Ryuichi Sakamoto | 5 Tracks That You Probably Never Heard Of
Picking this up from Fela Kuti we turn thefeature towards Japanese producer, composer, writer and actor Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Whilst on a trip in Japan last year we were lucky enough to discover an LP of his called B2 Unit, which the store owner later highlighted was a particularly important and pioneering album of his. It’s not without pro-actively seeking the sort of sounds Sakamoto was known for creating that you become aware of such magnificent artistry, though upon listening to ‘Riot In Lagos’, we were instantly captivated by his portrayal of diverse soundscapes.
Born in Japan in 1952 he began piano training at the age of three; by ten he was composing and studying under a professor at the Tokyo University of the Arts, modestly stating that “all Japanese kids studied piano in those days” and that he was no the exception at all.
After enrolling formally there as a student in 1971, he came into contact with synthesizers for the first time. There to study harmony and counterpoint and ethnomusicology, he was exploring the music faculty when he came across an unmarked door.
“I found three huge electronic synthesizers. I spent hours and hours in that room, playing with sounds. I was moving away from classical music at that time, listening to lots of German electronic rock bands like Kraftwerk.””
Electronic music technology has fascinated him ever since and after earning a B.A. in composition and later a master’s degree in electronic and ethnic music; he and two fellow young, Tokyo session musicians, Haruomi Hosano and Yukihiro Takahashi, formed Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO).
“It’s half way between black magic and white magic, and we’re Asian musicians, so yellow is about right, no? And we liked the idea of an orchestra with only three people. I was the composer and the brains. They called me the professor.”
With a sound that drew heavily from progressive European music of the 1970s—especially Kraftwerk— and a distinct Japanese sonic touch, YMO became wildly popular in Japan but also found an audience abroad. “Computer Game,” a track from their debut album, became a staple in clubs around America and Europe and pivotal in the techno and acid house movements. After selling well over a million copies, the band found themselves on the first of many world tours including an interesting appearance on the infamous live show ‘Soul Train’.
Sakamoto’s contributions to the group’s prolific output demonstrated his interest in such diverse sources as pop, rock, jazz, classical, Jamaican dub, bossa nova, and of course the use of such forward thinking electronic equipment. Pioneers in their use of synthesizers, samplers, sequencers, drum machines, computers, and digital recording technology, they were a band most definitely ahead of their time.
In light of Sakamoto’s work we’ve gone through his record collection and highlighted our top 5 picks, which was no small task.
Riot In Lagos
A seminal track, this was one of many infectious beats that the wizardry of Sakamoto conjured up. This timeless piece offers a direct line through the following 35 years of electronic music, and probably one of the most sophisticated works of electronic music pre the 90’s. In fact, this was made in 1980, which makes it even more remarkable. The programming and percussion – all tight, crisp, digital sounding synths over a funky, breakbeat-like bassline – make you wonder how this was possible before cut n paste editing. A true must have for all fans of avant-garde electronic music.
Bolerish offers a more introspective insight into Sakamoto’s work, a reminder how powerful music can be with the deployment of just absorbing, meditative piano melodies. This is taken off his Playing the Piano album, a record where he creates an entire record out of simplistic, beautifully crafted yet equally sad piano pieces. Bolerish is the final track on the record, a thought-provoking tip of the hat to Bill Evans’ Peace Piece.
His solo career has seen him release a staggering 80 albums, the first of which in 1978 was an experimental electronic fusion LP called Thousand Knives, a favourite pick from this is Plastic Bamboo.
A Wonga Dance Song
Listening to a lot of music produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto during the late 70’s and early 80’s it often consisted of otherworldly experimental instrumental sounds that feel like they are constantly on the edge, you never quite know where you are within it. ‘A Wonga Dance Song’, a prime case in point.
As a producer, composer and writer it is clear that Ryuichi Sakamoto is a deep emotive thinker and discovering some of his piano compositions goes even further to amplify that. His obvious musical talent has seen him collaborate with many international artists, as well as trying his artistry as a film composer with notable pieces of music such as “Forbidden Colours”. His latest score for the amazing film The Reverent gives you an idea of how much of an integral musical figure Ryuichi Sakamoto is.