Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...


Ryuichi Sakamoto: Naturally Born to Seek Diversity

Nenad Georgievski By

Sign in to view read count
Japanese composer and New York resident Ryuichi Sakamoto has had a career unlike anyone else. For more than 40 restless years, since the days of Yellow Magic Orchestra, he has been a musician that many other musicians have followed closely and probably no other popular musician has had a broader or a deeper catalog. To experience his music is to experience the world. He is an "outernational" and that has informed his borderless vision of music.

Diversity and curiosity are the traits always associated with his work and character. He first began learning composition at the age of 10 when he took private classes with professor Matsumoto who worked at the Tokyo University of Fine Arts. During the '60s he became interested in various kinds of music such as the music of the Beatles and composer John Cage. His interests also included poetry, radical theatre, and modern art. After he finished high school he returned to Tokyo University to take his degree in composition and around that time he drew inspiration from French Impressionists and Minimalism. In the '70s he was interested in Stockhausen and gained a Master's degree in composition, although he took classes of Electronic/Computer music and Ethnic/Musicology. Since then, his career branched out to various solo records, numerous collaborations, award-winning film scores and multimedia performances. The sheer quality and diversity of his output have put him in a league of his own. Being blessed with the ability to absorb the best of what the world has to offer along with his innate good taste have helped him to fuse all of that into his own musical Esperanto.

One of the areas where he excelled over the years is the music for films. In 1983, the soundtrack album for the Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence film was released where Sakamoto not only wrote, arranged and performed the whole score but he also acted in the film where he shared the bill with singer David Bowie. The film's title song "Forbidden Colors" was written with singer David Sylvian and was among the first of many collaborations on each other's albums over the years that yielded memorable music and songs. Another film that followed saw him both acting and writing the music for and that was Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Emperor. It was this soundtrack that brought him global recognition. Along with singer David Byrne and Cong Su who also worked on this soundtrack separately it was awarded with an Oscar. For many, including me, this epic film was also the first introduction to Sakamoto's music and Chinese culture and history. Very shortly after seeing the film in the late '80s (and maybe 6 months after the clashes at Tiananmen Square in Beijing as I recall) as a teenager I traveled to China with this music and moving pictures echoing in my mind. This was the first soundtrack out of three for films that Bertolucci directed at the time: Sheltering Sky, and Little Buddha being the other two. All of that has led to work with other acclaimed film directors over the years such as Brian De Palma, Oliver Stone, Pedro Almodovar, to name but a few, and recently with Alejandro González Iñárritu on the acclaimed The Revenant.

The Revenant movie denotes many things for Sakamoto. Firstly, it is the first work he did after he recovered from a battle with cancer and secondly it was another achievement of his collaborative work with German electronic artist Carsten Nicolai aka Alva Noto. This collaboration with Nicolai is one of the long-standing ones in his career and it has yielded several intriguing albums with the latest being Glass where they turned architect Philip Johnson's Glass House into an instrument and it became part of the performance.

Shortly after this album was released, Sakamoto had a performance along with multimedia artist Shiro Takatani in Paris titled as Display and via Skype we had a conversation about various moments of his career and the creative processes that have produced some of his releases and have inspired his diversity.

All About Jazz: Over the years, your recorded output saw an incredible range of diversity and cross-cultural activities. What inspired your curiosity for various kinds of music that come from different geographies and genres?

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Since I was very young I was listening to all kinds of music. I took piano lessons as a kid but I didn't listen to only classical music. I was listening to pop and rock music, and when I was in high school I began listening to jazz. I don't know why as I can't pinpoint the reason exactly why I turned this way. I was born like this and this is my nature. I enjoy all kinds of music and not only music but other branches like art. For me, it's impossible to live in one category. This is impossible. I love avant-garde art but I also like classical art. I'm talking about diversity more like a general matter. I was born like that and I remember when I was very little I wanted to be born in Hong Kong and not in Japan. As a child, I thought if I was born in Hong Kong I might speak both English and Chinese. Being only a Japanese speaker was not fair to me. But that was the thinking of a little kid that wanted to break through barriers. I wanted to be a person who could live anywhere on this planet. Now we are in Europe, tomorrow maybe I'll be in the Antarctic. I wanted to be a person who could move like that. Naturally, to me, there are no borders between countries or states. Probably the language sometimes serves as a border.



comments powered by Disqus


Start your shopping here and you'll support All About Jazz in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles

Casey Benjamin: EclectRic Expressionism
By Barbara Ina Frenz
March 6, 2019
Cooper-Moore: Catharsis and Creation in Community Spirit
By Jakob Baekgaard
February 26, 2019
Susanna Risberg: Bold As Love
By Ian Patterson
February 25, 2019
David Crosby: A Revitalized Creativity
By Mike Jacobs
January 22, 2019
Chuck Deardorf: Hanging On To The Groove
By Paul Rauch
January 19, 2019
Satoko Fujii: The Kanreki Project
By Franz A. Matzner
January 9, 2019