thu 30/05/2024

Ryuichi Sakamoto, Cadogan Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Ryuichi Sakamoto, Cadogan Hall

Ryuichi Sakamoto, Cadogan Hall

Piano manipulator brings his secret universe of sonic effects to Cadogan Hall

Ryuichi Sakamoto, polymath, pianist and all-round musical brainiac

Little, it seems, falls beyond the musical compass of Ryuichi Sakamoto. After cutting his teeth with synthpop pioneers Yellow Magic Orchestra, Sakamoto branched out like a one-man synthesis of Messrs Byrne, Bowie and Eno, investigating world and renaissance music, chamber pieces, orchestral works and movie soundtracks.

Well versed in traditional Japanese and Okinawan forms, Sakamoto is also adept in multimedia and digital manipulation, and was even commissioned to write ringtones for Nokia. Recent collaborations with Alva Noto and Christian Fennesz confirm that Sakamoto's inquisitive spirit continues to throw up showers of creative sparks.

His current tour, Playing The Piano: Europe 2009, ties in with the recent CD releases Playing The Piano and Out Of Noise, the former comprising solo piano arrangements of some of his best-known compositions, the latter a set of beautifully sparse and evocative instrumental pieces. Sakamoto's eye for minimalist design, be it aural or visual, naturally extends into his concepts for live performance. The audience filed into Cadogan Hall to find a pair of back-to back pianos on the stage, enmeshed in a thicket of microphones (Sakamoto played on one, and was apparently digitally synchronised with the other). To the right of the stage, his technical team lurked in shadow behind banks of equipment. A faint undercurrent of ambient sound, featuring watery trickling sounds and distant bells, grew gradually more perceptible as the lighting faded subtly into darkness.

Sakamoto flitted across the stage to his keyboard, and launched into an opening segment consisting mostly of plonking and doinging noises, manufactured by the artiste delving under the piano lid like a motor mechanic changing a set of spark plugs. After an admonitory piece about climate change in Greenland, albeit couched in characteristically cool musical colours, Sakamoto embarked on "Hibari", a simple cycle of piano phrases that amassed a subtle fascination as his left and right hands slipped in and out of phase. "Still Life" draped limpid piano across a harmonium-like backing, while "In The Red" was built on a persistent lilting pulse to which were added found noises, vocal fragments and tragic minor-key drones, all conspiring to evoke an air of haunted desperation.

Though the setting mischievously purported to present a solo performer alone at his instrument, his squad of engineers and technicians were busily adding, subtracting and modifying throughout the two-hour set. Stereo panning effects, electronic whistling sounds, echo treatments and cut-and-paste cloning techniques were all deployed with seamless expertise, while Sakamoto ran the instrumental gamut from playing next to nothing to banging out fat, crashing chords like a drunken nightclub pianist. Meanwhile, the screen behind him displayed a selection of imagery that ranged from amorphous video textures in soothing pastel shades to grids of fine lines, spinning spheres and cubes and sprays of spangled lights.

Pop hits were inevitably thin on the ground (the rippling Orientalisms of "Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence" aside), but he ended the set with a cascade of tumbling chordplay while a vivid account of a traumatic mescaline trip ran across the screen. "Will it ever end? Over. It's over," ran the lyric, as Sakamoto banged out his final chord with split-second timing. More of a showman than he lets on, perhaps.

  • Ryuichi Sakamoto plays Queens Hall, Edinburgh on 2 December. Buy tickets here

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