New adventures with the synthesizer sound of Sakamoto’s youth
Ryuichi Sakamoto broke through internationally circa 1980 with synthesizer pop that opened doors for generations of subsequent (pop) musicians. Many artists still look to the music of this early period for inspiration. One of them is the Swiss-Georgian producer and composer Alexandre Kordzaia (1994), better known as Kordz, who - besides Sakamoto - cites Ravel, Stravinsky, Prince and James Brown as sources of inspiration. His music has the same upbeat energy and musical ingenuity as that of ‘early’ Sakamoto. Especially for Asko|Schönberg, he will (with the maestro’s approval) go to work on Sakamoto’s oeuvre and cut up well-known and lesser known, more experimental songs like Thousand Knives, Tibetan Dance and Self Portrait into a new, rebellious whole. The scenographer Boris Acket will stage the concert in a dreamlike audio-visual environment that reacts both to Sakamoto’s music ánd the interpretation given by Kordz, who will be playing the synthesizers himself. What are Sakamoto’s thoughts on it? ‘It will be great to hear what he cooks up with my material!’
The influence of Japanese composer and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto on modern-day dance music can hardly be overestimated. Sakamoto became well-known as a member of the synthesizer pop group Yellow Magic Orchestra. In the seventies and eighties, he released eighty solo albums with music that is seen as an important precursor to the house and techno music that would become popular towards the end of the eighties. In turn, these genres marked the beginning of dance music as we know it today.
To underscore the importance of Sakamoto’s music and to show its timeless strength, the Swiss-Georgian producer and composer Alexandre Kordzaia (1994), better known as Kordz, has put together a tribute for the Holland Festival. Kordz x Sakamoto is a concert that features both early, well-known as well as lesser-known work by Sakamoto in completely new productions and arrangements. Kordz deconstructs the songs and turns them into compositions in his own style, which will be performed live by the Dutch ensemble Asko|Schönberg with Kordz on synthesizer.
Pure and cheery
Already as a child, Kordzaia was enchanted by Sakamoto’s sounds. One day, his mother came home with the album /05, on which Sakamoto played early work like Tibetan Dance and Thousand Knives on an acoustic piano. The music stayed with Kordzaia for the rest of his life. What makes it so special is its seeming simplicity, he says. ‘His early work is cheesy. By which I mean: uncomplicated, pure and cheery. Anyone who listens to it can hear it. There is no ambiguity. It makes the music uplifting, which I love.
Shared by Sakamoto
Several years ago, Kordzaia recorded a track titled Sakamoto together with the rapper DRO, in which he sampled the melody of Sakamoto’s piano song Rain. Last year, Sakamoto himself shared an acoustic version of Kordz’ song on social media. So when Asko|Schönberg and the Holland Festival asked him if he wanted to collaborate on a new program with music by Sakamoto, he said yes immediately.
From string quartet to disco beat
The concert has the form of a collage. Kordzaia wishes to reconceive Sakamoto’s work from the seventies and eighties and will work with samplers and vocoders to rearrange the songs in new ways. ‘They need to sound just like I used to hear them in my head.’
He wants to create a sound world that in part takes shape on the spot and is not completely fixed in advance. This is why he treats the ensemble as a kind of loop station with repeating musical modules that he can turn on and off live.
‘For this performance, I want to create a broad spectrum of sounds that go well together. At times, this will make for pure soundscapes in which you eventually hear bits of Sakamoto. At others, you will hear more complete songs.’
In addition, Kordz wants to embrace the diversity of Sakamoto’s music, which is why this performance covers the full spectrum from experimental soundscapes to danceable disco tracks. ‘Thousand Knives should come to sound like Ravel’s String Quartet from the beginning of the last century and then seamlessly transition into a disco beat.’
Freed from genres
It so happens that this diversity is characteristic of Kordzaia’s oeuvre as well. He is equally comfortable working with an orchestra as with a DJ set. He acknowledges these extremes may be hard for the audience to reconcile at times, but he mainly sees similarities himself. ‘Classical music has a beat as well. And disco is full of horns and violins. Pianos work great in hip hop.’ Like his musical hero Sakamoto, he does not let genres limit him. But this liberation did not happen overnight. ‘Long before making that song with DRO, I had this idea that the melody of Rain would go very well with a trap beat. But I always felt it would be a bit embarrassing to do. Luckily, I got over that fear, which was tremendously liberating.’
The performance also has a visual component, which is handled by the Dutch multi-media artist Boris Acket. Late last year, Acket was working with Colin Benders on Residency, an audio and video installation in Tivoli Vredenburg, which reviewers described as a ‘trip’. Now, he will be providing the visuals for Kordz x Sakamoto. ‘It will be a 3D experience,’ Kordzaia says, ‘in which the lighting and visuals underscore Sakamoto’s themes. The aim is to make the performance form a whole. The visuals help with the transitions from one piece of music to the next.’
Stravinsky and Daft Punk, Prince and Ravel, the Swiss-Georgian composer and performer Alexandre Kordzaia (Tbilisi, 1994), a.k.a. Kordz, takes his inspiration from all different sorts and styles of music. These broad musical interests are also apparent from the path he took for his musical training. First, he studied at the Academy of Music in Basel, where he composed electro-acoustic music and trained to be an audio engineer. After finishing his studies, he went to the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, where he studied composition with Peter Adriaansz and Yannis Kyriakides. The focus of his studies was always on naturally combining electronic and acoustic instruments.
In Georgia, Kordz has made quite a reputation for himself with his danceable live sets and extraordinary collaborations, for example with the Georgian Philharmonic Orchestra, the violist Giorgi Zagareli and rapper DRO. He is in high demand as a composer in Europe as well and has worked with Asko|Schönberg, Kluster5, Nieuw Ensemble, Junge Norddeutsche Philharmonie, the Residentie Orchestra and Dortmunder Philharmoniker, among others. For a recent collaboration with Club Guy & Roni and Slagwerk Den Haag, he wrote an entirely new composition for Swan Lake. Last year, his piece Alex, how is it going with your Cello Concertino? premiered at the Cello Biennale, which was performed by cellist Lidy Blijdorp and Asko|Schönberg.
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.
Asko|Schönberg is a trend-setting ensemble for new music in the Netherlands. Its principal cornerstones are experimentation and an innovative programming with concern for current affairs. With its broad network of musicians, conductors, composers, versatile young makers and partners from various art disciplines, Asko|Schönberg plays an important part in ‘today’s making’. The ensemble serves as a platform. Together with innovative and energetic partners, it furthers the development of contemporary composed music in all its different forms. The ensemble performs both major 20th century composers as well as the very latest 21st century work. Besides composers like Andriessen, Goebaidoelina, Boulez, Kurtág and Ligeti, work from Van der Aa, Ruo, Tsoupaki, Wilbert Buls and Stefan Prins is performed regularly. Asko|Schönberg can be seen in concert venues, festivals and inter-disciplinary pieces and in recent years worked with the Dutch National Opera, NTR ZaterdagMatinee and NITE, among others. The ensemble was also regularly featured at the Holland Festival: in 2019 in Triptych by composer Bryce Dessner and in 2016 in Theatre of the World by Louis Andriessen.
Give multi-media artist Boris Acket (1988) a space, and he will turn it into an extra-terrestrial experience. Acket works with technology, space, film, light and sound. He makes installations, often larger than life, which are interactive, lively and breathtaking. He works with audio artists and composers like Colin Benders and Joep Beving. His work is often featured at music festivals, like Lowlands and Amsterdam Dance Event, but also during the Noorderkerk concerts. Other places his work was featured include: NXT Museum, De School, Down The Rabbit Hole, Wildeburg, Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Van Gogh Museum, Frame Lab & DGTL Festival.
- Alexandre Kordzaia, naar Ryuichi Sakamoto
- Boris Acket
- Asko|Schönberg featuring Kordz
- Asko|Schönberg, Holland Festival
- This performance was made possible with support by