async at the Park Avenue Armory

Filmed live performance of the widely praised solo album async

Inspired by everyday sounds and nature, Ryuichi Sakamoto composed and arranged what he would most enjoy listening to himself in 2017. It turned into what he calls an ‘asynchronous’ album, without a central rhythm, resulting in unpredictable sounds with plenty of room for experimentation. async is the first solo album Sakamoto made after recovering from throat cancer. It turned into one of his most personal albums, which media like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork praised as one of the best 2017 releases. 

An important source of inspiration for async was the work of film director Andrei Tarkovsky. Sakamoto – known for his many film scores – decided to make a soundtrack for an imaginary Tarkovsky film. He used a piano, and orchestral instruments, but also a selection of unique acoustic and electronic sounds and location recordings. The result is an album that focuses on the essence of each individual sound. 

In 2018, Sakamoto presented the album live in the intimate setting of the Veteran’s Room of the Park Avenue Armory in New York. Stephen Nomura Schible, who at the time was also making the documentary Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda, made this filmic recording of it.

Background information

In the process of making the album async, composer Ryuichi Sakamoto was followed by documentary maker and director Stephen Nomura Schible, who not only filmed the album presentation, but also made the documentary Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda about him. Schible shows how Sakamoto approaches his work while at the same time recovering from throat cancer. In the documentary, Sakamoto says: ‘All sounds are inevitable. All street noise is there for a reason. People claim the freedom to decide what sounds are good or bad. Everyone should listen to sounds without judging’. 

Abrasive sound
Sakamoto focuses on everyday sounds and sounds from nature. He takes inspiration from John Cage, who once said ‘sounds should be allowed to be themselves’, as well as from film director Andrei Tarkovsky, who pays considerable attention to nature and natural sounds in his films. For example, Coda shows Sakamoto ‘fish up’ the sounds of the icy water from under arctic ice, as well as him playing a piano that was damaged by the tsunami near Fukushima, its sound warped by nature. These sounds can also be heard on his personal album async. 

Sakamoto about async
‘I decided not to use conventional musical forms on async. The structure of a sonata, a form Handel and Mozart often used in the 18th century, is rather rigid. Even pop songs have some sort of form. I wanted nothing of it. Every track on async came out of wholly spontaneous discoveries, without any formal ideas. I wanted to find the right form for each song. But nearly every time I made something, I had to ask myself, “What do you want to hear?” Maybe nothing, and that’s alright. My desire was the only rule. I make my solo work entirely for myself, so the only real measure is how satisfied I am with it and whether I feel I reached a different level for myself.’ 

Schible on filming the live performance of async
‘Ryuichi is the type of performer who does things different every time. So all we could do was to keep specific setups in mind as we filmed in a single take. I talked to my wonderful team of camera operators via their headsets while I worked behind a large monitor in a separate room. We had to follow everything that he did as well as we could. You could say we tried to dance to the music (...) I like working like this when I film performances. I feel it brings a certain kind of tension and deeper reality to the screen.’

Biographies

Ryuichi Sakamoto (Tokyo, 1952) has lived many musical lives in his nearly 70 years. As a keyboardist and songwriter in Haruomi Hosono’s Yellow Magic Orchestra, he helped set the stage for technopop.  His solo experiments in fusing global genres and close studies of classical impressionism led to him scoring nearly 40 films in as many years, including Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983), Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987) and The Sheltering Sky (1990), and the Academy Award-winning film The Revenant (2015) by Alejandro González Iñárritu.

In the past 20 years alone, he’s written a multimedia opera, turned a glass building into an instrument, and travelled to the Arctic to record the sound of melting snow. That exploratory spirit runs through Sakamoto’s 2017 album, async, which paints an audio portrait of the passing of time informed by his recovery from throat cancer. ‘Music, work, and life all have a beginning and an ending,’ said Sakamoto in early 2019. ‘What I want to make now is music freed from the constraints of time.’

Since the mid-nineties, Sakamoto has devoted much of his time to environmental and activist causes, also reflected in his work, as in the opera LIFE (1999). He has launched charitable organisations and beginning in 2012, organised the yearly ongoing music event NO NUKES, which many well-known artists, including Kraftwerk, took part in to protestnuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster. His accolades include an Academy Award, two Golden Globes, a Grammy, the Order of the Cavaleiro Admissão from the Brazilian government and the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government. 

Stephen Nomura Schible grew up in Tokyo and studied film at the NYU. After working as an assistant for documentary maker Kazuo Hara (Emperor's Naked Army Marches On), he worked as a representative for the producers of Japanese films like Shinji Aoyama's Eureka and Naomi Kawase's Firefly and took care of international co-productions like Nobuhiro Suwa’s H-Story

He was also one of the producers of Sofia Coppola's Oscar-winning Lost in Translation and was responsible for all Japanese aspects of the production. Schible directed/produced the music documentary Eric Clapton: Sessions for Robert J, which aired on BBC and PBS. In 2017, he finished the documentary Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival.

Credits

direction
Stephen Nomura Schible
director of photography
Tom Richmond, Neo S. Sora
editing
Hisayo Kushida
music
Ryuichi Sakamoto
sound design / mix
Tom Paul
sound
Alec Fellman
visuals
Shiro Takatani
programming
Satoshi Hama
abstract visuals
Takashi Makino
assistent direction
Motomu Ishigaki
production management
Kazuko Shingyoku
line production
Jinn Nishimura
production
Eric Nyari, Stephen Nomura Schible, Yoshiko Hashimoto
executive production
Norika Sora

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