async remodels by Ryuichi Sakamoto

Release date: February 23, 2018
Label: MILAN

In the age of streams and downloads remix collections have rather out lived their use haven’t they? At least in the sense of gathering up oddments in a handy collection for fans, remixes are no longer out there hiding on hidden white label 12″s – if you want it you can probably buy a download or at very least another fan will have put it up on youtube so you can hear it. Remix records were always something of a problem, a funhouse hall of mirrors, a brashly amusing parade of distortions and dislocations.

Ryuichi Sakamoto has a reputation for music of elegance, diversity and quiet restraint and said of async “When I finished my job as a composer and all there was left to do on my new album was to mix and master, a thought occurred to me: I like it too much, and I don’t want to share it with anyone else.” So we can’t see him just handing out stems to any gurning DJ producer to mess about with, if anyone can pick a selection of fellow artists to produce a set of sensitive reinterpretations it’s him. Could this work as a stand alone album?

Let’s be clear, async is a masterful piece of work, a fine blend of the many strands of Sakamoto’s music. Still, I tried to take remodels solely on its on merits, to ignore the source album, the weight it carries, and brush aside ideas about the other contributors. It’s a fools errand of course, but it works as an album better than you might expect.

‘Andata’ starts with just soft piano chords and gently builds to a burst of glorious vintage synth warmth and is EXACTLY what you want from Oneohtrix Point Never reworking Sakamoto, it’s gorgeous. Involuntarily, the night time cityscapes of Blade Runner cross my mind’s eye. I know it’s a touchstone of this sort of thing so obvious as to be embarrassing or redundant but I’ll stand by it here because not only does Sakamoto (and several collaborators here) do plenty of soundtrack work himself, he even likened ‘async’ to one for an imaginary Tarkovsky movie.

The shifting moods of the remixes give an episodic feel that would definitely work as a soundtrack. About half the original album gets reworked, the different takes often grouped together. OPN’s ‘Andata’ flows seamlessly into Canadian synth poppers Electric Youth’s version. They bring a strong 80’s feel and a soft disco beat, soundtrack wise it’s more like the theme from a lost Miami Vice type show that never found an audience or perhaps a lo budget sci-fi where space was no stranger to the mullet. It’s charming and a success on it’s own terms but it’s the one track that’s slightly out of step with the others.

Regular Sakamoto collaborator Alva Noto reworks ‘Disintegration’ into something twitchy and alive to possibility. Bjork producing wunderkind Arca can’t resist flooding the title track with his own wordless vocals as is his current wont. If you can get past your irritation with him for it then it brings a sort of litany quality in keeping with the overall mood. Try as we might there’s no escaping the fact that async represents a confrontation with mortality and the versions here carry that with them. Sakamoto made it after recovering from cancer and as I’m trying to push that aside and write about the music here Johan Johansson is tragically found dead in his apartment at the shockingly young age of 48. At the centre of this collection Johansson’s take on ‘Solari’ follows one by Fennesz in a beautiful suite as subtly different and similar as the gloves that form a pair. A lovely, elegaic synth piece, Johansson’s version is slower, quieter and colder, it seems to drag it down into the dark ocean. It’s wonderful.

“Because we don’t know when we will die
we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well
Yet everything happens only a certain number of times

How many more times will you watch the full moon rise?
Perhaps 20, and yet it all seems limitless”

These words, spoken by author Paul Bowles, eloquently but starkly lay out the core message that life is short and not to be taken for granted. Recorded during the filming of Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky, which Sakamoto scored, they are the basis of ‘fullmoon’. Only one of the two new versions here keep the speech, S U R V I V E floating it up on soft clouds of synth. The motion graphics version brings dramatic string stabs and pushes the voices into distorting fading echoes, chased by gulls. Finally, Andy Stott’s reworking of ‘Life, Life’ is both radical and probably the finest moment here. Seemingly scrapping the original entirely he brings a slow dragging funeral beat and a short mournful loop of what sounds like the colliery band at the far end of the valley. It slowly gives way to soft ticking drum machines and gently burbling bass beneath layers and layers of synth textures, it’s like a washed out ghost of house music wandering the hills and moors. The next step on from Jeremy Deller’s acid brass. Here’s a thing, I swear by accident not design, that when I transferred this over to my phone the second track got skipped and without it, it really does hang together like a soundtrack record.

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