Dialogue with Sakamoto Ryuichi: Cancer, Nature and Time

After receiving treatment for throat cancer for several years, Ryuichi Sakamoto was diagnosed with rectal cancer last year, but he still did not stop working.

Dialogue with Sakamoto Ryuichi: Cancer, Nature and Time

“I want to create a myth about man and nature,” Sakamoto Ryuichi said of his new work “Time.” NATHAN BAJAR FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

Sakamoto Long a positive spent the summer rainy season in Tokyo. The Oscar-winning composer has lived in New York for more than 30 years and has been in Japan since November last year-not because of the epidemic, but because he was treated for throat cancer for several years. Soon after his condition improved, he was diagnosed with Rectal cancer.

Despite his health problems, Sakamoto is as prolific as ever. He participated in concerts and exhibitions, and recently created the opera “Time”, which premiered at the Dutch Arts Festival last month.

“Time” is part of the “asynchronous” music that Sakamoto is constantly exploring, that is, music that is not arranged according to the traditional time structure. He proposed this concept in his 2017 album “async”, which was conceived during his first recovery from cancer-he said that this experience has re-honed his ears, go Listen to the beauty of everyday sounds, whether natural or artificial, whether it is sunbathing or singing bowls.

Dialogue with Sakamoto Ryuichi: Cancer, Nature and Time

“Time” unfolds on a water-filled stage with a screen showing the weather system, the city and the empty space. SANNE PEPER

“Time” has no command or rhythm markings. It is a “Mugen Noh” (Mugen Noh), which is a kind of Noh based on dreams. The dream scene on the stage was created in collaboration with visual artist Shiro Takatani. It unfolds on a water-filled stage with a screen showing the weather system, the city and the empty space.

Mayumi Miyata carries the sheng (an ancient Japanese wind instrument) back and forth on the stage, representing nature. Dancer and actor Min Tanaka is a symbol of human fragility, and he worked hard to build a road across the water. “Time”-just like our new century-presents a premonition and feels like a memory: at the end of time, we will all return to the same sea.

Sakamoto talked about this work in a recent video call. The following is an edited excerpt of the conversation.

During the production of Time, when did you discover that the cancer had recurred?

After “Asynchronous”, I spent four years on “Time” and last year I was diagnosed with rectal cancer. This is a long treatment process. I’m in the middle stage now, and I will go back to the hospital for surgery in the fall. It has been a year since I left New York; I don’t know when I will be back.

Did you originally plan to perform in this opera?

I thought about making an original musical instrument for it. I intend to save this idea for the future.

At first I used the word opera, but now I don’t say that anymore. It is a combination of installation and performance-a dramatic work.

This seems to have a deep connection with “Asynchronous”.

The concept behind “Asynchronous” is my suspicion of synchronization, which reminds me of time itself. If you know my past works, you will find that my progress is circuitous. But I’m from the “asynchronous” in get something too big, I do not want to lose them. I really want to develop them. That album is very spatial, like music created for installations, so if you develop it, it’s a kind of installation involving performers. This is the original intention of Time.

“Time” is a “dream noh”-it has no rhythm-so it does seem to be the perfect landscape to explore these ideas.

Dialogue with Sakamoto Ryuichi: Cancer, Nature and Time

Mayumi Miyata carries the sheng, an ancient Japanese wind instrument, back and forth on the stage, and she represents nature. SANNE PEPER

Time is too natural for our society, we don’t doubt it. But because I am a sound musician , and I have been dealing with time. When we compose music, we must consider how to deal with sound in time.

Except for the Sheng, there are no musical instruments on the stage.

Only Sheng, I was very fascinated by it when I was a college student. I don’t like other traditional Japanese music, even the traditions of kado or sado. I hate everything except gagaku. It sounds like alien music to me.

Miyata represents nature and can easily cross the water surface, while Tanaka, the “human being”, is so weak.

Women and Sheng, they represent nature. Tanaka wanted to create a straight path in the water—in time—to the other shore , but he failed. He went crazy and eventually died in the water.

What do people want at the end of the road?

This is human nature. It’s a bit like Sisyphus: it’s a natural passion to open the way and conquer nature.

The opening scene is inserted into a series of stories: the dream in the works of writer Natsume Soseki, the traditional Noh drama, and the butterfly dream in “Zhuangzi”. How did you choose these stories?

Dialogue with Sakamoto Ryuichi: Cancer, Nature and Time

Dancer and actor Tanaka is an illusion of human weakness, struggling to build a road on the water. SANNE PEPER

In the dream, all the attributes of time are destroyed. In the Noh drama “Kantan” (Kantan), a man who is looking for enlightenment takes a nap. He only slept for five minutes, but 50 years passed in his dream. Where is reality? Five minutes or 50 years? Then butterfly butterfly dream , we saw the philosopher Zhuang Zhou. Did the butterfly dream that he was Zhuang Zhou, or did Zhuang Zhou dream that he was a butterfly? We can’t tell the difference.

By liberating time in music, do you feel it slows down?

The theme of “Time” is to insist that time does not exist, rather than slowly passing by. When watching the premiere of streaming media, I felt that there was only one minute in an hour, or some moments of repetition. At least I can feel time on another scale.

You have also painted on ceramics (“2020S”), used missing items to make installation works (“Is Your Time”). At present, you have held a large retrospective exhibition in Beijing, which contains a lot of visuals. works. What motivated you to turn to the visual arts?

Perhaps the turning point was the opera “Life” I created in 1999. It includes visual images, moving images and some text-these visual elements are the protagonist of the opera.

Is that the first time you cooperated with Gao Gu?

Yes, and what we did after that was to deconstruct “Life”. We deconstructed all visual images and sounds, and created an installation in 2007. That was an important moment.

I think you have always been involved in the visual arts-you and the filmmakers have worked very closely on the soundtrack.

Strangely, I didn’t think about the format of the movie. The film is more narrative and linear. Unfortunately, the linear structure exists in time; it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I don’t want to go back to this form. This is why I am so fascinated by installation art. The device does not need to start or end. I think the best device is to listen to the rain.

At the end of “Time” there was a heavy rainstorm, followed by slow motion of waves crashing. What sea are you thinking about?

Man wants to conquer nature—that is, water—but he must fail, so he must die of water. I need a huge flood, perhaps a tsunami, to represent the fierce power of water. Moreover, almost all ethnic groups have some memories of the Great Flood. Maybe we all have some deep memories of surviving the flood.

I think many people will wonder whether the theme of this opera is related to climate change.

Climate change is the sharpest conflict between man and nature, so it is of course included. But it is not the point. I want to create a myth about man and nature.

This is very similar to Natsume Soseki’s dream, in which a woman becomes a flower that blooms from her grave. I have read some explanations. Some people believe that it represents Natsume Soseki’s struggle in the modern world.

This is my belief in reincarnation. Because she promised to come back in 100 years, she came back as a flower. You know, I have always wanted to be buried in the ground so that my body can be nourishment for other creatures. In Natsume Soseki’s story, the woman becomes a flower. really beautiful.

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