Ryuichi Sakamoto


by Ben Varkentine



This music is so extraordinarily beautiful that you won’t believe it. If any of the following reads as though I am speaking in hushed tones, it is not merely because I am in awe of these pieces (although I am). To succeed in writing this review, I must convey to you the quiet, simple confidence of this item, on which there is not a single disappointing track.

cover art

Ryuichi Sakamoto


(Sony Classical)

Ryuichi Sakamoto was a founding member of the Yellow Magic Orchestra, felt by many to have been groundbreaking in electronic, keyboard-based music. In his solo life, he has worked with collaborators such as David Sylvian, former lead singer of the pop group Japan and Thomas “She Blinded Me With Science” Dolby. He has also composed for films including The Last Emperor and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, the former of which brought him an Oscar, Grammy, and Golden Globe. If that were not enough, the multitalented Sakamoto acted in both those films as well! You know now know as much about him as did I when I placed this CD in my player and pressed play. Though I knew his name, owned a copy of a video for the song “Field Work” (composed and performed with Dolby), have seen perhaps a third of the films for which he has written and read his entry in The Trouser Press Record Guide, I had not heard enough of his music to prejudge it in any way.

“BTTB” (the title stands for Back To The Basic) is an all-instrumental, solo piano album, the first track of which, “Energy Flow,” spent eight weeks as the number one song in Japan. Which goes a long way towards proving to me that it is not only VCRs and cars that are made better in Japan, it’s audiences too. We have not seen anything so pleasant atop our charts for years.

Other tracks create sounds different from those you might expect by use of a “prepared piano,” where specially placed objects are manipulated between the strings. This creates a sound not unlike steel drums played underwater.

It just sounds…it just sounds…it just sounds incredible is what it just sounds. It puts me in mind of impossibly perfect castles of snow, with arctic rainbows casting them in colors that give each piece a spirit of it’s own. Not so cold as to make you shy away from it, yet not so warm that it ever loses a sense of…dignity. It hit me right between the eyes…like a gentle kiss from a lover. This small, quiet collection of pieces is one of the most perfect listening experiences I have ever known, exciting and, to me, almost sacred in it’s beauty. These pieces just seem to unfold, taking the listener at once to a deeper, yet buoyant place within them and each leaves you with the anticipation of the next. And I hope this has left you with the anticipation of hearing for yourself.

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