Ryuichi Sakamoto - async

by Jason Atkinson Rating:9 Release Date:2017-04-28

“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well, yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and only a small number, really.” —Paul Bowles

Ryuichi Sakamoto, after a lengthy battle with cancer, has released a new album. For those of you looking for the next big hit, the one that is going to satisfy the appetites of clubgoers on holiday, take note: you are going to die. We are all going to die.

Now, mortality. How is that represented sonically? In async, Mr Sakamoto attempts an answer.

In the first track, “Andata,” a tranquil organ melody accompanied by the movements of electronic backgrounds. This is reminiscent of his piece “Blbo no Aozora” from the film Babel, but with an audible sense of discomfort. “Disintegration” is clumsy with a moody low-end prepared piano that gives way to the diaphanous “Solari.” “ZURE” continues with quietness and meditation as does “Walker,” which plays around with room tones and found sounds. Here, in this ethereal space, I am reminded of Schoenberg’s second string quartet and the Stefan George poem "Ich fühle Luft von anderem Planeten" ("I feel air from another planet”). To me, there is a clear sense of moving on, drifting into other sensibilities.

“Ubi,” with its relentless pinging sounds is reminiscent of Insen and his work with Alva Noto, but, still, much more unsettling. “Full Moon,” comes next, with full-on chaos after some quiet statements about mortality. Then, “Async,” an angry piece that seems to resist and cry out while “Tri” seems industrial, reminding me of the sonic chaos in our modern cities.

“LIFE LIFE” and “Honj” seem to be a call out to traditional Japanese music, but only until it falls into “ff” and its quiet rumble. The collection ends with “garden.” It sounds like the afterlife. 

Sakamoto, lamenting the loss of traditional Japanese music culture (mostly due to a global obsession with western-style music), once said that “We [Japanese composers] are flowers without root. Rootless.” That, I believe, is reflected on this album. There is a sense of trying to pin something down, trying to discover a mode of expression that feels right, that is representative of something solid. There is an audible strain for it. Yet, perhaps it takes rootlessness to adequately grapple with the ideas presented in this collection. 

Consider putting aside the latest pop confection and taking a listen.

Overall Rating (2)

5 out of 5 stars