Yesterday, the back channels at PPM were abuzz with the sad news; crucial composer and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto’s death had been announced yesterday, having actually occurred the prior Tuesday. Of course, his throat cancer diagnosis in 2014 was the precursor to the rectal cancer which claimed his life this week, but we’ve all known that it could end at any time for the tireless musician. That doesn’t make his loss any easier to take.
Though I was aware of his work in YMO from around 1980, when the technopop band were making what were surprising [to me] inroads on “urban” radio at the time, YMO have always been a group that I have been “meaning to get into” for long years. Keeping in mind that any band with such a long shadow can stay my hand for years due to the size of their canon.
My actual first Sakamoto release in the Record Cell, is still my favorite. 1987’s “Neo Geo” was a furiously funky outing with Tech-Funk, Erik Satie, Japanese Folk, and suave ballads in a mix that was spiced with Bill Laswell, Bootsy Collins, Emmet Chapman, Eddie Martinez, Sly Dunbar, David Van Tiegham, and Iggy Pop. I had gotten the “Risky” CDV first and that had five of the eight “Neo Geo” songs on it, so I quickly pounced on the album after such a calling card
Given the influence of YMO on generations of technopop musicians, it wasn’t surprising that he had a collaborative strain of his career that was second to none. The inclusion of Sakamoto on the music of Japan and David Sylvian apart from that band were legendary. All of these recordings have been in my Record Cell, and Mr. Sakamoto was as frequent a collaborator with Sylvian as any of his former Japan bandmates.
But Sylvian wasn’t the only artist seeking out Sakamoto. Thomas Dolby and Robin Scott were also ardent collaborators. The single “Field Work” by Sakamoto with Dolby is still my favorite Dolby recording of all time [even though it was technically a Sakamoto single] and there’s a lot of competition for that accolade from within Dolby’s canon.
One of those Sylvian collaborations, the theme to “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence,” not only saw Sakamoto making his acting debut along with David Bowie and Tom Conti in the film, but his theme music and score opened up a rich vein of soundtrack work which saw the more-than-ready composer quickly establish himself as Academy Award winner from the early onset of that career thread with “The Last Emperor” from 1987.
With his collegiate background in composition at the Baccalaureate level, and electronic music and ethnomusicology at the Masters level, Mr. Sakamoto was perfectly poised to be exactly what he turned out to be; a multi-headed hydra of performance and compositional innovation that crossed many boundaries of genre and audience. I have albums by him that sit clearly within the Pop market, as well as New Music and Classical genres.
Once I met my wife, Ryuichi Sakamoto was another of her finds in the Record Cell that she took a shine to and was responsible for vastly increasing my exposure to his work in the years together we’ve had. I had held out the hope that we might see Sakamoto in concert at one point, but his first cancer diagnosis put an end to such fancies. The thought of him playing live at something like the Big Ears Festival or Moogfest was tabled at that point. But the man continued to work through the difficulties that various cancer treatments imposed on him, and with a work ethic that was tireless and prodigious, he has left us a vast body of work to sift through for generations to come. Condolences to his friends, peers and family in this difficult time.
Mr. Sakamoto’s death leaves yet another hole in my heart. I especially love his “Thousand Knives” album (the title track is a knockout), as well as his superb scores for “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” “The Last Emperor,” and “High Heels.” “Playing the Orchestra” (how I love the packaging for this marvelous disc!) is one of the treasures of my own record cell; I still have every one of those little stones inside the box.
It’s difficult for me to imagine David Sylvian’s brilliant solo career without the inspiration, and not just the collaboration, he received from Sakamoto. I’m sure that Mr. Sylvian is grieving the loss of his great friend, as we all are. May his soul rest in peace.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I notice the absence of Discord in your collage. If that is absent from your library you really should put that on your to-buy list and move it to the top slot.
Tim – Look closer. It’s there.
I sit corrected and see it nestled in there.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Tim – I should hope so. I spent 2.5 hours last night just quantifying what I had and uploading the cover images!
Should NOT be looking at the wall of jpegs on my phone at work on my break.
My initial introduction to him was a former partner who was really into Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and the movie did zero for me (still does) and so I dismissed the soundtrack.
The librarian who ordered music for our small town library sat next to me and she had excellent taste in music and ordered Neo Geo so that was try #2 for me.
The 1990 happened and I pretty much loathed a lot of commercial music for about three years. Grunge especially. I listened to a lot of jazz, classical, folk and fell hard down a Sakamoto rabbit hole. I played six degrees of separation and followed the people he worked with. Found Virginia Astley, Aztec Camera, hard dive into Sylvian. I went to films just because he did the music, took my dad to The Handmaid’s Tale. I hadn’t read the book, imagine my early 60’s ww2 vet dad at the end of that one, he literally asked me why the hell I wanted to see that and I replied, I wanted to hear the music.
My entire taste of a huge chunk of my music collection rotates around going down a Ryuichi Sakamoto rabbit hole for which I am eternally grateful.
Right now I am discovering CHASM and just falling in love with it from beginning to end. I dismissed it when it came out as at the time I was buying a lot of Sakamoto and St. Etienne and both seemed to be in a phase of ”serial reissuing” and when Chasm came out, I remember seeing it in the store and just thinking, oh well, another repackage of re-recorded old stuff I bet and didn’t even pick it up to examine it. Holy cow is it good!
I notice his work with Morelenbaum is absent from your cell, those two are excellent albums and well worth buying if you can find them.
One of my most recent finds prior to his passing was courtesty of the YouTube AlgoRhythm which offered to me a track he did on a Mondo Grosso album, the song is called “In This World” and the vocals are done by Hikari Mitshushima and it is just delightful to listen to. I can’t understand a lick of what she’s singing but listened to it like an earworm I didn’t want to purge. Sadly the parent cd is apparently our of print and the cheapest used copies track in the $40 range.
Such sad news with his passing and what a musical legacy he left behind.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Ryuichi Sakamoto’s passing is devastating, devastating news. Another one of my greatest heroes gone. And so close on the heels of his YMO bandmate Yukihiro Takahashi’s passing.
I first experienced his incredible music when a friend lent me a battered cassette recording of Ryuichi Sakamoto & David Sylvian’s “Bamboo Houses”, which blew my mind. But it wasn’t until several years later that I went full Ryuichi Sakamoto fan mode. Two Japanese exchange student friends of mine lent me recordings of the haunting piano version of “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” and YMO’s tour de force “Technodelic” album and “Best Selection” album. Then I heard his song “Laserman” on the Black Rain soundtrack a few days later! I was hooked.
I was fortunate enough to see YMO live at the Tokyo Dome on their mighty Technodon reunion tour. The most magnificent concert I’ve ever seen in my life.
Without Ryuichi Sakamoto and YMO, my own band probably wouldn’t exist because it was our mutual love of them that got us all in the room together with our instruments in the first place.
Another musical giant who soundtracked my life gone.
LikeLiked by 1 person
So sad to lose him, particularly so soon after we lost Yukihiro Takahashi.
My first exposure to him was when he was in The Sadistic Mika Band in the mid 70s. I loved the YMO stuff so much and I think it still stands up after all these years. I teach water aerobics and I use Forbidden Colours as a cool down and stretch song. I also use Brian Eno songs. The little old ladies will never know how hip they are.
(imagine this in Ren’s voice from “Ren & Stimpy”)
What do you mean you have been “meaning to get into” YMO?
Go and whip yourself until you have enough tears to exchange for their albums … pronto, mister!
What did he do on the PIL album? I looked all over Discogs and didn’t see any credits. I do see Bill Laswell and Bill was on the Beauty album.
newmusicmark – Welcome to the comments! If crowdsource data can be trusted, here are credits for the Japanese “Rise” 12″ single.
His music has brought me so much joy… May he rest in peace and may his legacy live on and on and on….
Ronald van Veen – It is quite a legacy stretching across multiple, diverse genres.