In the beginning of 2008 Moby was about to release his eighth album, Last Night, which marked his return to dance music. I’ve known Moby since the ’90s and it became a tradition—at least in my mind—that with each new album we’d meet at his apartment on Mott Street in New York City and I would interview him. I always enjoyed these conversations where I was able to learn about the creative process that informed his latest effort. What added to our engaging chinwags was the setting—we were in the comfort of his home sans doting publicist. Musicians, like most of us, are are more comfortable talking in their kitchen as opposed to a sterile conference room.
I’ve always found Moby to be an approachable, often self-effacing anti-star. He’d probably agree with that sentiment. In fact, back when Big Shot was a print publication, I asked Moby on a whim if he’d guest edit our first anniversary issue in 2004. He didn’t have a new release to promote but was kind enough to curate a fantastic issue reflecting his diverse interests in music and culture. I fondly remember shooting the issue’s cover with photographer Bert Spangemacher in the hallway of Moby’s apartment building one afternoon as his tolerant neighbors squeezed past our makeshift studio setup.
When the press push for Last Night began, I started receiving press releases about legendary Japanese composer/electronic music innovator Ryuichi Sakamoto. I had heard that Sakamoto lived in NYC and was always interested in him and his music. I first discovered Sakamoto in 1983’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, a film about a World War II Japanese prison camp which he scored and starred in opposite David Bowie. I dove deeper and soaked up the groundbreaking work as a member of Yellow Magic Orchestra in the late ’70s and early ’80s. So when I came across a missive about Sakamoto in my inbox, an idea popped into my mind: What if I got Sakamoto and Moby together for a one-on-one interview? I typed up my query and held my breath.
While Moby is ubiquitous in the media, Sakamoto has always been press shy. But the stars aligned and a few weeks later I was able to schedule an afternoon meeting between these two titans of electronic music at Sakamoto’s apartment in the West Village, a reader’s paradise that was filled with books and outfitted with a recording studio in the sub basement. Eight years later their conversation, which touched on politics to gentrifying New York City, is still riveting.
A key moment in the interview is when Sakamoto brings up his staunch anti-nuclear stance, noting that Japan has “3,000 earthquakes a day.” That fact wasn’t lost on Moby who made a prescient observation—three years before the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster following the Tōhoku earthquake on March 11, 2011—when he mused that Japan is “not the smartest place to be building nuclear reactors.” Here is the full interview with Moby and Ryuichi Sakamoto as it appeared in issue 23. Continue Reading →
The work Ryuichi Sakamoto has done in soundtracks since the ’80s seems like enough for several lifetimes, so it’s only natural that he should be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s World Soundtrack Awards in Ghent, Belgium, which take place October 19-20. The most recent highlight in Sakamoto’s soundtrack career has been the music for The Revenant, but his CV goes all the way back to his 1983 work on Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, starring David Bowie (in which Sakamoto also appeared as an actor). Over the years, Sakamoto has crafted idiosyncratic soundscapes for everything from Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor to Almodovar’s High Heels.
Most crucially, Sakamoto’s work has deftly blended orchestral and electronic instrumentation, creating a highly original amalgam that made his music stand out no matter what the context. And of course, he’s also had a long, rich career as a performer and composer, reaching all the way back to his days with pioneering Japanese synth-pop outfit Yellow Magic Orchestra. At the World Soundtrack Awards, a selection of Sakamoto soundtrack music will be played by the Brussels Philharmonic conducted by Dirk Brossé. The WSA is also crowdfunding an album featuring the best of Sakamoto’s soundtrack work as realized by Brossé and the Philharmonic, so you can become a part of the process of honoring this gifted composer.
What does Leonardo DiCaprio fighting for survival in the frozen wilderness in the 18th century have to do with the celebrated electronic composer Ryuichi Sakamoto? Funny you should ask. The aforementioned scenario serves as the basis for the upcoming film The Revenant, which was directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu of Birdman fame. The director seemingly surmised that this sort of setting required a really evocative sonic setting, and wisely engaged the talents of Sakamoto for the film’s score. This marks the first time Sakamoto has released new music since his recent treatments for throat cancer, and that should be cause for celebration in and of itself.
But Sakamoto isn’t working alone on this project. His partner on the score is Alva Noto, who has worked with Sakamoto many times over the last several years. Add the participation of composer Bryce Dessner to the mix, and you’ve got a pretty impressive cast already without even getting into the actual actors in the film. The soundtrack album will be released by Milan Records on Dec. 25th, the same date the movie makes its New York and L.A. premieres (with widespread showings to follow on January 8).
A year after he was diagnosed with throat cancer, legendary Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto says he is thinking about returning to work after taking a self-imposed sabbatical. In a rare posting to his website, Sakamoto, whose massive list of credits include membership in iconic ’70s electronic music band Yellow Magic Orchestra to acting and composing the 1983 film Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, recapped the past year that required him to pull out of all projects and focus on his health. He apologized for inconveniencing his fans and musical partners, adding that he “never felt more loved.”
“One year has passed since and thanks to everyone I am in great shape. I am thinking about returning to work,” he wrote. “For the time being I intend to prioritize composing work that I can do from home and so, for my first job, I will be responsible for the music of Haha to Kuraseba (Living With My Mother), a film by the great Japanese director Yoji Yamada. I will be refraining from performing live for now.”
“Forgive me if this sounds corny, but the illness brought me to a realization, which I am thankful for,” Sakamoto concluded. “It is truly a sign from nature or heaven. Taking this sign, I will make sure to avoid my old habits and treat my last days left with the utmost care.”