With more than four decades of experience in the music industry, Ryuichi Sakamoto's mastery of minimalism is unparalleled. The Oscar-winning Japanese composer and pianist is known for his spontaneously unfolding discography—first as a founding member of pioneering electronic group Yellow Magic Orchestra, and later as a solo artist, where a unique sonic personality emerged from each of his 19 studio albums. His latest full-length, async, comes eight years after his last record—though for reasons completely beyond the veteran musician's control.
"Of course, I was not just lazy. I like to be lazy, but I wasn't. There were two big events that happened," the 65-year-old recently told THUMP over the phone from his studio in New York City. He's referring to the 2011 Japanese earthquake, which claimed approximately 16,000 lives (Sakamoto was in Tokyo recording at the time of the natural disaster), and his battle with throat cancer in 2014. Following radiotherapy, he rejected every work offer, with the exception of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's 2016 frontiersman epic The Revenant. That original soundtrack, which he composed collaboratively with German musician Alva Noto, was nominated for a Golden Globe.
Streaming today exclusively on THUMP, async is a fractured series of intimate glimpses into Sakamoto's life. Compared to the composer's previous work, his signature abstraction is met with an explorative use of instruments. While strings are used percussively and sparse piano melodies languidly unfold, it's the spaces between the notes that exert the emotional valence of each composition.
Of the album's 14 deeply personal tracks, Sakamoto is most attached to "fullmoon," which features the voice of late American author Paul Bowles narrating an excerpt from his 1949 book The Sheltering Sky, looped and layered in ten different languages. Elsewhere, "Life, Life" sees the composer taking meditative pauses between tones to imbue the ambience with a deep sense of introspection, as spoken word segments vulnerably declare, "Life is a wonder of wonders, and to wonder/I dedicate myself."
Stream async below before it comes out April 28 via Milan Records, and look for our full-length conversation with Sakamoto later this week.
11. Life, Life
Corinne Przybyslawski is on Twitter.