Photos by Maia Ruth Lee
Ryuichi Sakamoto walks into Café Minerva in the West Village, nods to the waiter and waves a little hello to the chef in the back. He sits down and orders tea in his nearly fluent but very formal English. Though he now lives full-time in a nearby brownstone, “I was born and raised in Tokyo and now I don’t have a home there. It feels strange staying in a hotel in my hometown.”
Composer Sakamoto, who has scored such films as The Last Emperor and The Sheltering Sky, is about to embark on a 10-city tour in promotion of his 2-CD package out of noise. Comprised of soft, melodic piano playing, out of noise’s source material is unusual: Sakamoto went on an eco-arts expedition to the Arctic Sea on a boat to record underwater sounds. “I brought the hours and hours of recording back and listened to it very carefully...looking for the inspiration or the moments in those recordings.” To Sakamoto, noise is sound and sound is music. It’s not surprising that his side project, the record label commmons, signed the noise-rock band Boredoms and their offshoot band OOIOO.
His open definition of music is reflected in his multi-faceted career: Besides his film scores and experimental piano compositions, he was also one of the original members of the influential electro-pop band Yellow Magic Orchestra. When asked about how all of his musical lives sit next to one another, he began to draw me a diagram on the back of my napkin: “This is music as a garden—in my garden there is an English garden, a French garden, a Japanese garden. Maybe in the morning, I go to the English garden, and in the afternoon I go to the French garden and maybe tomorrow, I go to the Japanese garden to meditate. They are all my gardens—I’m very rich!”