japanese electronic music

I’m more than glad that I didn’t see The Japanese House in a dream, but I really did catch the incredibly talented singer songwriter and producer Amber Bain at a swiftly sold out Popscene in San Francisco back in December of last year. She was stunning, and I really must make my way out to see the BBC Sound Of nominee once again. In fact, I fully plan on doing so when she returns to San Francisco for Outside Lands Music Festival this August. Amber Bain, who’s currently on a headline European/UK tour, takes us to cloud nine with her new single, Saw You In A Dream, out now via Dirty Hit / Interscope. Saw You In A Dream is more of The Japanese House’s refined and sophisticated pop. It’s a finely layered, sleekly wafting alt/electro puff of soft, woolly cotton, into which we blissfully sink. The single is available from iTunes, here.

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Earlier this spring, Ryuichi Sakamoto gave an exquisitely intimate concert at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. Surrounded by a small audience in the venue’s opulent Veterans Room, the renowned Japanese composer was positioned in the center of the floor and played through the entirety of async, his first solo album in nearly a decade. Time seemed to stand still as he re-created the album before our eyes, moving from piano and synthesizer to unconventional instruments like a large pane of glass, from which he evoked a mournful wail. Observing this legendary artist perform at such close proximity intensified the feeling of being inside an echo chamber of emotion and ambient sound.

For admirers of Sakamoto’s work, the transfixing power of this performance should come as no surprise. Over the last four decades, he has been captivating audiences with his solo projects, award-winning film scores, and on-screen performances. Many fans have become acquainted with his work through his long-standing relationship with cinema, which began in the eighties, after he had already gained international attention with the pioneering Japanese electronic music group Yellow Magic Orchestra. In 1983, Nagisa Oshima cast him opposite David Bowie in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, a breathtaking tale of forbidden desire set in a World War II prison camp, marking his film debut not only as an actor but as a composer. This experience led to subsequent collaborations with some of the most acclaimed auteurs in the world, such as Brian De Palma, Volker Schlöndorff, Pedro Almodóvar, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Now sixty-five, Sakamoto recovered from a battle with cancer in 2015, allowing him to return to music with full force and exuberance. His new album demonstrates his abiding innovative spirit, blending a wide array of sounds—from natural field recordings to synthesizer experimentation and elegiac organ droning—into a haunting sonic collage. On the heels of its release, Sakamoto and I sat down for a conversation about his immersive creative process and some of the greatest moments in his career.

Sonic Memories: A Conversation with Ryuichi Sakamoto