photo by nss (zakkubalan)
“Anything can be music,” believes Ryuichi Sakamoto. Throughout his nearly 70 years, he has tested this guiding principle again and again. Sakamoto was born in 1952, the year John Cage composed 4’33’’. When he was a toddler, he was introduced to the piano, an instrument he would go on to examine from many Cageian angles. In the late ’70s, he joined Haruomi Hosono’s Yellow Magic Orchestra as a keyboardist and songwriter. His time in the proto-synthpop group led to solo experiments in fusing global genres, which in turn made way for close studies of classical impressionism and prepared piano.
As the millennium swam into view, Sakamoto’s attention was piqued by music’s relationship with other art forms. He premiered his multimedia opera LIFE, a collaboration with visual director Shiro Takatani, in 1999. Expanding on LIFE’s themes of symbiosis and evolution, Sakamoto and Takatani went on to produce several ambient installations together in the 2000s.
Running parallel to his artistic practice are Sakamoto’s contributions to cinema. He has scored over 30 films in as many years, including Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor and The Sheltering Sky, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant, and Yoji Yamada’s Nagasaki: Memories of My Son. His accolades include an Academy Award, a Grammy, a BAFTA, and two Golden Globe awards. “Working on a film is like a journey to an unknown place,” Sakamoto once said. “I cannot experience that doing my own thing.”
In recent years, Sakamoto has doubled down on his sound experiments. In 2016, he turned American architect Philip Johnson’s modernist Glass House, which was built in the late ’40s, into an instrument. In collaboration with longtime friend Alva Noto, the pair swept rubber mallets over the contact mic’d surfaces of the building for an improvised composition titled Glass.
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.”
Visual artist and theatre director Shiro Takatani works with photography, video, lighting, graphics and set design, using cutting-edge technology in his creations. A founding member of the artist collective Dumb Type (established 1984), Takatani began a parallel solo career in 1998, and has since directed visuals for several theatre productions, including Ryuichi Sakamoto’s opera LIFE (1999). Takatani also participated in the arctic expedition project Cape Farewell (UK, 2007) and the related group exhibition at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo (2008). His collaboration with Fujiko Nakaya, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Min Tanaka was presented at Tate Modern, London and The National Museum, Oslo (2017).
Takatani’s original creations include the performance La Chambre Claire (2008), CHROMA (2012) and ST/LL with music by Ryuichi Sakamoto (2015). His first retrospective solo exhibition, Camera Lucida, was held at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum in 2013. The Dumb Type solo exhibition Actions + Reflections (Centre Pompidou-Metz, 2018) is currently showing at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (November 2019 – February 2020).
Takatani’s works have been presented at a number of international festivals and institutions, including GREC Festival in Barcelona, Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris, Romaeuropa Festival in Rome, Sharjah Biennial UAE, New National Theatre Tokyo, National Performing Arts Center – National Theater & Concert Hall in Taipei and National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul.