Ryuichi Sakamoto

1 Story


Shifts and perception between music and memory

Artwork by Urs Fischer | NeueJournal Issue 1

Esteemed composer Ryuichi Sakamoto is one of contemporary music’s most inventive visionaries, so establishing a creative pairing between him and Urs Fischer’s masterful artwork was nothing short of perfect. Sakamoto, who has garnered international acclaim for his soundtrack composition for the Oscar-nominated film, The Revenant, explores the musicality in painting in a commentary for NeueJournal. Alongside Fischer’s pieces, Sakamoto’s words come to life, creating a flow as melodic as his music.


There are certain pieces of art—in genres other than music—which to me feel quite musical. What do I mean?


Take paintings, for example.


Musicality in paintings does not depend on a painter’s particular love for music, or whether or not he or she intended for such musicality in the act of creation.


On the other hand, there are pieces of music or sounds that evoke an image. Whether or not a certain song feels visual, however, depends on the depth of the listener’s visual sensibilities.


Similarly, whether or not a person senses music in non-music depends on the depth of his or her musical sensibilities.


It is quite possible for some to hear a melody in a mere utterance of a word, while others may not perceive such music. A slight shift in perspective could reveal poetry in a cut-and-dried weather report.


Artwork by Urs Fischer | NeueJournal Issue 1


Duchamp demonstrated this with his concept of the readymade—the foundation of art in the 20th century. To think this way could reveal poetry, music and art underneath the mundane everyday.


A mass may be experiencing the same performance or piece, but ultimately the affective quality of the art depends on the receiver and his or her present state—an obvious and logical conclusion.


So, with that in mind, what do I mean when I say some pieces of art possess musicality and others do not?


Take La Monte Young’s piece composition 1960 #5, for example—a piece close to my heart. It’s not actually a composition per se. Rather, it is simply a text-based set of instructions, common in the era of conceptual art. The performer must open the doors and the windows of the performance space and let loose one or any number of butterflies. When the butterflies all leave the performance space, the piece ends. I have felt a deep musicality in this piece since I was a teen. Why so?


Music is not solely an intellectual structure (or, archi- tecture in flux over time). Music has poetry, is visual, and communicates complex memories and emotions. The poetry is tied to the visual, and music is composed of these elements, which continually change from moment to moment.


The flutter of the butterfly evokes my teenage years, the view of the cabbage field in front of my house, the smell of the dirt, the absence of my mother, playing alone, and some concert halls. And, as always with music, these memories ultimately fade.


I have not seen or heard composition 1960 #5 to this day (I would like to eventually), and yet it is music that is special to me.

-Ryuichi Sakamoto


Artwork: Urs Fischer