In 2014, a medical diagnosis changed Ryuichi Sakamoto’s life. The pianist, composer and member of the Yellow Magic Orchestra was told he had laryngeal cancer and was forced to reluctantly cancel his live performances while he received treatment. “Honestly, I don’t know how many more years I have left,” he later recalled in the 2017 documentary. Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda“I don’t take anything for granted. But I know I want to make more music. Music I’m not ashamed to leave behind, meaningful work.”
This new sense of ambition prompted Sakamoto to abandon the album he was recording at the time and start anew. asynchronous, a somber and introspective release informed by his cancer diagnosis. This 14-track album is a melancholy homage to Bach alongside Andrei Tarkovsky’s film, placing sparse piano pieces within an electronic soundscape and imbuing it with a somber weight. .
It’s been almost 10 years since his first diagnosis and over 5 years since his diagnosis asynchronous, Sakamoto continues to make music despite his ongoing battle with cancer. his latest album 12, was written and recorded during a particularly difficult 13-month process. After being diagnosed with rectal cancer at the height of the pandemic, Sakamoto withdrew from public life, saying, “I’m going to live with cancer from now on,” but his disease will reach Stage 4 in 2022. expanded to As part of his “Playing the Piano” series, he occasionally live-streamed instrumentals. The series performed career-spanning material in short takes that were edited together into a virtual concert. Following his 2020 and his 2022 live streams, the former was later released as his live album.12 Step further into the defined emotional landscape asynchronous.
A collection of ambient studies for piano and synthesizer, the album is surprisingly minimal in its arrangements. The tracks are titled and sequenced in the order they were recorded on tape, giving the album a diary feel. (The final cut, only his atmospheric one-minute recording of the tinkling of bells, appears out of order.) The work moves softly in space and time, emphasizing the reverberant textures of the room in which it was recorded. “20210310” opens with bristly synth notes that alternate between high and low notes that slowly grow and expand, hitting the limits of human hearing in each direction. The piece rises and falls in distinct counterpoint arcs that never resolve to melody. Other songs such as “20220202” and “20220214” are similarly atmospheric and consist of raw, earthy sounds. They feel more like demos than interventions focused on Sakamoto’s past solo work.