Ryuichi Sakamoto could be described as a musical chameleon. Listed in a list of the top 100 most influential musicians compiled by HMV, his career transcends myriad genres and technologies.
Sakamoto formed a third of the Yellow Magic Orchestra synthpop trio who, alongside Kraftwerk, have been described as the founding fathers of modern electronic music. Since the disbanding of YMO, Sakamoto's solo outings have spanned a wide sonic palette: from delicate, emotional piano pieces, through pop, electronica, classical and bossanova to collaborations with glitch composers utilising "found-sounds" such as digital hiss and modems.
Memorable works include Yellow Magic Orchestra's Tong Poo and Technopolis singles, Sakamoto's seminal Illustrated Musical Encyclopedia album, collaborations with UK singer David Sylvian (formerly of the band Japan), the score for the film Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence starring David Bowie and recent outings with Berlin audio-visual glitch-art-scientist Carsten Nicolai. However, for someone with such a prolific and groundbreaking career it seems almost crass to pick out such a small handful of highlights.
For such an artist who passionately embraces change and technological advance, JazzMutant's futuristic Lemur and Dexter interfaces are natural choices. We catch up with him as he rehearses for the recent utp- concert with Carsten Nicolai (as Alva Noto) and the Ensemble Modern Frankfurt in Mannheim, Germany. This performance was given, at the request of the city's officials, to mark its 400th anniversary. The music itself is highly conceptual and was inspired by Mannheim's symmetry and grid-like pattern.
"I feel the visions of composers, even in history. We do like gadgets, new technologies, new things... that's our nature. We jump onto a new thing. We are always hungry to hear a new sound."
The interface by which the musician interacts with or creates a sound is critical. A change in interface can be pivotal in the drastic change of whole musical genres. New, improved interfaces don't only make the artist's life easier, they can be a driving force in the music itself. History can give us examples: "The origin of the violin is the viola da gamba", explains Sakamoto. "They used to play it like this [mimes holding an instrument with playing posture similar to that of cello]. It was a big change to hold the viola like this [mimes holding same instrument in violin posture] for the capacity of the movements . It was a big change and the music was changed by that. Even with a similar shape, the change in how to hold it makes different music, changes the music. So why not the Lemur?"
"It's a very intuitive interface", adds Sakamoto. "This [the Lemur] doesn't generate any sound or texture but it is an evolution, a big jump of the interface. Synthesisers have a lot of history, more than 35 to 40 years. But they're not intuitive enough yet. You have to go inside very deeply among many layers to find and change, say, 36 to... maybe 48... typing ... and come back here and maybe go to this layer... then that way. Maybe 5 minutes later you can get the sound you like. It's not totally intuitive. But this [the Lemur] is very intuitive, instead of just typing numbers. So I hope that, not only composers or musicians like me, but young kids touch this, use this, and hopefully it will make some new kind of music. In the future. Or now, maybe it's happening now. I hope so!"
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