As Ryuichi Sakamoto Returns With ’12,’ Other Artists Recall His Impact: NPR
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Ryuichi Sakamoto has been a hugely respected artist for decades, beginning with his work in the 70s and 80s as a member of the Yellow Magic Orchestra in his native Japan to his deeply loving, Grammy and Oscar-winning scores for the cinema and within his numerous solo experiments in avant-electronics. These experiments continued more recently with the January 17 release of 12his last solo album – created in March 2021, while Sakamoto was undergoing treatment for cancer.
Unfortunately, Sakamoto couldn’t record an interview about his new release, so we spoke to some of the famous artists he’s worked with to chat and explain his impactful career.
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Alejandro González Iñárritu, director
“I vividly remember the emotional experience I had the first time I listened to Ryuichi Sakamoto,” says Alejandro González Iñárritu, acclaimed director of films like Best Picture. birdman and The ghost, for which Sakamoto composed the score. (“I wanted to have someone who could understand silence,” Iñárritu explains of his selection, “and that’s Ryuichi.”)
“I was in a car, stuck in traffic in Mexico City with a friend of mine, and we put on a pirated Japanese tape – it was 1983. I heard piano notes and I got the felt like the fingers were penetrating my brain and giving me a cosmic head massage…and it was, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.”
Carsten Nicolai/Alva Noto, artist
“I can hear so much in these 12 tracks about his current state of him and his kind of sensitivity, his fragility, his weakness,” says Nicolai, who has recorded and performed with Sakamoto on several occasions, from his friend’s latest album.
“He feels strong and fragile at the same time. He has this incredible beauty of not being too complex.”
Hildur Guðnadóttir, composer
“When did I first discover Sakamoto’s music? Ryuichi’s music is so timeless it feels like you’ve known it almost forever. There’s such a deep listening in the way he works.
“He invited me to work with him on the soundtrack of The ghost – it was very interesting to interpret how he explained his music, as if it was not so much with words, but it was with the gestures of his wrists and the movements of his eyelids – he just physically embodied his music .”
Flying Lotus, composer and producer
“If you want to talk about his history and what he’s done in the past, there’s a plot stuff from thousand knives …it was like really old stuff,” says the Los Angeles-based, jazz-leaning, experimental producer. All things Considered of Sakamoto’s 1978 synth exploration. “But if you play it against something today, it always feels like the future.”
“He came to LA to work with me a bit…he had this childlike curiosity about the potential of the sounds we could create. He was looking around, tapping on surfaces…tinkering with my ceiling fan above us. [Laughs]
“He found beauty in all the little things.”