Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews
Ryuichi Sakamoto – Playing the Piano / Out of Noise – Decca
Published on November 23, 2010
Ryuichi Sakamoto – Playing the Piano / Out of Noise – Decca B0014662-72 (2 CDs) *****:
Sakamoto is perhaps best known for his scores to films such as Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, The Last Emperor, The Sheltering Sky and Little Buddha. He also acted in some of those movies. He founded the Yellow Magic Orchestra in 1978 as one of the founding fathers of electronica, and is still involved in techno and ambient music. His music has involved the traditions of Okinawa, Indonesia and Brazil, and he has collaborated with Robert Wilson, William Burroughs, Jose Carreras and the Dalai Lama, among others.
The pianist-composer-actor-performer-environmental activist calls the dozen tracks of the first CD “self-covers.” Some are his solo piano treatments of themes from some of his films, and others are pop hits such as his “Thousand Knives” – though different from their electronic originals. As a child Sakamoto first was influenced by English rock and then by French Impressionism. This and his electronic interests are all heard in his music. He has become a sort of citizen of the world, and his travels have brought him to devote time to environmental concerns. Among other projects, he founded the environmental protection organization moreTrees.org in 2007.
Sakamoto’s themes on the first CD are often seemingly quite simple but wonderfully catchy. They meld simple Western piano figurations with exotic Japanese pop music melodies, and then there is that Debussy/Ravel influence that also creeps in. The second CD is a contrast, with an exploration of the differences between music and noise which have fascinated Sakamoto for years. On this one he is joined by other musicians, including Austrian and Japanese guitarists, Icelandic musician Skuli Sverrisson, and the early music ensemble Fretwork. He mentions how the sound of the piano can vanish into noise, and you cannot tell when it become noise – when it is gone. His ears have been stretched by experiences playing medieval European instruments, working with electronics, and even recording the actual sounds of threatened glaciers in the Arctic Circle – which are also heard on the CD. He considers the sounds of our environment to be music too – as did John Cage. He observes that as people get older their ears tend to close off to new sounds, whereas his ears get more open as he gets older. Among his several projects, Sakamoto is working on a 30-volume musical encyclopedia – half devoted to Western music and the other half to non-Western traditions.
While the first CD is more listenable, there are some fascinating sounds on the second as well. It’s unfortunate they cannot be in hi-res surround. Still, it’s a diverse, inventive double-disc set that can serve either as a first introduction to Sakamoto or to add to his discography in your collection.
2. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
3. A Flower is not a Flower
4. The Sheltering Sky
6. The Last Emperor
7. Tibetan Dance
8. Thousand Knives
9. Riot In Lagos
3. Still life
4. In the red
11. To Stanford
— John Henry