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  • Writer's pictureThom Holmes

The Electronic Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto


My blog for the Bob Moog Foundation.



Ryuchi Sakamoto is probably well-known to most of our listeners. He was a founding member of Yellow Magic Orchestra back in the seventies and crafted a multidisciplinary career around producing solo music, ensemble pieces, classical, experimental, and a remarkable history of live performances and collaborations. He is credited with:

44 soundtracks

25 solo albums

14 live solo albums

18 album collaborations plus 9 live collaborations


Plus, countless other projects, collaborations, singles and more than 30 releases with Yellow Magic Orchestra. In this episode, I want to feature many of his works of electronic music, much of which may be unfamiliar. In a way, I want to acknowledge this other life in music that Sakamoto has sustained, in contrast to the pop music, jazzy tunes, and albums made even more impressive by guest appearances by everyone from David Sylvian to Bill Laswell to Iggy Pop and Bootsy Collins.


Sakamoto recently turned 70 years of age. He has been hindered by health issues during the past ten years, cancers that go into remission and then sprout up again somewhere else in his body. He is currently undergoing treatment but has had time to continue working on music. In January of 2023, he released an album called 12. In the notes for the album, Sakamoto wrote this: “I had no intention of composing something. I just wanted to be showered in sound. I had a feeling it would have a small healing effect on my damaged body and soul. Sakamoto continues, from now on, until my body gives out, I'll probably continue to keep this kind of diary.”


There was a story about him on NPR but even they were not able to interview him at this time. Instead, that short profile features several composers who have known and worked with Sakamoto and they discuss his influence. One such artist is Carsten Nicolai who is also known as Alva Noto, a Berlin-based sound artist. Nicolai met Sakamoto while touring Japan and the two established a collaboration by Internet in which Sakamoto would provide material for Nicolai to treat, manipulate and process. They’ve been collaborating ever since by exchanging music in this way, collaborating live, or jointly engaged in soundtracks such as The Revenant. The work that Sakamoto does with Nicolai is on the outer reaches of experiment—sparsely populated sound environments with acoustic and electronic instruments.


Earlier in his career, around the time of Yellow Magic Orchestra, I find that Sakamoto’s electronic works displayed a compelling density of computer rhythms, interferences and contrasts. The evolution of his sound from the pop-heavy textures of jazz, rock, and soundtrack music to his parallel experiments in less popular, and much less heard, electronic sketches and experiments is truly fascinating.


This podcast will focus on examples of Sakamoto’s electronic pieces that span the timeframe from 1978 to the present.


It is interesting to me that when Sakamoto decides on a musical medium and style to portray his innermost feelings, such as his reaction to 9-11 and his ongoing health challenges, he often turns to electronic music. The unique character of his sound and the simplicity of his presentation seems to connect directly to the listener. No melodrama, no hidden messages, no secret meanings. In his hands, Sakamoto’s electronic music becomes his form of personal expression.


On his website, called SiteSakamoto, Sakamoto has given us the following message: “From now on, I will be living alongside cancer. But, I am hoping to make music for a little while longer.” And this from 2019, “What I want to make now is music freed from the constraints of time.”


Episode 90

The Electronic Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto


Playlist

1. Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto, “Second Dream” from The Revenant (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2015 new regency Music). Composed, performed, and produced by Alva Noto, Ryuichi Sakamoto. 1:13


2. Ryuichi Sakamoto and Taylor Deupree, “Jyaku” from Disappearance (2013 Commons). Piano, Electronics, Ryuichi Sakamoto; Synthesizer, Tapes, Loops, Acoustic Guitar, Mixer, Taylor Deupree. 9:59


3. Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Avaol” from Insen (2005 Raster-Noton). German release featuring Noto and Ryuichi electronic treatments to musical phrases Sakamoto played on the piano. Music by Alva Noto, Ryuichi Sakamoto; Piano, Ryuichi Sakamoto; Additional Sound, Carsten Nicolai (Alva Noto). 2:50


4. Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto, “ax Mr. L.” from revep (2006 Raster-Noton). German release. Noto and Ryuichi electronic treatments to musical phrases Sakamoto played on the piano. Music by Alva Noto, Ryuichi Sakamoto; Piano, Ryuichi Sakamoto; Additional Sound, Carsten Nicolai (Alva Noto). 4:20


5. Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto, “mur” from revep (2006 Raster-Noton). German release. Noto and Ryuichi electronic treatments to musical phrases Sakamoto played on the piano. Music by Alva Noto, Ryuichi Sakamoto; Piano, Ryuichi Sakamoto; Additional Sound, Carsten Nicolai (Alva Noto). 8:14


6. Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Solari” from Async (2017 Commons). Japanese release. Music and production by Ryuichi Sakamoto. 3:52


7. Fennesz and Sakamoto “0322” from Flumina (2011 Touch). Guitar, Laptop, Christian Fennesz; Piano, Laptop, Ryuichi Sakamoto. Recorded at Amann Studios, Vienna and KA+B Studios, NY and Japan. 5:35


8. Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Sunset” from Comica (2002 WEA Japan). Composed, performed and mixed by Ryuichi Sakamoto. This album is listed as one of his special projects consisting of diary sketches in sound. Described as “an ambient oriented compilation of Sakamoto's music journal from 2001 after eye-witnessing 9/11 from his home NYC.” This one of his most moving essays in sound, consisting of his piano sketches treated with electronics. The progression of the album is presented in the order of the day and concludes with “Radical Fashion.” 8:47


9. Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Night” from Comica (2002 WEA Japan). Composed, performed and mixed by Ryuichi Sakamoto. 7:37


10.Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Radical Fashion” from Comica (2002 WEA Japan). Composed, performed and mixed by Ryuichi Sakamoto. 5:07


11.Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Zure” from Async (2017 Commons). Japanese release. Music and production by Ryuichi Sakamoto. 5:12


12.Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Out of Horse” from The Revenant (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2015 new regency Music). Composed, performed, and produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto; Ondes Martenot, Motoko Oya. 3:57


13.Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Borom Gal” from Heartbeat (1991 Virgin). Concertmaster, strings, David Nadien; Lead vocal and words, Youssou N'Dour; Music by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Youssou N'Dour; Programmed, Performed, and mixed by Ryuichi Sakamoto. This is one of those star-studded albums that had pop appeal. Still, the electronics and digital editing of this track, especially in 1991, make this track stand out. 3:57


14.Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Fullmoon” from Async (2017 Commons). Japanese release. Music and production by Ryuichi Sakamoto. 5:13


15.Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Nuages” from Heartbeat (1991 Virgin). Lead Vocals, Houria Aichi; traditional song; Programmed, Performed, and mixed by Ryuichi Sakamoto. This little work from Heartbeat always reminded me of something you would have expected to hear in the movie Blade Runner. 2:15


16.Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Island of Woods” from Thousand Knives Of (1978 Better Days). On this album, not necessarily this track, Sakamoto plays Ryuichi Sakamoto plays: Moog III-C w. Roland MC-8 Micro Composer; Polymoog; Minimoog; Micro Moog; Oberheim Eight Voice Polyphonic w. Digital Programmer; ARP Odyssey; KORG PS-3100 Polyphonic; KORG VC-10 Vocoder; KORG SQ-10 Analog Sequencer; Syn-Drums; Acoustic Piano;Marimba. Recorded from 4/10 to 7/27, 1978 at Columbia Studio No.1, No.2, & No.4, Tokyo. 9:51


17.Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Stakra” from Async (2017 Commons). Japanese release. Music and production by Ryuichi Sakamoto. 3:41


18.Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Tokyo Story” from Sweet Revenge (1994 Elektra). Produced, composed, keyboards, computer programming, Ryuichi Sakamoto. Recorded at 11-K Studios, NYC, Clindton Studios, NYC, Paradise Studios, Tokyo, Unique Studios, NYC, Sedic Studios, Tokyo, Metropolis Studios, London, Westside Studios, London, Skyline Studios, NYC, Right Track Studios, NYC. 1:17


19.Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Plankton” (excerpt) from Plankton (Music For An Installation By Christian Sardet And Shiro Takatani) (2016 Milan). French recording of an installation piece by Sakamoto. The entire work is nearly an hour long; this is an excerpt from the beginning of that work. Mixed, produced, composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto; Producer, Lucille Reyboz, Yusuke Nakanishi; Sound programming, Satoshi Hama; Video programming, Ken Furudate, Ryo Shiraki. 7:47


20.Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Undercooled (Alva Noto Remodel)” from Bricolages (2006 Warner Music Japan). Rap, MC Sniper; Remix, Alva Noto. This is an interesting album of Sakamoto remixes with a rap track reimagined by the mixing of Carsten Nicolai. 4:44


21.Ryuichi Sakamoto, “A Wongga Dance Song” from Esperanto (1985 School). Composed, Arranged, and performed by, Ryuichi Sakamoto. This is one of Sakamoto’s early explorations of the power of the digital sampler and editing. Music created for a dance performance by the company Molissa Fenley and Dancers. 10:06


22.Ryuichi Sakamoto, “20220214” from 12 (2023 Commons). Composed, produced, performed by Ryuichi Sakamoto. In answer to a question about how these recordings were done, Sakamoto replied: “They were all recorded in the small studio that was in my temporary abode in Tokyo. Depending on the piece, two or four mics were used to record the piano.” More answers to questions by Sakamoto are found here. 9:10


23.Ryuichi Sakamoto, “20220304” from 12 (2023 Commons). Composed, produced, performedby Ryuichi Sakamoto using sounding objects such as stones, chimes, and fragments of pottery. 1:09


24.Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Life, Life” from Async (2017 Commons). Japanese release. Music and production by Ryuichi Sakamoto. Sho, Ko Ishikawa; Vocals, Luca; Spoken Word, David Sylvian; Words by, Arseny Tarkovsky. 4:24


Opening background tracks:

  • Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Before Long” from Neo Geo (1987 CBS). Piano, Ryuichi Sakamoto. 1:20

  • Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Ulu Watu” from Esperanto (1985 School). Composed, Arranged, and performed by, Ryuichi Sakamoto. Music created for a dance performance by the company Molissa Fenley and Dancers. 3:57

Opening and closing sequences voiced by Anne Benkovitz.

Additional opening, closing, and other incidental music by Thom Holmes.

See my companion blog that I write for the Bob Moog Foundation:

The recent story about Ryuichi Sakamoto on NPR can be found here.

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1 commentaire


icmackay
27 mai 2023

Hi Thom - do you happen to know what keyboards Sakamoto used for 12?

J'aime
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Electronic and Experimental Music

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