There seems to be plenty of respect to go around when speaking of Japanese composer and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto. Primarily, he is known for his work in film. His renowned score for The Last Emperor won an Academy Award in the year of its release, and he has worked with other filmmakers such as Brian De Palma and Oliver Stone in the years since. Less known but just as well-respected is his album-oriented music, which tends to treat genre boundaries as challenges. Sakamoto has dabbled in jazz, classical, hip-hop, glitch, synthpop, and rock over the course of a career that spans nearly 30 years, and on his most recent solo work (2004’s Chasm), he merged every single one of those genres into an album that sounds effortless in its freedom.
Bricolages, then, is the remix album for Chasm, and with all due respect to Sakamoto, it’s difficult to find the point of its release.
Chasm was Sakamoto’s statement on the perils of the world we live in, an uneasy mixture of love and frustration — love for the beauty in the world and its many inhabitants, but frustration over what’s being done to and with it. “War & Peace” is a track that finds footing in the rhetorical, asking us via sampled dialogue to think about the two titular concepts from a number of different angles; “Undercooled” is hip-hop (with guest rapper MC Sniper) with a message imploring us to chill out already; and “World Citizen” finds David Sylvian wishing for a harmonious breakdown of cultural and geographic boundaries. All of it featured an open, spacious soundtrack courtesy of Sakamoto, resulting in an album with a clear common theme, if not a concept album per se.
The mere existence of a remix album takes the emphasis off of the words and ideas presented in the album and puts all of the weight on the music itself. This, in itself, is fine, though it is quite obvious that many of these songs lose much of their power when stripped of the context of an album like Chasm. Still, the main problem with what Bricolages presents is that the vast spectrum of Sakamoto’s musical vision is reduced to a single common style, that of glitchy, not-all-that-danceable electronic music.
The real shame of it all is that none of the individual tracks on Bricolages are actually all that awful. Skuli Sverrisson’s take on “Undercooled” actually does a rather good job of stripping a hip-hop track of its beats while retaining its power and its most recognizable melodies; Sticker’s take on “Ngo/Bitmix” retains the jazz piano of the original while placing it in an alien setting as a display of humanity in a sea of automation; and Taylor Dupree wisely decides to leave David Sylvian’s excellent vocal on “World Citizen” pretty much untouched, while glitching up the background fairly substantially. However, even such descriptions betray much of the problem here: The songs’ most appealing features are pieces that were in place on Sakamoto’s original. The majority of the remixers have just placed the most recognizable parts of Sakamoto’s work in new contexts, contexts which are at worst distracting and at best easily forgotten.
Those who have chosen to give Sakamoto’s work a major makeover do so in decidedly unexciting ways. Riva Noto “remodels” (as per the credit) “Undercooled”, giving it a glitch makeover that amounts to a series of scratched CDs with a sparse, steady beat. Snd turns “Only Love Can Conquer Hate” into a barely passable Underworld outtake.
Chasm stands on its own as a virtually untouchable work of art — it’s not a perfect album by any means, but every bit of it sounds intentional, and everything on it built toward a well-defined point. Bricolages attempts to expand on it or deconstruct it (depending on which view of the art of remixing you subscribe to), and fails miserably, not once improving on the original, creating a work that is best enjoyed by listening for the finest bits of the original tracks to make it to the remixes, which of course begs the question: Why not just listen to the original?