Over the last four decades, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s name has come to command respect and adulation across film and music. Once part of the influential Japanese electropop act Yellow Magic Orchestra, Sakamoto has gone on to become a renowned solo artist, composer and even actor – memorably starring alongside David Bowie in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. Of course, it’s his work within that other cinematic field that has earned Sakamoto numerous accolades and several BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations – the field of film music. His most recent work being for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant, a score that was written in collaboration with Alva Noto.
Last year, he released his first solo album in eight years, entitled async. The follow-up to 2009’s Out of Noise was his first full-length since his recovery from throat cancer, and the restorative ambient masterpiece saw Sakamoto delve into ideas of the briefness of life, death and acceptance.
However, the release didn’t stop there. Enlisting a number of frequent collaborators, such as Alva Noto, Oneohtrix Point Never and Arca for remix duties, each track on Sakamoto’s latest album has been given a unique, new spin. Below, we caught up with the pioneer to talk us through every reinterpretation and the personal response the new works engendered. Speaking to us over email, Sakamoto expanded on the vision which drove this companion release, “Since early on while making async I felt it had a very strong cinematic quality, in that the music could be interpreted or framed in a number of ways. My music very rarely contains vocals or lyrics, leaving it to the listener to fill in the meaning. Very often that meaning reveals more about the listener than the music’s intention. This is why along with the remixes, I decided to have a short film competition, I wanted to see how others could use this same material to express something different, or expose something obscured.”
andata (Oneohtrix Point Never Remix)
I’ve been a pretty big fan of OPN’s work for a while now. After he attended some of my performances the last couple years we kept in touch. He was a natural choice for a remixer for me and I was curious to see what he would do.
His treatment of andata is more minimal than I expected, I was impressed with his skill as a keyboardist. He really can play! And his touch is really sensitive and delicate!
andata (Electric Youth Remix)
The remix from Electric Youth came as a suggestion from my label (Milan Records); at the time, I wasn’t familiar with their music. I’m very happy with what they’ve done, it reminds me of Italian disco and my earlier work with YMO (Yellow Magic Orchestra). It almost brings my older music full circle to my current.
disintegration (Alva Noto Remodel)
Alva Noto – Carsten Nicolai – has been my close friend since 2000, and we have released more than five collaboration albums – the most recent, Glass, which was just released. He was a “must” to remix from the beginning, and I’m very pleased with the result. It reminds me of our collab albums, and also our work together on The Revenant score, but somehow new, pushing the ideas further. His remodel is very Alva Noto, especially its iron-like timbre. I love it.
async (Arca Remix)
Arca is another artist I’ve been following for years and wanted to ask to remix from the start. I had no idea what he would do. I was so surprised when I heard it. To be honest, at first I was wondering if I had been sent the wrong track, I could not identify any of async in it. And still its sonic connection to async eludes me. But I love the track and am happy to have it alongside the other remixes. It’s truly Arca’s music.
solari (Fennesz Remodel)
Another from one of my longtime friends and collaborators, Christian Fennesz. I became a big fan of Fennesz since his Endless Summer album in 2001 and we have performed and released a few albums together.
I love what he’s done with solari, distilled the theme to its essence and wrapped it back up in his signature electronics.
solari (Jóhann Jóhannsson Rework)
My friendship with Jóhann is kind of new, I’ve been aware of his work but it wasn’t until he attended my performance at The Park Ave Armory last year that we became friends. Around the time we were asking artists to remix my work, Jóhann was also working on a remix album, so we decided to have a remix exchange.
Jóhann’s rework of solari is perhaps the most delicate and sensitive of the remixes. I’m very happy he used musicians, not simply sampling and reworking my tracks. The layers, distortion, and build are a great compliment to my original, which is less dynamic.
fullmoon (S U R V I V E Version)
I was introduced to S U R V I V E also by my label, but before I had finished async. I met two of the members in NYC and we chatted about synths and writing for the screen over coffee. I was very impressed by their knowledge and passion of old analogue synths, much more than myself!
Their version of fullmoon is dark, creepy, and perhaps more urgent, I like their vision. Maybe I should have expected this based on their recent work for Stranger Things.
ZURE (Cornelius Remix)
He established his unique style when he was still young. Since then he has been sharpening it, in a way nobody other than he can do.
Also he is a great remixer and a guitarist too, he played on my albums Chasm (2004) and Out of Noise (2009). Also he has played with the YMO many times.
Actually I and other YMO members joked that we would appoint him as the leader of the next generation of YMO.
Async Remodels is released 23 February on Milan Music.