Yuki Kajiura

Oct 1, 2003 12:00 PM, By Bryan Reesman


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Captivated by music from around the globe, Japanese composer Yuki Kajiura absorbs it all and unleashes it in her work for movies, musicals, video games and, especially, anime, that ever-growing subgenre that is giving American animation increased competition. Kajiura is a perfect fit for the anime realm, for it is a genre that embraces musical eclecticism.

The composer's two most recent anime series are Noir and .hack//SIGN, the latter of which has aired on Cartoon Network and both of which are available on DVD from ADV and Bandai, respectively. Noir is a tale of intrigue revolving around a French assassin-for-hire who is linked to an amnesiac teen who somehow knows about her past and who has deadly killing skills! .hack//SIGN is a fantasy tale about a virtual computer game in which its enigmatic lead character has forgotten his identity and is unable to log out like the other players.

The world of anime composing is vastly different from feature films. Unlike those who score for live action, Kajiura does not watch a finished or even a rough cut of the series she writes for. Instead, she receives character sketches and some information about the story, but that is all. “I don't know how the story goes. I don't know if she will live or die,” she reveals. “When I look at the pictures, I don't know what she's going to do. When I write lyrics, I don't know what [the characters] will do, so what shall I write? I'm always confused.”

Because she does not know what scenes she is scoring for, Kajiura sometimes ends up being surprised at the choices made by music directors. Koichi Mashimo directed both series, and the musical choices were often unorthodox. For example, the main theme to Noir incorporates dance beats and operatic female vocal; fast-paced music was often placed in slower-moving, more suspenseful sequences, generating an odd contrast.

“I was surprised, too,” admits Kajiura. “Mr. Mashimo is a very interesting person. In Noir, he [acted] as music director and chose the music. Sometimes, I was surprised at the music he was using [in certain spots]. It was very fun. Mr. Mashimo uses music for a very long time throughout the scene. I sometimes write very long pieces for BGM [background music] as a soundtrack. Sometimes, I write six- or seven-minute songs, [but] the music is usually not meant to be used for that long.” For Noir alone, which lasted only one season, as many anime series do, Kajiura composed between 60 and 70 cues of varying lengths.

Some of the Noir pieces highlight am accordion to give the score an appropriate French flavor. The ethereal opening to .hack//SIGN mixes Indian vocals with Irish-sounding violins. “I have no intention of making this music on purpose,” Kajiura confesses. “It just comes naturally. I love a lot of different music. I love pop music, I love world music, I love opera, so I want to do many things, and I don't hesitate to do them. I just listen. I like Finnish music, and I love Romanian music. I listened to them [in the past] and thought that, someday, I would do [something with them]. I feel that anime fans are very flexible listeners. Anime fans like the classics, they are into pop, they love world music.”

Kajiura's intuitive approach to style stems from a childhood engulfed by music. Her father loved opera, and when she was young, he would make her play piano pieces for him. “At first, I disliked playing piano for him,” Kajiura recalls. “I was an only child, so I wanted to go out and play. But he made me play the piano for him; he liked beautiful music, and I gradually came to love it.”

Interestingly enough, she says that she got a late start in the business, quitting the 9-to-5 world when she was 27 to become a professional musician. Given her extensive resume, the 38-year-old composer has made up for lost time. She loves musicals and has written music for five of them. She has also scored movies and video games.

Kajiura uses a G4 Power Mac and records and mixes in Pro Tools. Her main keyboard is an Ensoniq SR-76, her main synth is a Korg Triton and her main sampler is an old Akai 3000. She uses Digital Performer as a sequencer. When playing sampled instruments and editing, she records at home, generally working with anywhere between 30 and 64 tracks, then heads to local studios to record live musicians and singers.

“In making music, I just feel [whether] it's good for live musicians or not,” Kajiura explains. “It's case-by-case. When I can use live musicians, I do, but sometimes a sampled sound is more effective.”

In the case of an accordion in Noir or classical guitar in .hack//SIGN, those were played live. “I don't think the feeling of an accordion can be done by a sampler,” she says. “Classical guitar cannot be played by samplers, I believe, so whenever [I need them], I call musicians to come and play. In the case of strings, sometimes I use sampled sounds when I feel the sampled sounds are good for what I'm using. Mainly, I want to use real strings! The violins are always real.”

The bulk of her CD material comes in the form of anime. In Japan, three soundtracks (one of them vocal-oriented) were released for Noir and four were released for .hack//SIGN. Anime soundtracks are a big business there. Additionally, her work in the pop duo See Saw, who perform the song “Indio” in Noir, a tune from her teenage years, is available on disc, as well, including the recent release, Dream Field. Kajiura recently released a solo album through Pioneer called Fiction, which includes three vocal songs apiece from Noir and .hack//SIGN sung in English.

No matter what she does, Kajiura throws herself into the mix, so to speak, to create fresh sounds. And the medium of anime allows her to stretch her wings as she has more musical leeway in what she composes. In working on Noir and .hack//SIGN, she felt no pressure to conform to the director's vision. “He just says, ‘Do what you want to do,’” explains Kajiura. “That's Mr. Mashimo's way. He always says that, so I do what I want! I enjoyed this work very much. Noir and Dothack were so fun for me. I didn't recognize them as soundtracks, I simply made music.”

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