Award-winning composer and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto has made a career of crossing musical and technological boundaries. Sakamoto has experimented with, and excelled in, many different musical styles, making a name for himself in popular, orchestral and film music. Never one to be satisfied with the status quo, Sakamoto continues to push the envelope of his artistry, marrying genres, styles and technologies for the first time to create new and exciting directions in musical expression.
Recently Sakamoto joined his frequent collaborators Jaques and Paula Morelenbaum at the home of the late Antonio Carlos Jobim (known to friends as Tom) in Rio to record Casa, a collection of hidden treasures and some previously unrecorded material written by Jobim. Casa will be released internationally this summer by Sony Classical. The recording of their first release under the group name Morelenbaum2/Sakamoto was a magical experience for Sakamoto. "The whole experience was spiritual, as if Tom's spirit came into me through the fingerprints on the keys of his piano," he says. "During one of the recordings at his house a bird suddenly sang in the middle of the song. We all thought that was Tom."
That magical atmosphere was captured throughout the recording, as evidenced by the reaction of Jobim collaborator Vinicius de Moraes' daughter Luciana. "Sakamoto's musicality felt so close to that of the maestro, and this fact deeply impressed me," she says. "I might say that I had never heard such a close translation of the maestro's melodies, and I had the privilege of listening to Tom playing many times at my grandma's place when I was a child. What I liked most about this CD, besides the harmonic perfection, the repertoire and the interpretation was that familiar atmosphere that takes us back to one of those evenings at Tom's house, when we talked about love, music and poetry, while in the background the most perfect Brazilian songs filled the night air. As my father wisely said in one of his lyrics, celebrating Brazilian composers, 'we are one family, an island made of love.' Welcome to it, Maestro Sakamoto."
Casa is Sakamoto's fourth recording for Sony Classical, following the release of the albums Discord, Cinemage and BTTB.
With musical interests ranging from The Beatles to Beethoven, Ryuichi Sakamoto began studying music composition under Professor Matsumoto at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1963, at the age of eleven. Eight years later, he entered Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, earning a BA in composition, and then a masters degree with a concentration in electronic and ethnic music. In 1977, Sakamoto began working as a composer, arranger and studio musician with Japan's most popular rock, jazz and classical artists, and within a few years, he became a noted producer, arranger and keyboardist.
In 1978, Sakamoto released his first solo album and formed Yellow Magic Orchestra along with Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi. YMO was immediately recognized as an international sensation from Japan. The group's second album sold well over a million copies and led to a world tour, making them, with Kraftwerk, the kings of technopop. Releasing eleven albums over the next five years, YMO developed a following that continues to the present day, and its influence on the rave, techno and ambient movements is widely recognized.
Sakamoto's interest in different types of music - jazz, bossa nova, modern classical, dub and gamelan - was evident in his writing for YMO, his own solo albums and - starting in 1983, with Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence - a series of film soundtracks. That year, Sakamoto left YMO to launch his career as a solo artist and to pursue his interest in "world music." He said at the time, "I have a kind of cultural map in my head, where I find similarities between different cultures. For example, domestic Japanese pop music sounds like Arabic music to me - the vocal intonation and vibrato - and in my mind Bali is next to New York. Maybe everyone has these geographies in their heads; this is the way I've been working." This diversity has carried over in Sakamoto's collaborations with, among others, David Bowie, David Byrne, David Sylvian, Iggy Pop, Youssou N'dour, Robbie Robertson and Caetano Veloso, as well as the writers William Burroughs and William Gibson.
Sakamoto's best-known work is probably the soundtrack of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, which won him the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). His subsequent score for Bernardo Bertolucci's 1987 film The Last Emperor won him an Oscar, a Grammy and a Golden Globe, as well as the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award and a BAFTA nomination for Best Original Score. Since then he has worked with Bertolucci twice, Oliver Stone (Wild Palms), Pedro Almodovar (High Heels), and Brian De Palma twice (Snake Eyes, Femme Fatale). Sakamoto's work as a composer for film was recently praised by Billboard, which wrote, "[his] pieces were composed mostly as aural accompaniment to visual events, but they exist on their own as pure music, evocative and compelling without any external program. The Last Emperor, Little Buddha, Wuthering Heights and 'Forbidden Colours' (Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence) are some of Sakamoto's most renowned themes, each evidence that he is one of the more memorable melodists working today. And these compositions - along with the epic 'El Mar Mediterrani' (written for the opening ceremonies of the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games) and the rarely heard 'Replica' (which originated on Musical Encyclopedia, one of Sakamoto's genre-defying solo albums) - are an ideal introduction to the art of a composer who revels in the polyglot Zeitgeist that marks the end of our century."
Sakamoto also maintains a career as an actor, having starred in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, The Last Emperor, Madonna's "Rain" music video, and most recently in Abel Ferrara's New Rose Hotel alongside stars Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe. Sakamoto has appeared as a celebrity model for Barney's New York, fashion designer Antonio Miro and The Gap. From time to time he has appeared as a menswear model in the world's most prestigious magazines. Sakamoto made his debut as a DJ in 1997 at Stephen Sprouse's spring '98 show, which also marked Sprouse's triumphant return to the fashion world. In 1999 Sakamoto's first opera Life premiered with seven sold-out performances in Tokyo and Osaka. This ambitious project featured contributions and performances by over 100 performers, including Jose Carreras, Salif Keita, Bernardo Bertolucci, Salman Rushdie, Pina Bausch, His Holiness Dalai Lama and members of the Frankfurt Ballet. Sakamoto closed out 1999 with his first collaboration with Robert Wilson in THE DAYS BEFORE: Death, Destruction & Detroit III, and with the release of his first No. 1 single in Japan for the solo piano piece "Energy Flow." Sakamoto's second No. 1 single would follow in 2001 for the collaborative piece "Zero Landmine," which has helped raise millions of dollars to support ongoing landmine removal efforts around the globe in conjunction with the HALO Trust.
During 2002, Sakamoto's music will be heard in a number of new films. He will release soundtrack recordings of his scores for the films Femme Fatale, (directed by Brian DePalma), Derrida (San Fran Film Fest Best Documentary winner) and Alexei & the Spring (winner of the Readers' Prize of the Berliner Zeitung at the Berlin Film festival).
With Ryuichi Sakamoto the only constant is change. The sheer breadth of musical styles he explores - even within one album - is central to his being as an artist. He feels no need to exist within musical boundaries, and he celebrates tearing them down. "This global view to the different cultures is just part of my nature. I want to break down the walls between genres, categories, or cultures. Instead of building walls or borders, I always try to combine different things. To me, it's challenging and exciting."