As one-third of Yellow Magic Orchestra and an Academy Award-winning composer for his work on the soundtrack for The Last Emperor, synth pop innovator Ryuichi Sakamoto is among the most groundbreaking artists to have emerged since the late 70s. A musician’s musician, Ryuichi Sakamoto has created intriguing musical unions with artists such as David Sylvian, Iggy Pop, Tony Williams, Bootsy Collins, Jacques Morelenbaum and many others.
“What kind of “sounds/music” do I want to listen to”?
async is the answer to this question Ryuichi has asked himself for the past several years. This is the album he is the most proud of which synthesizes all of his musical and sound interests. This is a journey through analog synth, the sounds of things and of places, an imaginary soundtrack to an
Andrei Tarkovsky film and many others musical surprises.
When I finished my job as a composer and all there was left to do on my new album was to mix and master, a thought occurred to me:
“I like it too much, and I don’t want to share it with anyone else.”
In other words, I haven’t actually “ finished” my album. Instead, I decided to stop fiddling over details. An artists’ initial broad stroke is always most impactful, and obsessively adding layer upon layer of paint to fill in details often diminishes the painting’s aura. When an aura is lost, it is impossible to get back. So, for this album, I decided to pay very close attention to when to let go of my brush for every single track.
In making async, my first solo album in 8 years, I made the “sounds/music” that I wanted to hear. What kind of “sounds/music” do I want to listen to?
I was preparing to compose an album in 2014 until my illness interrupted me. I discarded all of the sketches that I had made until then and started from scratch. I asked myself what I wanted to listen to, and how I should approach this empty canvas.
Let me try to recreate these sounds in my head using my analog synth as soon as I wake up every morning.
Let me take Bach’s choral and arrange it as if it were in fog—to reveal an austere logic inside of a formless cloud.
Let me collect the sound of things and of places— of ruins, crowds, markets, rain...
Let me try making music whose parts and sounds all have different tempos.
When I was looking for objects to record, I remembered seeing the Baschet Brothers’ sound sculptures at the Osaka Expo in 1970. I found them in a university building in Kyoto, and on a hot summer day, they let me record the sculptures in the sweltering heat amidst echoes of cicadas.
I remembered another sound sculptor—this time an American man named Bertoia. I found a few pieces of his exhibited in a small museum in Manhattan, where they would let me record. These sound sculptures created by Bertoia resonated so beautifully, making me think I needed nothing else for the album.
I spent about four months doing this. However, one day in August, though I would not tell anybody, I decided that the concept of my new album would be ‘a soundtrack for an Andrei Tarkovsky film that does not exist.’ As I thought about the scenes from his 7 films that have been embedded in my memory so deeply, I began assembling sound—of my walk in the woods, raindrops in my garden, scratches of a shamisen, and Arseny Tarkovsky’s poetry read by my good friend David Sylvian.
Then, straying from this initial concept, I rediscovered the heart-wrenching excerpt written and recited by Paul Bowles himself at the end of The Sheltering Sky (directed by Bertolucci who I consider my older brother). Bernardo and his producer Jeremy Thomas graciously allowed me to use this voice. Based on it, I made a sound collage, layering 10 different translations of the excerpt recited by my friends, acquaintances, and fellow artists. I don’t think I will experience such a luxurious passage of time again.
There is no ‘correct’ way to make music like async. So, the answer to my initial impulse is 100% arbitrary. It is similar to climbing a pathless mountain without a map. Once you get over one peak, another one looms above, and there is no end in sight.