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Ryuichi Sakamoto, a pioneering composer and producer who was one of the first musicians to incorporate electronic production into the creation of popular songs, has died at the age of 71.
Sakamoto died on March 28 after a multi-year battle with cancer, according to a statement posted on his website on Sunday. “We would like to share one of Sakamoto’s favorite quotes,” the statement read. “’Ars longa, vita brevis’. Art is long life is short.”
The Japanese composer had an exceptionally broad career: he was alternately a synth-pop idol, the composer of both film scores and quiet, mellow soundscapes, and a collaborator with the likes of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Bernardo Bertolucci. .
As a member of the hugely influential Japanese band Yellow Magic Orchestra and as a solo artist, he was the grandfather of electronic pop music, creating songs that influenced early hip-hop and techno.
Born on January 17, 1952, Sakamoto enjoyed a culturally rich childhood; His father was an editor for postwar Japanese novelists such as Kenzaburo Oe and Yukio Mishima. He began taking piano lessons when he was 6 years old and then began writing his own music. As a teenager, he fell in love with the work of Claude Debussy, a composer who had been inspired by Asian musical aesthetics, including Japan.
as sakamoto said weekend edition in 1988, “I think my music is based on a very western system, because there is a rhythm, there is a melody, there is harmony. So this is western music. But you know, some feeling, some atmosphere or sense of sound is a a little Asian, maybe 25, 30 percent.”
By the time Sakamoto arrived at university to study composition, his musical life was already following multiple paths simultaneously. At school, he was absorbing heady works by the giants of postwar European modernism such as Stockhausen, Ligeti, Xenakis, and Boulez. But he was also playing Okinawan folk music. and free jazz in his spare time, as well as combing record shops for Kraftwerk.
In 1978, he joined multi-instrumentalist Haruomi Hosono and drummer Yukihiro Takahashi to form the band Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO). Sakamoto played keyboards and all three members sang.
YMO proved to be a huge cultural force not only in Japan, but also internationally. With their playful, sophisticated, and layered use of electronics, the band, and its members’ solo projects, including Sakamoto’s song “Riot in Lagos,” became a guiding light for burgeoning hip-hop communities. and techno.
YMO did it a lit soul train, performing their song “Computer Games”. Afrika Bambaataa sampled her “Firecracker” for her “Death Mix (Part 2)”. In 1993, a group of leading ambient, house, and techno musicians paid homage to the influence of YMO with an album called High Tech/No Crimefeaturing YMO remixes from producers like The Orb, 808 State and Orbital.
In 1983 he acted alongside David Bowie in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, directed by Nagisa Oshima. Sakamoto also wrote the film’s score, his first. In his initial meeting with Oshima, Sakamoto told him The Guardian in 2000, he asked to write the music for the film, marking the beginning of a long and remarkable career as a film composer.
Sakamoto went on to compose films like Bernardo Bertolucci’s. The last Emperor (1987), for which he won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a Grammy, along with co-composers David Byrne and Chinese composer Cong Su, as well as the work of Bertolucci. the sheltering sky in 1990, for which he also won a Golden Globe. He also wrote the scores for by Pedro Almodovar High heels in 1991, and Alejandro González Iñárritu Babel in 2006 and the revenant in 2015, among others.
As Sakamoto’s career matured, his interest in aesthetic and intellectual exploration grew. Throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, he collaborated with a wide range of international musicians, including Thomas Dolby, Youssou N’Dour, Iggy Pop, Jaques Morelenbaum, Carsten Nicolai (aka Alva Noto), and a especially frequent partner, experimental singer-songwriter and composer David Sylvian. Sakamoto has also partnered with visual artists, including Nam June Paik and Shiro Takatani, collaborating with the latter for the 1999 multimedia opera, LIFE.
In 2017, three years after a publicly acknowledged fight against throat cancer, Sakamoto released a lush ambient album called asynchronous; She continued to make music until the end.
In his later years, Sakamoto became a major voice protesting nuclear power, particularly in the aftermath of the 2011 attacks. Daiichi nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture. His public activism is a fundamental part of the 2017 documentary, Ryuichi Sakamoto: Endingas is his battle against cancer.
“I honestly don’t know how many years I have left,” he said in a coda scene. It can be 20 years, 10 years, or a relapse reduces it to just one. I don’t take anything for granted. But I know I want to make more music. Music I will not be ashamed to leave behind: a meaningful work.”
Sakamoto publicly announced that he had been diagnosed with rectal cancer in January 2021. In a message aware on his website, he wrote: “From now on, I’ll be living alongside cancer. But I look forward to making music for a while longer.”