is still a concern. But there have been some good straightforward song arrangements on recent soundtracks--".hack//infection" from the game of the same name, "M4 Part 2 (Faunts)" from Mass Effect, "Title Theme" from Ragnarok Online 2, the LittleBigPlanet soundtrack, "Some Other Time" and "Run Rabbit Junk" and "Velveteen" from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, "Lord of Vermilion" from the game of the same name, "Tender Sugar" from Silent Hill 4, "Cosmos" from Final Fantasy: Dissidia, the Total Distortion soundtrack, and of course "Still Alive" from Portal--and I'd like to see more of that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by arthurgolden View Post
    I can't comment directly on this topic because I don't know the work of Taku Iwasaki (I focus on video game music), but you made an interesting point in the above quote. Now that the technology is here to get more human voices on recordings, there still seems to be some reluctance on vgm composer's parts to use that as a tool. Sure, in any RPG there's the main theme with vocals, but that tends to be it except for sparing use of choruses ala the God of War soundtracks. I know little about the technical side of things, and I suspect space is still a concern. But there have been some good straightforward song arrangements on recent soundtracks--".hack//infection" from the game of the same name, "M4 Part 2 (Faunts)" from Mass Effect, "Title Theme" from Ragnarok Online 2, the LittleBigPlanet soundtrack, "Some Other Time" and "Run Rabbit Junk" and "Velveteen" from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, "Lord of Vermilion" from the game of the same name, "Tender Sugar" from Silent Hill 4, "Cosmos" from Final Fantasy: Dissidia, the Total Distortion soundtrack, and of course "Still Alive" from Portal--and I'd like to see more of that.

    I'm talking more about when composers write vocal songs specifically for the game, rather than, say, take something already written, license it and just throw it in. LittleBigPlanet did it a little(that whole soundtrack, like the game itself, was a rather odd little beast), and Ghost and RA2 were both actually by Kanno.

    Now that I think about it, Yasunori Mitsuda does a good amount of soundtrack-specific vocal tracks as well, from the transcendent "Radical Dreamers-Unstealable Jewel" from Chrono Cross, to the many collabs with Joanne Hogg in Xenogears and Xenosaga, and he even wrote with the late, great Eri Kawai once or twice. Just one more reason to love that crazy bastard.

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    Nice topic! I've spoken enough about Kanno's faults so I'm not going to bring them up here at all - only to acknowledge my views on the topic and say I'm happy to move on from the outset and discuss the topic at hand.

    When I first read the topic, I thought "What are you comparing those two for?" but then I realised that they're actually an excellent pair to contrast. Both highly prolific, instantly recognisable, skilled at multiple genres, and popular with the fans.

    Iwasaki was initially hard work for me - as readers may know I have a certain bias towards traditional symphonic film scoring and I fully admit I sometimes have a problem pushing those feelings aside when appreciating new music. My first Iwasaki was Read Or Die (TV series) and I absolutely loved it.

    What struck me first of all was his sense of melody - one of the keenest of any composer I've ever heard - moreso than Kanno in my opinion. His hook is always a theme - the fascination with his music is the way he translates those themes to fit his circumstance. Kanno tends to favour more self-contained, classically oriented scoring - but Iwasaki ties together scores with utterly individual, personal lyricism. To quote Read Or Die as an example - the main theme turns up probably thirty times throughout the score; it's a love theme, it's an action theme, it's a wistful nostalgic theme, it's a modern electronica spy theme, it's a longuey big band theme, etc.

    I think people underestimate his thematic ability because they get caught up with his unique style of blending electronica and orchestra; it's easy to miss out on simple things like melodies when you have all that going on around you.

    That's why I love scores like Binchou-Tan - take the first track - Nostalgia - as an example. I play this, and even on the most miserable rainy day, I'm suddenly transported into the most wonderful warm, lazy summer afternoon - I can feel heat, the stillness of the air, the feeling of calm and wonder at nature. The track is just one long melody - and a melody that you instantly indentify as coming from Iwasaki's pen; sumptuously arranged for orchestra and a little-used electronic instrument called the Ondes Martinot. It's gorgeous.

    By contrast, I find Kanno technically superb, but there's nothing in her work (perhaps with the exception of the Escaflowne TV series finale / end credits theme) that reaches me on the same basic emotional level as Iwasaki's themes frequently do.

    Sorry - this is probably making no sense... Apologies all round.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dannyfrench View Post
    Nice topic! I've spoken enough about Kanno's faults so I'm not going to bring them up here at all - only to acknowledge my views on the topic and say I'm happy to move on from the outset and discuss the topic at hand.

    When I first read the topic, I thought "What are you comparing those two for?" but then I realised that they're actually an excellent pair to contrast. Both highly prolific, instantly recognisable, skilled at multiple genres, and popular with the fans.

    Iwasaki was initially hard work for me - as readers may know I have a certain bias towards traditional symphonic film scoring and I fully admit I sometimes have a problem pushing those feelings aside when appreciating new music. My first Iwasaki was Read Or Die (TV series) and I absolutely loved it.

    What struck me first of all was his sense of melody - one of the keenest of any composer I've ever heard - moreso than Kanno in my opinion. His hook is always a theme - the fascination with his music is the way he translates those themes to fit his circumstance. Kanno tends to favour more self-contained, classically oriented scoring - but Iwasaki ties together scores with utterly individual, personal lyricism. To quote Read Or Die as an example - the main theme turns up probably thirty times throughout the score; it's a love theme, it's an action theme, it's a wistful nostalgic theme, it's a modern electronica spy theme, it's a longuey big band theme, etc.

    I think people underestimate his thematic ability because they get caught up with his unique style of blending electronica and orchestra; it's easy to miss out on simple things like melodies when you have all that going on around you.

    That's why I love scores like Binchou-Tan - take the first track - Nostalgia - as an example. I play this, and even on the most miserable rainy day, I'm suddenly transported into the most wonderful warm, lazy summer afternoon - I can feel heat, the stillness of the air, the feeling of calm and wonder at nature. The track is just one long melody - and a melody that you instantly indentify as coming from Iwasaki's pen; sumptuously arranged for orchestra and a little-used electronic instrument called the Ondes Martinot. It's gorgeous.

    By contrast, I find Kanno technically superb, but there's nothing in her work (perhaps with the exception of the Escaflowne TV series finale / end credits theme) that reaches me on the same basic emotional level as Iwasaki's themes frequently do.

    Sorry - this is probably making no sense... Apologies all round.
    I was hoping you'd show up.

    I see what you mean about the way he can work with the same theme in so many different ways. I get a little bored when it gets too prevalent, but he's nowhere near as bad as Uematsu at that regard(see FF 8 and 9).

    I wouldn't say Kanno doesn't do the same, though unlike Iwasaki, she tends to slightly tweak her themes rather than use them for vastly different circumstances, since as I stated, her work is more contained unto itself and much less "soundtrack-y" than Iwasaki. I wouldn't say it's a particularly good or bad thing to do or not do, but it's an undeniable sign of Iwasaki's talent.

    I won't bother on mentioning just how many of Kanno's songs touch me on a deeply emotional level. Can't make you feel what I feel and such. Though I don't really wanna bring up the "P" word here, I'll simply suggest you take a good listen to Soul Eater when you have the chance. "Schlachtschiff" in particular. Zimmer would be proud. Or frothing at the mouth.

    "Ondos Martinot?" Is that the instrument that sounds a bit like a flute or a very breathy, wavering whistle? Kanno's NHK: China OST used it to great effect if so.

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    I don't think that's what you're talking about...An ondes martenot is an early synthesizer used in pieces like Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony. It has a variety of sounds, but most of the time sounds like like a theremin--i.e., not really "breathy." [Hidden link. Register to see links.] Recently, it's been used in several Radiohead recordings, too.

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    Quote Originally Posted by arthurgolden View Post
    I don't think that's what you're talking about...An ondes martenot is an early synthesizer used in pieces like Messiaen's Turangalila Symphony. It has a variety of sounds, but most of the time sounds like like a theremin--i.e., not really "breathy." [Hidden link. Register to see links.] Recently, it's been used in several Radiohead recordings, too.
    No, it turns out to be what I was thinking of. Maybe I was just describing it wrong. In Iwasaki's "Nostalgia" and "Yuugure", it sounds like an airy, lilting whistle(Nostalgia always gave me the mental image of lying on a cushiony linen bed, soft as cloud, in a still, empty house, curtains fluttering on a soothing breeze as the warm autumn sun trickled in. The song makes me sleepy, in a good way. ), while in "Chiisana Shiawase" and in Kanno tracks like "Mizu Shigoto", it has a more Asian feel.

    I always thought it was some kind of flute or string instrument. Go fig.

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    Ah. My apologies. It'd help if I had listened to the piece first! I've always heard that it's a surprisingly diverse instrument, but I've yet to see a whole lot of range on the YouTube videos I've checked out. I'll have to listen to these ones you've mentioned.

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    Oh, now this is an interesting thread, even if it is from a decade ago. But there's something I want to include that no one has mentioned that goes beyond the music being produced by these two composers.

    The biggest difference between the two is MONEY. Kanno's ridiculous budgets allow her to fly to five different countries just to record a single soundtrack for a 26-episode anime series, working with world-class ensembles and professional international singers and recording studios and stages at a whim. Nobody IN THE WORLD has ever put in as much money for a single media soundtrack as Kanno and her team. Even if she lived in Hollywood, Kanno would still be the envy of every composer who ever worked there due to her ungodly amount of resources. Iwasaki, who usually records in the tin can of Sound Inn and doesn't even have his own studio outside of home, can not compare with many of the established composers in Japan such as Naoki Sato or Michiru Oshima when talking from a production standpoint, never mind a money monster like Kanno. That he is able to accomplish as much as he has with such quality despite limited resources speaks volumes about how skilled he is as not only a composer, but a producer.

    I would love to hear everyone else's opinions though. As composers, I have my biases between the two, so I'll refrain from bringing them up.

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    I'd like to replace "Yoko Kanno" with "Yugo Kanno" here...

    He can do just as well.. Psycho Pass and Ajin's OSTS proved that much to me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Zipper View Post
    Kanno's ridiculous budgets allow her to fly to five different countries just to record a single soundtrack for a 26-episode anime series, working with world-class ensembles and professional international singers and recording studios and stages at a whim.
    She didn't fly to five different countries just to record a single soundtrack. She was responsible for two anime series at the time; Wolf's Rain and SAC. Both anime soundtracks shared singers, studios, musicians, and even "inspirations". (craig armstrong that is)

    actually, during that time period, there's also Maaya Sakamoto's solo work (The Garden of Everything). Steve Conte mentioned in his interview that he did Heaven's not enough for SAC but it appears on Wolf's Rain.

    Dont think its budget. It is expensive to do orchestra in japan as well. Kanno herself said she recorded most her stuff in foreign countries because she likes to meet people. She said that her male colleagues must be too shy to do that frequently.

    Even theres a budget difference, it has little to do with quality. Kanno's lowest budget anime series is ARJUNA. Most expensive one being Macross F, maybe 50 times more expensive. I prefer ARJUNA's music.

    And i love Iwasaki.

    BTW, even Ms Kanno said in interviews she didnt listen to CDs but she also mentioned that series producer or director provided "temp music"/blueprints/guidelines, stuff like hundreds of jazz recording from Watanabe, bjork-like opening theme for SAC.
    Last edited by vigilgt; 10-09-2018 at 03:03 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by vigilgt View Post
    She didn't fly to five different countries just to record a single soundtrack. She was responsible for two anime series at the time; Wolf's Rain and SAC. Both anime soundtracks shared singers, studios, musicians, and even "inspirations". (craig armstrong that is)

    actually, during that time period, there's also Maaya Sakamoto's solo work (The Garden of Everything). Steve Conte mentioned in his interview that he did Heaven's not enough for SAC but it appears on Wolf's Rain.

    Dont think its budget. It is expensive to do orchestra in japan as well. Kanno herself said she recorded most her stuff in foreign countries because she likes to meet people. She said that her male colleagues must be too shy to do that frequently.
    So? It's a common practice for most composers to record various scores for different series using the same ensemble if they're shows they're working on at the same time. Iwasaki recorded Katanagatari and Black Butler II at the same time using the same smaller ensembles. The thing is, Yoko Kanno had sessions across 5 DIFFERENT COUNTRIES for a meager two shows. Going to record in Warsaw or London for two series at the same time is already quite a luxury that few like Masamichi Amano or Shiro Sagisu get to experience. But then going to 3 other countries, and also having a decently sized ensemble in Japan to record with as well? That is absolutely bananas. Macross Frontier alone, according to its producers, had a budget roughly ten times that of the average anime score. And it isn't even Kanno's most expensive or luxurious score! To deny that budget makes no difference in the quality of the orchestra is just being ignorant.

    Even Arjuna, supposedly the least extravagant Kanno ensemble, had 3 full string ensembles, one of which straight from London. A typical Japanese string ensemble is around 20 players. An international one is usually around 40. Doing the math, Arjuna's string ensemble consisted of 80 people. And that is the cheapest Kanno has ever had? 80 strings? 40 from London? CHEAP? Don't make me laugh.

    It's true, budget doesn't determine the quality of the music. Some of the most famous film soundtracks ever weren't made with high budgets (Psycho, Chinatown, The Good Bad and Ugly, etc). But you see, those are a dime a dozen. Most musicians, especially those trained as classical composers, need a decent budget where they could at least scrape together a 40-piece orchestra. That alone is considered a luxury in Japan. Listen to older Iwasaki scores, and you will notice how often he has to resort to using fake/synth brass, because he did not have the budget for the real thing. How many times has Kanno had to use fake brass or strings or woodwinds? Even when Kanno records domestically in Japan, her ensembles are absurdly huge. Naotora, in its fourth soundtrack alone, had a brass ensemble of 12 horns, 9 trumpets, 5 trombones, and a tuba. That's 27 performers for brass alone. A traditional orchestra of 60 players, which is almost impossible to get regularly in Japan unless you're Joe Hisaishi, usually only relegates 12 brass players at most. And yet here is Kanno, having an ensemble over twice that amount. For a single disc on a domestic performance. And yet Iwasaki and plenty of others even today had no choice but to use fake brass.

    You see, when you have a huge ensemble, it's much much easier to consistently write grandiose orchestral music in the vein of John Williams and Sergei Prokofiev, both of whom make up the back bone of Kanno's orchestral style. And not only that, Kanno has not just a crapload of musicians all the time, but a crapload of recording engineers too, who make even her knockoff pieces sound better than the originals. Go listen to Goldenthal's "Arrow of the Gods" and then compare it to the second half of Kanno's "X-Top" from Turn A which is basically her version of it, and pay attention to the recording quality. Kanno's absolutely destroys Goldenthal's in clarity (not to mention that weird flub in the middle of Goldenthal's piece where it sounds like one of the microphones just died on part of the strings). That's right, Kanno's budgets and engineers make her music sound better than goddamn Hollywood.

    I'm not going to get into how Kanno outright steals from others, because that's a never-ending conversation for another thread. But honestly, what people are doing in this thread is asking if a top-tier F1 driver in a unmodified Honda Civic can beat another driving a Ferrari in a race. I think Iwasaki's technical skill and creativity as a composer are top-grade. But he often has far less opportunities to express it like Kanno due to lack of resources. Even outside of Iwasaki, you get composers like Hayato Matsuo and Yoshihisa Hirano who are also absolute gods with Warsaw but only get it once a decade, and then work with horrendous nonexistent budgets for the rest of their time to churn out scores that are 90% synth, e-guitar, and percussion. As I said before, that Iwasaki has been able to do so well given what he's had, ought to make him a legend on his own.

    Also, Kanno's interviews are laughable bullshit where she explains her ridiculous orchestration talent that came out of the blue with zero classical training as being a byproduct of her just messing around and improvising on piano. They should be taken with a grain of salt.
    Last edited by The Zipper; 10-10-2018 at 11:48 PM.

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