Ryuichi Sakamoto: async (2LP, Milan, September 2017)

async

Oo oo oo, I’m super-excited that, after a six month delay, the vinyl of this is out and I am holding it in my hands right now. (Well, not while I’m typing, obviously. It’s lying beside me right now.) I’ve been listening to it digitally and loved it already, but this gatefold beauty is a thrill.

Obviously, everyone adores Ryuichi Sakamoto, right? In recent years I’ve been a big fan of his collaborations with Alva Noto, Christian Fennesz, Christopher Willets, and Illuha and Taylor Dupree. This is his first solo work in 8 years, and his first major work since his diagnosis with throat cancer (he was working on it before he got ill, but says he discarded all that and started from scratch after his recovery).

The opening track, ‘andata’, starts off as a heartbreakingly delicate piano melody, but morphs into a much richer church-organ type sound swathed in a lovely ambient wash courtesy of Fennesz doing his manipulated guitar thing. The second track, ‘disintegration’, is a total contrast, an abstract prepared-piano type thing. This should give you an idea of the wide variety in store — keyboards dominate throughout, but the styles and the accompaniment run the gamut. (We get everything from the Northwest Sinfonia and the percussionists of the International Contemporary Ensemble to Ko Ishikawa on the shō and Honjoh Hidejiro on the shamisen). But these tracks all feel very much like parts of a coherent work. This is partly down to the top-notch production and the careful sequencing, but it is also in large measure down to an obvious thematic consistency: intimations of mortality haunt this record. This is evident in musical elements from the slowly repeated treble ping which inevitably evokes the unsettling sound of a heart monitor, which features in several of the tracks here, to the way that numbers like ‘ZURE’ give the impression of being about to stutter to a halt. It’s also clear in the two spoken word vocals: ‘Life, Life’ features David Sylvian reading an English translation of Arseny Tarkovsky’s poem ‘And This I Dreamt, And This I Dream’, while ‘fullmoon’ has an array of friends from Bernardo Bertolucci to Carsten Nicolai (Alva Noto, of course) reading various translations of excerpts from Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky. (More abstract connections… The movie of The Sheltering Sky was directed by Bertolucci, and Sakamoto did the soundtrack. And Sakamoto himself says that at times he thought of this record as the soundtrack to a non-existent film by Andrei Tarkovsky, Arseny’s son.)

Okay, enough. Suffice it to say that this album is richly detailed, deeply moving, a thing of great seriousness and beauty without ever being po-faced or depressing, and I am so glad that Ryuichi Sakamoto is here to enrich our lives.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

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