The Alternative Soundtrack to Ghost in the Shell – with Lennon, Cornelius & the sounds of AI

The average cyberpunk fan has probably seen both the original Ghost in the Shell anime and its sequel Innocence; if feeling generous, they may have also checked out the 2002 TV anime, Stand Alone Complex. Music wise, they’d be familiar with the haunting chorals employed by Kenji Kawai in both the original film and Innocence. When Ghost in the Shell passed over onto the small screen, composing duties were handed over to Yoko Kanno, whose soundtrack for Stand Alone Complex was released over 6 whopping volumes, including one for the SAC TV movie, Solid State Society. Unlike the Kawai albums, these releases sound more like compilations as opposed to a body of work with a unified vision, consisting as they do of tracks that jump from styles like techno one minute to piano instrumentals the next. The most curious of the collections has to be the album Be Human, which was actually released as a Yoko Kanno album despite containing short and quirky compositions only from SAC, along with the spin-off series of shorts entitled Tachikomatic Days. The album was eventually re-released as part of a SAC CD box set, along with a USB stick modeled after the cute little Tachikoma tanks that pop up over all iterations of Ghost in the Shell. The sounds on this quasi-7th volume complement the Be Human release, as it too is full of the charmingly strange sounds that the AI tanks are known for.

In a departure from the norm, the next musician to take on Ghost soundtracking duties wasn’t a composer, but a musician known more for their work in the indie realm. Enter Cornelius, real name Keigo Oyamada. Best known for his hazy and sparse take on the sunny electronic genre known in 90s Japan as ‘Shibuya-kei’, Cornelius is adept at taking just a few guitar lines of his own making to create perfect loop-driven displays of hypnagogic pop. As such, many fans expected his soundtrack to the feature length animation series Ghost in the Shell: Arise to be more similar to the work of Kawai as opposed to Kanno. Instead, it’s rather like a mixture of both, with a more esoteric attitude to melody and rhythm applied to a SAC-esque mixture of rock and electronica.

This approach is best seen on his instrumentals, the majority of which make up the first volume of his music for the five Arise movies, as was released on CD in 2013.  Vocals are used sparingly, at times cut up as in the main theme, embedded below, in a way that’s reminiscent of unique Japanese percussion trio Asa-Chang and Junray.

Other highlights from the anime soundtrack include the Vangelis-esque Surfin’ on Mind Waves, Ending Title‘s gorgeously sombre lullaby, and the sweet spaciness of Jibun Ga Inai, a collaboration with Salyu x Salyu, which you can listen to below.

Following the release of Arise and its soundtrack came the concluding chapter to the new saga, Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie, which, unlike the preceding pentalogy, received a proper theatrical release much like the original classic did all the way back in 1995. In the same year of 2015, Cornelius released his soundtrack to the movie, Ghost In The Shell: The Movie – GitS Arise Alternative Architecture, a 19 track CD in fancy 3D packaging that also featured tracks for the Ghost in the Shell: AAA TV series (essentially a season-long repackaging of the Arise features).

The movie soundtrack sees more collaboration and vocal work, such as the fantastic Split Spirit by METAFIVE, a long-running supergroup featuring esoteric producer Towa Tei and Yukihiro Takahashi, of legendary electronica group YMO.

The very lit Heart Grenade with Sean Lennon is another example of a well-known name in the tracklisting. Unfortunately, the two collaborations with female artists don’t come anywhere near the quality of the Salyu x Salyu track, and, with the exception of Involution No. 9, none of the instrumentals are as strong as those on the previous CD. This soundtrack feels less like a cohesive statement, and more like one of the Kanno releases for Stand Alone Complex.

That said, the music still sounds like Cornelius, and all of Cornelius’s music is worth a listen. If you’re interested in hearing out more by him, then do check the following recommendations:

Fantasma (1997 album)

Point (2001 album)

96/69 (1995 remix compilation by other Japanese artists)

Beck – Mixed Bizness remix from CM2 (2003 compilation of interpretations by Cornelius)

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Written by Giacomo G L E E
Giacomo is author of Funereal, a novel set in Seoul with cyberpunk themes. Black Mirror meets Black Swan in a look at the unique 'fake funeral' industry of South Korea - for fans of Mitchell, Gibson, Sterling and Murakami.

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