Ryuichi Sakamoto: async at the Park Avenue Armory (2018)

Review #1,610

Director:  Stephen Nomura Schible
Plot:  Filmed live performance of Ryuichi Sakamoto's album, "async", at the Park Avenue Armory.

Genre:  Documentary / Music
Awards:  Official Selection (Berlin)
Runtime:  65 mins
Rating:  PG
International Sales:  Doc & Film International

As a companion piece to Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017), Ryuichi Sakamoto: async at the Park Avenue Armory works like a ‘CD’ supplement to the documentary, in the sense that even if you are to close your eyes through the duration of the recorded live performance, the sheer musicality of Sakamoto’s new, unorthodox work is likely to lull you into a zen-like, meditative mood.  

However, seeing is also believing as the renowned musician not only plays the piano with trademark sublime skill (in what I would describe as achieving a sense of intensity through subtlety), but also boldly (or some might feel, incredulously) creates sounds out of physical contact with an assortment of materials, including his very piano.  As an example, in one track he creates a sound out of 'slow-wiping' a glass sheet—you will never look at window-wipers in the same way again.  In other pieces, he scratches, slides and taps to create a variety of sounds.  

One could appreciate Sakamoto’s performance as performance art through music, accompanied by an abstract visual installation that is uniquely positioned above him. (Looking up periodically certainly helps to relieve any strain on the neck for the audience…)  Though, more poetically, one could see Sakamoto as a master experimenter, a gatekeeper of sound, and a translator of ambience into musical terms.  As he operates on the knobs of a small but complex machine to produce layered themes, we are witnessing not just the spontaneity of sound mixing but the faux-organicity of electronic music-making.  

The most melodious piece is, of course, ‘solari’, an excerpt of which begins the film, and returns later on.  ‘solari’, as its name suggests, is Sakamoto’s most explicit homage to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972), in particular the musical reference to Bach’s ‘Ich Ruf Zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ - BWV 639’.  Sakamoto has said that he envisioned the ‘async’ album as the original score to an imaginary film by the great Soviet filmmaker.  

While some of his eccentric musical touches don’t quite evoke the essence of Tarkovsky, especially the use of voicework, the idea of an artist seeking inspiration and affirmation in another artist’s work gives the relationship existential weight.  Async will most likely be appreciated by hardcore fans; for the rest, Coda might just convert you.  

Verdict:  Sakamoto’s one-time live performance of his latest album async, sees the extraordinary artist in fine form, experimenting with sound like no other.





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