Ancient voices

Before there was Akira Symphonic Suite, there was Rinne Kookyogaku.

Yamashiro Shooji’s original composition caught the attention of director Otomo Katsuhiro, who then commissioned Yamashiro to write a score for Otomo’s landmark film, Akira.

The resulting soundtrack was a thrilling and oftentimes frightening blend of traditional Asian music forms — Hindu chants, Indonesian orchestras, Japanese noh theater — with modern instruments.

And the soundtrack recording of Akira is perhaps the only one available in the US of Yamashiro and his group, Geinoh Yamashirogumi.

A number of ideas in the Akira Symphonic Suite finds its origin in 1986’s Rinne Kookyogaku, or Ecophony Rinne.

The first movement, “Suisei”, is marked by a slow, vocal melody, interrupted by interludes of ethereal electronic music. It starts in the same manner as the Akira Symphonic Suite — a low vocal rumbling punctuated with a thundering taiko drum.

The second movement, “Sange”, layers chants of differing rhythm, rising from a deep swell of pitch and rhythm.

“Meisou” features the Indonesian gamelan so central to Yamashirogumi’s other-worldly sound, with a wordless vocal canon adding another haunting dimension.

Finally, “Tenshou” ends Rinne Kookyogaku with the Jegog, a bamboo version of the gamelan. Voices attempt to disrupt the rhythmic flow of the orchestra, but ultimately, it’s the eruption of an organ that interrupts the movement.

At first, it might seem uningenuine hearing some of the same kinds of motifs used in the Akira Symphonic Suite in Rinne Kookyogaku. Yamashiro even reused some of the synthesizer samples from Rinne in Akira.

But the character of the pieces couldn’t be any more different.

Based on the cycle of life, death and rebirth, Kookyogaku Rinne comes across as more meditative and less grotesque. It’s every bit as thrilling as the Akira Symphonic Suite and inhabits a sonic atmosphere all its own.

Geinoh Yamashirogumi gives an incredible performance, especially since Yamashiro recruits mostly non-trained singers for his ensemble. That lack of training gives a subtle rawness to Yamashiro’s composition.

It’s easy to see why Otomo chose Yamashiro to write the score for Akira. Kookyogaku Rinne is a truly cosmopolitan work, drawing from ancient forms to create something beyond modern.