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Ryuichi Sakamoto – Solari (Piano Solo arr.) from async (2017) Sheet Music 楽譜
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async is the nineteenth solo studio album of Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto and his first one in eight years since Out of Noise (2009).
It is also his first full-length solo record since recovering from throat cancer in 2015. Consisting of a combination of bizarre interpretations of familiar musical instruments, unusual textures both acoustic and electronically-made, samples of recordings of people such as David Sylvian and Paul Bowles doing readings, and everyday sounds borrowed from field recordings of city streets, async has underlying themes of the worries of the end of life and the interaction of differing viewpoints in humanity.
Promoted with two art museum installations, a short film contest, and premiering via a listening event at Big Ears Festival, async was first released in Japan by Sakamoto’s label Commmons in March 2017 before Milan distributed it to other nations in April 2017.
It was critically acclaimed, landed in the top twenty of the Japanese albums chart and in the top five of Billboard’s American Top Classical Albums chart, and was ranked the best album of 2017 by Fact magazine. A set of remixes of songs from async, titled ASYNC – REMODELS, was released in December 2017.
Since 2009, Ryuichi Sakamoto had an eight-year period where he was unable to inspire himself in his composition process. As a result, he focused most of his time on scoring films instead of producing solo material.
He started sketching ideas for a solo album in 2014, but they were scrapped after being diagnosed with throat cancer in 2014, which he had to pause his career entirely.
Despite recovering from the disease in August 2015, Sakamoto thought async would be his last album: “That’s why I tried to forget all the rules and forms, anything. I just wanted to put down just what I wanted to hear, just a sound or music, it doesn’t matter. This could be the last time.”
He began making it entirely from scratch in April 2016, which was after completing his soundtrack for the film Rage (2016), and finished it in eight months. The only track made before Sakamoto’s cancer diagnosis that appears on async is “andata.”
Inspired by the minimal structures of the works of Claude Debussy and the free jazz stylings of John Coltrane, async, as Milan Records summarized, is a set of representations of Sakamoto’s thinking that “plays with ideas of a-synchronism, prime numbers, chaos, quantum physics and the blurred lines of life and artificiality/noise and music.”
Sakamoto conceived the album as the soundtrack for a nonexistent movie by Andrei Tarkovsky, whose works mostly deal with mortality (see the Worries of death subsection of this article) and employed walking scenes with the type of foley featured on async.
When making async, “I just wanted to hear sounds of things, everyday things, even the sounds of instruments, musical instruments as things,” Sakamoto said.
Sakamoto cited the works of sound art sculptor Harry Bertoia as a major influence when making the LP.
The instrumentation includes both regular orchestral instruments and unusual acoustic and programmed textures, more specifically bizarre interpretations of otherwise familiar instruments and the “musical aspect[s]” of everyday noise.
async employs a variety of sound-producing techniques, such as field recordings, making mist textures out of chorales, and wailing sounds from glass.
Some of the tracks include out-of-tune pianos; he recorded two Steinway pianos he had in his home studio, and a piano that was drowned in tsunami water was used on the track “Zure.”
He thought it was “nature” that was responsible for the notes the broken pianos played: “the piano is a very systematically, industrially-designed thing, but they were a part of nature, taken from nature. Mankind artificially tuned and set the well-tempered scale, but the thing is if you leave the piano for a long time without a tuning, it will be out of tune.
“Tri” is an unedited recording of triangles performed by three musicians: Ian Antonio, Levy Lorenzo, and Ross Karre.
In a 2017 conversation with Sakamoto, Ruth Saxelby assumed the triangle sounds that were in the later part of the track were digitally programmed.
However, Sakamoto corrected Saxelby by saying “Tri” went through more than ten takes because the three musicians were “perfectionists” and thus wanted the triangles to sound machine-like.
As Sakamoto described the album’s main idea, Sakamoto said it was human nature, most people “find pleasure in being in sync. That’s why I wanted to create nontraditional music that doesn’t synchronize, [ because it’s like] speaking in a language that doesn’t exist.”
He wanted to make a record like this for a long time, but it was difficult to do because he “wanted to make something async but still musical.”
On async, all of its sounds come together but never create a proper harmony. However, Sakamoto described these sounds as “significant in their own way because their “existence has meaning.”
He explained, “As human beings, we […] take the liberty to decide which sound is good or bad. […] I’m suggesting we open our ears and listen to each sound without prejudice.”
Sakamoto did this to symbolize as well as commentate on how the differing viewpoints of humanity worked: “In this world of myriad viewpoints and unlimited information, every single person is choosing only the information that he or she is interested in, and people with similar interests gather and form a group.
Then, groups with similar interests exchange views with one another, accelerating the movement to narrow the conversation down to ever-more specific views bound by a particular concern. And so, groups with different interests barely communicate with each other, or even if they do, they tend to dismiss the views of the other.”
The message of async is that, like dissonant sounds coming together to create music, humans of all different viewpoints should come together and respect each other.
This theme of async was compared by writer Karl Smith to the works of Shane Carruth, whose films also deal with chaos in human nature.
He used “Zure”‘s mixture of “intangible synthetic panes with the more earthly, percussive tones of the piano” and “walker”‘s combination of noises with a “call and response [of] gentle swells and vibrations” as examples of the record’s use of juxtapositions, which present “the idea that any one thing is more than just that one thing.”
While a majority of async consists of subdued pieces, the LP also contains more dissonant tracks like “tri,” “disintegration,” which places awkwardly-tuned piano plucks aside warm synthesizer pads, and the title track, which includes harshly plucked pizzicato strings.
This is to symbolize a “never ending pendulum swing between solace and chaos,” Paste magazine stated.
Some critics noted Sakamoto’s worries about death seeping into the album, which were influenced not only by his experience with cancer, but also the many earthquakes and tsunamis that occurred in Japan in 2011.
He said in an interview, “We were warned about how our civilization is fragile and how the force of nature is great.”
本作は坂本龍一のドキュメンタリー映画『Ryuichi Sakamoto: CODA』に描かれているように「非同期な音楽を作る」目標の下に制作。アルバムタイトルも「非同期」を意味する「asynchronization」の略称から採用している。
2016年12月29日、坂本の公式サイトに「Ryuichi Sakamoto: SN/M比 50%」のメッセージを掲載。翌年2月17日、本作の特設サイトを開設し、そこで「あまりに好きすぎて、誰にも聴かせたくない」という坂本の意向と、それにともなう事前の音源公開を一切行わない旨を表明。さらに坂本の足跡を辿る「予習」と、各界著名人によるニューアルバムの「予想」を公開した。
本作発売直後の2017年3月31日、J-WAVEの自身の番組「RADIO SAKAMOTO」の特番として「J-WAVE SPECIAL RADIO SAKAMOTO EXTRA 〜坂本龍一ニューアルバム『async』緊急生試聴会〜」を放送。ラジオにてアルバムの全容を公開した。
4月4日 – 5月28日、ワタリウム美術館にて「Ryuichi Sakamoto｜async 設置音楽展」を開催。本作の5.1チャンネルサラウンドミックス版を、高谷史郎の映像とともに鑑賞するフロアや、アピチャートポン・ウィーラセータクンによる短編映像などで構成された。また、美術館の1階では来訪者が付箋にてコメントを寄せられ、その抜粋である「解読」と、一部コメントに対する坂本の「返信」が、本作特設サイトに掲載された。
4月25・26日、ニューヨーク・パークアベニュー・アーモリー（英語版）にて、本作収録曲を演奏するライヴを開催。後にその模様を編集した映画『坂本龍一 PERFORMANCE IN NEW YORK : async』が、翌2018年1月27日より公開された。
イギリスの『FACT』誌がThe 50 best albums of 2017の1位に本作品を選んだ