—Note: Any songs I refer to in my posts will be available to listen to via http://www.grooveshark.com. I encourage you to pop over to listen to the songs as they come up for a better understanding of what I am writing about.
My exposure to Japanese musicians began way back in the day, and it all started with a group called The Seatbelts. However, I never realized that this was a specific band for quite some time until a friend pointed their music out to me. During these years my tastes in music were oriented in other directions, but growing none-the-less, and it is easy to imagine that my acquired set of diverse musical tastes may have started with this very band.
Background: The Seatbelts are a confusing band, because they both exist and don’t exist. In addition, they not only do/don’t exist now, but also in the future. For instance, their track Radio Free Mars Talk 3 establishes this confusion (this track was used in Cowboy Bebop) by creating rumor about the band itself. Confused yet? Let me explain it this way: The Seatbelts are a Big Band that have primarily recorded tracks for certain shows, and more precisely, anime. They’ve recorded albums for shows such as Trigun, Wolf’s Rain, and Ghost in the Shell. It is important to note here that these shows are fundamentally different from one another in nature, thus the type of music The Seatbelts developed for each show is unique to that broadcast. It is because of this that the music from one show, my favorite, will be looked at more in depth: Cowboy Bebop.
More Background: For those who are unfamiliar with Cowboy Bebop, you should get familiar to understand the musical diversity that The Seatbelts bring to the show. This dynamic adds such an important element that it should be considered another character, just as crucial as the other main characters. Now Cowboy Bebop, to my knowledge, was the first show in that list I made earlier to air on television, and this is one primary reason to look at this show first. The anime focuses on two Bounty Hunters, Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, in the year 2071 who travel the galaxy attempting to catch that big fish so they no longer have to chase bounties. Each episode throws a new challenge at the crew and by the end of the show the ship (named the Bebop) adds 3 crew-mates (Radical Edward, a super-awesome-goofy hacker girl; Faye Valentine, a mysterious woman with a huge debt; and Ein, a lovable, ultra-intelligent welsh corgi). While each episode in Cowboy Bebop revolves around one central adventure for the Bebop crew the series as a whole slowly leaks details about the characters, filling in the gaps, giving them more depth and uniqueness, and in the last few episodes we learn that each of the members had seemingly been running from a past, and this past finally resolves itself with them.
So, where do The Seatbelts come in? As I said earlier, The Seatbelts, led by Yoko Kanno, contribute all the music for this show, and they do so in such a way that their musical contributions match the episodes to a T. Whether it be an episode about chasing an illegal mushroom dealer, to running from/taking down a psycho with crazy powers, The Seatbelts meld a blend of musical elements from all over the world to create one of the best show soundtracks ever.
To perform this feat the band does a couple of things:
- They use an amazingly diverse set of instruments;
- They have a crazy-ton of people involved;
- They mix instrumental with vocal tracks;
- They seemingly have no central genre;
- They have fun.
Of course, to play all these instruments The Seatbelts have gotta use a ton of people, so points number 1 and 2 are intrinsically related. Primarily based in Japan, their local musicians are comprised of around 30 people, some playing only one instrument, and others playing multiple or the same instrument. This consists of the traditional drums, bass guitar, guitar, and percussion. In addition this core group also uses trumpet, trombone, saxophone, flute, tuba, harmonica, various strings, and synth. If that isn’t a list of dynamic instruments I don’t know what is.
So, if these are the musicians, where does that chick Yoko Konno I mentioned earlier come in? Yoko is the primary sound designer and coordinator for the group. Essentially she writes the music, and they all get together to play it and make it sound just right. Because of this the vision of each song is unified under one person allowing for a more concise listening experience. To understand this it is a good idea to delve into some more songs and how they work, but that will happen in Part 2.