Ryuichi Sakamoto 'async' 2xLP
As one-third of Yellow Magic Orchestra and an Academy Award-winning composer for his work on the soundtrack for The Last Emperor, synth pop innovator Ryuichi Sakamoto is among the most groundbreaking artists to have emerged since the late 70s. A musician’s musician, Ryuichi Sakamoto has created intriguing musical unions with artists such as David Sylvian, Iggy Pop, Tony Williams, Bootsy Collins, Jacques Morelenbaum and many others.
“What kind of “sounds/music” do I want to listen to”?
async is the answer to this question Ryuichi has asked himself for the past several years. This is the album he is the most proud of which synthesizes all of his musical and sound interests. This is a journey through analog synth, the sounds of things and of places, an imaginary soundtrack to an
Andrei Tarkovsky film and many others musical surprises.
When I finished my job as a composer and all there was left to do on my new album was to mix and master, a thought occurred to me:
“I like it too much, and I don’t want to share it with anyone else.”
In other words, I haven’t actually “ finished” my album. Instead, I decided to stop fiddling over details. An artists’ initial broad stroke is always most impactful, and obsessively adding layer upon layer of paint to fill in details often diminishes the painting’s aura. When an aura is lost, it is impossible to get back. So, for this album, I decided to pay very close attention to when to let go of my brush for every single track.
In making async, my first solo album in 8 years, I made the “sounds/music” that I wanted to hear. What kind of “sounds/music” do I want to listen to?
I was preparing to compose an album in 2014 until my illness interrupted me. I discarded all of the sketches that I had made until then and started from scratch. I asked myself what I wanted to listen to, and how I should approach this empty canvas.
Let me try to recreate these sounds in my head using my analog synth as soon as I wake up every morning.
Let me take Bach’s choral and arrange it as if it were in fog—to reveal an austere logic inside of a formless cloud.
Let me collect the sound of things and of places— of ruins, crowds, markets, rain...
Let me try making music whose parts and sounds all have different tempos.
When I was looking for objects to record, I remembered seeing the Baschet Brothers’ sound sculptures at the Osaka Expo in 1970. I found them in a university building in Kyoto, and on a hot summer day, they let me record the sculptures in the sweltering heat amidst echoes of cicadas.
I remembered another sound sculptor—this time an American man named Bertoia. I found a few pieces of his exhibited in a small museum in Manhattan, where they would let me record. These sound sculptures created by Bertoia resonated so beautifully, making me think I needed nothing else for the album.
I spent about four months doing this. However, one day in August, though I would not tell anybody, I decided that the concept of my new album would be ‘a soundtrack for an Andrei Tarkovsky film that does not exist.’ As I thought about the scenes from his 7 films that have been embedded in my memory so deeply, I began assembling sound—of my walk in the woods, raindrops in my garden, scratches of a shamisen, and Arseny Tarkovsky’s poetry read by my good friend David Sylvian.
Then, straying from this initial concept, I rediscovered the heart-wrenching excerpt written and recited by Paul Bowles himself at the end of The Sheltering Sky (directed by Bertolucci who I consider my older brother). Bernardo and his producer Jeremy Thomas graciously allowed me to use this voice. Based on it, I made a sound collage, layering 10 different translations of the excerpt recited by my friends, acquaintances, and fellow artists. I don’t think I will experience such a luxurious passage of time again.
There is no ‘correct’ way to make music like async. So, the answer to my initial impulse is 100% arbitrary. It is similar to climbing a pathless mountain without a map. Once you get over one peak, another one looms above, and there is no end in sight.
As composer, performer, producer, and environmentalist, few artists have as diverse a résumé and fan base as that of Ryuichi Sakamoto. Sakamoto's work has spanned vast musical territories, from pioneering electronic music as a member of Yellow Magic Orchestra to crafting globally inspired rock albums, classical compositions, a stretch of minimal/ambient music collaborations, and over thirty film scores. His work has been recognized with accolades including an Academy Award, two Golden Globes, a Grammy, the Order of the Cavaleiro Admissão from the government of Brazil, and the coveted Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the government of France.
Born in Tokyo, as a child Sakamoto began taking piano lessons at 3. An early admirer of Beethoven, he soon afterwards fell under the spell of English rock—the first record he ever bought was “Tell Me” by the Rolling Stones—and then French Impressionism. “Debussy was my hero,” he says, acknowledging that echoes of his teenage idol can still be heard in his new music. “Asian music heavily influenced Debussy, and Debussy heavily influenced me. So the music goes around the world and comes full circle.”
After completing his studies in music at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Sakamoto embarked on a solo career, composing and performing until his work caught the attention of Haruomi Hosono. With Hosono and Yukihiro Takashi, Sakamoto would form Yellow Magic Orchestra, the genredefining electronic band that would launch him to international stardom alongside solo releases like The Thousand Knives of Ryuichi Sakamoto. YMO’s nine albums were groundbreaking works in the history of cutting-edge electronic music, garnering millions of fans worldwide.
As YMO took the world by storm, Sakamoto moved into the next phase of his career when Nagisa Oshima asked him to star opposite David Bowie in a feature-length film. He agreed to act in Oshima’s project if he could score it as well, and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence’s original soundtrack—most famously the title track—has become as much of a classic as the 1983 film itself. Scores for Bernardo Bertolucci’s Academy Award-winning The Last Emperor, Pedro Almodóvar’s High Heels, Jun Ichikawa’s Tony Takitani, and many more followed.
Tracing channels of culture and history around the globe, Sakamoto has written music inspired by the traditions of Okinawa, Indonesia, and Brazil, while collaborating with Bowie, David Sylvian, dramatist Robert Wilson, author William S Burroughs, the Three Tenors’ Jose Carreras, and His Holiness The Dalai Lama, among many others. He also wrote music for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona and the 400th anniversary of the city of Mannheim, Germany
Since the mid-1990s, Sakamoto has devoted much of his time to environmental and anti-war causes. His 1999 opera LIFE explored 20th century twin dynamics of WAR and Massacre, Science and Technology, ending on the hopeful note of Salvation. 2006 saw Sakamoto launch Stop Rokkasho, a campaign to halt construction on a nuclear processing facility in the north of Japan. In 2007 he founded the eco-initiative more trees, which contributes to carbon offset through active forestation. Since 3/11 in Japan, Sakamoto has been a strong advocate of support and aid for the victims of the earthquake, tsunami, and anthropogenic nuclear meltdown in Fukushima. He launched the charity organizations kizunaworld, LIFE311, and Tohoku Youth Orchestra, and organized an annual festival series, NO NUKES, that has included many well-known Japanese artists as well as Yellow Magic Orchestra and Germany's Kraftwerk. These efforts were aimed at raising awareness of the unnecessary dangers nuclear energy has introduced.
In 2014, Sakamoto was forced to take the first major break of his career upon his diagnosis with throat cancer. Thanks to rest and excellent medical care, friends, family, and fans were able to witness his return in just over a year, and he closed 2015 with 2 film scores: a collaborative score with Alva Noto for Alejandro González Iñárritu's Academy Award-winning The Revenant, and Yoji Yamada’s Nagasaki: Memories Of My Son.
While continuing to score films—a process he finds uniquely challenging and exciting, in contrast to the "very intimate, closed universe" of his solo compositions—his recent work includes collaborations with electronic artists Alva Noto, Christian Fennesz, Christopher Willits, and Taylor Deupree. In contrast with the pop sounds that launched him into the world stage, Sakamoto has increasingly focused on the significance of wordless music; in responding to the consumerism of the 21st century, his politically conscious dynamism has cemented his reputation as a renaissance man