compiled by Nicholas D. Kent
email: ndkent "at" optonline.net
Last updated 99.10.15
(*) means I don't own this album
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see also my page on Sakamoto best ofs and collaborations.
Was a double live lp (one CD). Interesting performance. The Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is in a different but nice arrangement. Bernard Fowler vocals. Has Steppin Into Asia in an English translation. Generally the arrangements are less "Japanese" and less electronic. There is an hour long videotape containing the same tour but with a somewhat different set and performances.
Contains live recordings of mostly the Last Emperor with orchestra and RS at the piano. A number of the tracks are not available on the film soundtrack. The remainder is mostly from Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. Here you get to hear these pieces played by orchestra, instead of synths.Interesting and different sounding item. Those folks who made the cd/concert should have spent more time Rehersing The Orchestra, as the playing is a little sloppy by classical standards. Lots of room noise too. Not awful or anything. Another of the Sakamoto releases with frusteratingly shifting contents. It is still in print as a 2 CD set without the box or CD3 disc.
The limited edition was a fancy cardboard box with die cut simulated wooden parts, rice paper, tiny rocks, CD3 mounted in the lid. CD5 in a CD case with unfolding notes. The Japanese box looks similar from the outside. Chuck Wheat tells me he has a presumably international version of the box that is similar to the Virgin America version. (the CD was in a thin case and the obi may have been different) . He said his obi said Sakamoto plays Sakamoto, which was the name of the concert. The U.S. version had a large sticker on the plastic wrap with the title and "very limited edition" printed on it. My version has a bilingual obi saying "playing the orchestra" and nothing else.
This release got me real mad. I bought the U.S. version of the limited edition box which contains a CD plus a CD3 at a hefty price only to later see the Japanese import, which cost more, but included a third CD of portions of Sakamoto's NYC 1988 concert. (Which comes as a seperate a full length video also)
I saw the Neo Geo tour live the NYC. It was in the Beacon Theatre, which had reserved seats. I was near Susanne Vega, but wound up next to some stoned models who were noisy and laughed uncontrolably. Bernard Fowler did the vocals. The opening number was wild. They opened with Chinsagu No Hana, the quiet Okinawa piece on a backlit stage. The whole band jumped in the air at the conclusion and hit the ground on the downbeat of Neo Geo all the Genesis style Vari-lights came on at that moment. Also Sakamoto did not know New York audiences expect an encore, so he did not have one. He has sinceworked on the US style concert format.
My limited edition U.S. box of Playing the Orchestra includes (The tape on my obi has begun to turn ugly):
The bonus disc (USA):
The concert on the main Playing the Orchestra CD was originally called Sakamoto plays Sakamoto and was held on 88.4.9 and 88.4.10 in Tokyo, Bernard Fowler sang on some pieces but the released CD focuses on Last Emperor and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence pieces. The below were pieces played at the concert but not included on the album.
'Sweet Revenge' Tour '94(*) 1994 güt/For Life CD: FLCG-3008 also out on Video
asadoya yunta live version 08/28/1996@orchardhall
is a track on this güt label wide compilation of various artists.
Unofficial 1996 Tour Page by Yue Yaguchi.
Includes reviews of 2 shows which I wrote.
a live avant garde concert from 97.1 featuring the new piece Untitled 01. Musicians are Fuminori Shinozaki, David Torn, DJ Spooky and Ryuichi Sakamoto and conducted by Yutaka Sado. Has a multimedia partition. Don't have the CD. I attended a 1998 NYC concert performance to debut the Sony Classical release in the since then badly damaged World Financial Center.
Some movements are in an avant garde orchestral style, others are neo-classical with the final movement in Bertolucci style (and his voice is heard among other friends of RS within the piece discussing Salvation).
the Japanese version has a remix
after the main work.
Ivar de Vries writes
Catharsis is the key word when describing Discord. In an interview conducted around then, Ryuichi
Sakamoto claims to have composed the 4-movement orchestral piece
during one hectic month in response to distressing reports about the African
humanitarian situation at the time. In this sense, it can be seen as a precursor
to the Zero Landmine project. Musically, it is the multi-media symphony equivalent to his
later multi-media opera Life. Both works were premiered in a series of concerts in Japan and share
the aspects of transmission via the Internet and the use of pre-recorded voice-samples
from famous persons.
The serious nature of the symphony's subject and austerity of its musical material, where each movement expresses basically one idea, requires concentrated listening and a contemplative mood to really experience the inner workings of the piece. Otherwise boredom might set in, instead of catharsis.
The titles of the movements speak for themselves. Grief is a tragic conversation between groups of strings, with additional parts for horns and piano and in its mid-section flutes and harp. Anger is a succession of ever longer-held dissonant chords by full orchestra including percussion. Prayer is a very meditative piece, where the low voice of a bassoon imitates the chant of a monk, with sparse additions by the strings. Salvation introduces the sampled thoughts of people on that subject, combined with a slightly more positive-sounding reworking of the first movements material, a shimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, until at the very end the anger of the second movement briefly returns.
For this work Ryuichi Sakamoto introduced a more individual orchestral style than he did for earlier orchestral soundtracks, less romantic, more post-modern. As an encore to the concerts a remix-version of Anger was used, which simply added some electronic percussion to the original. The Japanese release has this encore on it, as well as some nice computer-graphics accompanying all tracks, featuring footage from the concerts. In addition, this most unremixable of works was nevertheless offered to a group of mixers for a series of singles on the Ninja Tune label. The results were predictably unsatisfactory but fortunately this mistake wasnt repeated for Life.
RS sent these pieces over to the label Ninja Tune to get them remixed by their artists.
this is the Japanese release of both the overseas Ninja Tune remix EPs combined with an exclusive Cold Cut remix to make fans buy it.
In the fall of '99 Sakamoto staged his opera Life.
Several releases stemmed from this work including:
He's taking the term Opera in the original broader sense. Its like his summing up of the 20th Century in soundbytes and music quatations for the first half then gets more spiritual and non-western in the second. All are Japan only releases. If I knew what was coming out at the time I guess I would have chosen the video. But I was kind of broke by the time it all came out. The limited edition book box Sampled Life is nice but it costs 7800 yen above the cost of the non-exclusive CDs inside it (for a 14800 yen total).
What's up with all the versions?
I'm not completely sure. I kind of suspect he was offering them all at a lower than normal price to combat piracy. There is no definitve studio version of this work. Instead there is a demo version made to present and work out the piece. There are 2 live albums of single performances. The 2 live performances could be bought packed inside a limited edition hardcover photo book. There is a VHS video release of the live show and I guess Audio Life kind of sums it up by editing the best bits of several performances.
Are these all very different?
Different yes. Very different - no.
Ivar de Vries writes:
This expensive box set contains the result of Ryuichi Sakamoto's
major project for 1999, the opera Life as commissioned by
a Japanese business-empire to commemorate its 120th anniversary plus the
40th anniversary of its television-station TV-Asahi.
It is a highly ambitious and serious multi-media project which operates on several levels and involves a host of famous names, either directly or through recorded samples. On one level it's looking forward towards the subject of how Life will evolve on Earth (quotations of the Dalai Lama and James Lovelock's Gaia-theory for example), on another level it's looking back at the 20th century (Apollo 11, Martin Luther King), with special emphasis on the second world-war (Churchill, Hiroshima, Auschwitz). Another level seems to be philosophical (quotations from Heidegger, Adorno), yet another one is personal (Lord's Prayer, movie-director Bertolucci's Salvation text, Spanish opera-singer Jose Carreras reciting a specially written tale) and there may be more levels still. A personal statement by Sakamoto shows the overall concern linking all these themes: how to learn from the vast (technological) potential for destructiveness that humans possess, how to salvage a future living environment for our children.
The multi-media aspect of the project appears to have been something like the following: real-time video-input from dancers in Frankfurt and New York aligned with more dancers, pre-recorded video and audio fragments, an orchestra, chorus and solo-instrumentalists/singers/narrators in Osaka/Tokyo with Ryuichi Sakamoto conducting and New York recording it all, plus the ability to follow the whole event live and provide "clapping hands" feedback via the Internet using special software. All this takes some time to figure out from the content of the box, which is as follows:
The personal statement mentioned before points back to the 1997 Discord project which, looking back now, appears to have been a sort of stepping-stone towards Life, trying out various things. This brings us nicely to the music, which is the most avant-garde Sakamoto has done yet. The whole piece is a strangely exhilarating collage of pre-recorded sound-bites, wild atonal singing/playing, Bach-like choruses, electronic ambient backgrounds, piano-pieces. Audacious stuff, I suppose the only thing missing is an equivalent to Stockhausen's helicopters (from his rarely performed "string-quartet for 4 helicopters"). Stockhausen himself is represented though, together with samples from a host of other luminaries of the 20th-century avant-garde (like Stravinsky, Varese, Cage, Takemitsu, Boulez, Ligeti, Xenakis), "remixed" into the score by Sakamoto, who also quotes himself at a few places (from the Love Is The Devil soundtrack and the Okinawa song from Neo Geo). So on yet another level the opera also commentates on the music of the 20th century.
Going into more detail about the individual tracks:
The first/third CD (containing the first act) has a lot of non-Sakamoto music all those 20th-century composers are quoted here and there, in chronological order. The second/fourth CD (second, third acts) features mostly original material, with many of it being piano plus strings stuff, with Jacques Morelenbaum (known from previous and future projects) prominent on the cello.
In 'Door Open' (the overture before the overture) the opera starts off with a short abstract Satie piano-piece called 'Vexation'. After a break during which the musicians come on stage (not on disc) the Overture proper begins with Jose Carreras reciting a text and continues with quotations from Debussy, Stravinsky and Varese.
A post-war Churchill sound-bite starts off 'War And Revolution' to some moody string-quartet music. Then the full orchestra takes the stage, a soprano, choir and counter-tenor join in to produce some pretty lively and strange music with lots of French/German intellectual sound-bites - it ends with a Bach-like chorale.
Physicist Robert Oppenheimer (sound-bite about the atomic bomb) and quotations from post-war electronic music (Boulez, Stockhausen) feature prominently in 'Science And Technology', producing a stark overall effect to conclude a first act mainly concerned with the past.
The second act moves towards the opera's subject Life and is underpinned by a subtle electronic ambient background which appears to symbolise the slow tempo of evolution. 'Evolution Of Life' is again introduced by Jose Carreras and features the 'Okinawa Song' and 'Love Is The Devil' quotes and a long sound-bite from biologist Lynn Margulis about her pet-concept symbiosis.
'History Of Gaia' has some exotic vocalists and another sound-bite, this time from James Lovelock about his controversial pet-theory Gaia. Both these second-act pieces end with another beautiful chorale.
The third act is more about people and spirituality. 'Art' is piano-based and, using various sound-bites, highlights the civilising influence of art in people's lives. 'Response' is the wildest and most atonal piece of them all with a bunch of vocalists basically having a shouting match in different languages. The last track again has an electronic ambient background and at first alternates between chorales and Gregorian chants. Then the Dalai Lama contributes a message, the soprano and counter-tenor each have an aria before it all ends with a final chorale.
A project like this, with its many extra-musical themes, is always in danger of being crushed under its own pretensions and (like for instance Stockhausen's ongoing opera-cycle) it's hard to tell how it will survive future inspection. The obvious joke doing the rounds was that Sakamoto deserves a life sentence for this, but musically at least I feel it holds its own. The fact that its composer has proved many times to also have the talent for writing decent tunes adds credibility to the project, because it shows it was a conscious decision to apply his talent to something a lot more avant-garde.
NK afterword: I'm writing this in 2005. As of my writing these works haven't been released outside of Japan or AFAIK the VHS has not been released on DVD, though I suspect a DVD would be the best way to experience this more or less live work. I assume unless there is some issue that sooner or later there will be a DVD. Right now I see Osaka, Tokyo and Progress around used and sometimes new fairly often. You rarely see all the releases and I've not seen Sampled Life offered used in a while (though I've not been searching for it) . VHS is a retail format in decline more or less and I guess by the time Audio Life came out it wasn't ordered in the quantity the earlier versions were.
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Thanks to: John DeChello for Discord tickets. Chuck Wheat for info. Ivar de Vries for the review
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