In 2014, a medical diagnosis changed Ryuichi Sakamoto’s life. The pianist, composer and Yellow Magic Orchestra member was told he had throat cancer, forcing him to reluctantly cancel live performances while he underwent treatment. “I honestly don’t know how many years I have left,” he later reflected in a 2017 documentary. Ryuichi Sakamoto. Coda:. “I don’t take anything for granted. But I know I want to make more music. Music that I will not be ashamed to leave, meaningful work.
This sense of renewed ambition led Sakamoto to abandon the album he was recording at the time and start anew. in sync, a dark, brooding release informed by her cancer diagnosis. The 14-track album channeled Bach’s melancholic reverence alongside the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, nestling sparse piano pieces into electronic soundscapes imbued with sobering heaviness.
Nearly a decade removed from her initial diagnosis and more than five years later in syncSakamoto has continued to make music even as his battle with cancer continues. His latest album, 12:00, was written and recorded during a particularly difficult 13 months. After being diagnosed with rectal cancer at the height of the epidemic. “From now on, I will live with cancer,” he announced. Sakamoto retired from public life and the disease reached stage four in 2022. However, he began to host. occasional instrumental live streams as part of his Playing the Piano series, for which he performed career-spanning material in short clips edited together into virtual concerts. Following his 2020 and 2022 live streams, the former was later released as a live album;12:00 turns more towards the emotional landscapes that defined in sync.
A collection of etudes for piano and synthesizer, the album is surprisingly minimal in its arrangements. The songs are titled and sequenced in the order they were performed on the tape, giving the album a diary feel. (Only the final cut, an atmospheric, minute-long recording of tinkling bells, is presented as an out-of-order.) The pieces move gently through space and time, accentuating the vibrant textures of the room in which they were recorded. “20210310” opens with a shimmering synth tone that slowly builds and expands, alternating between high and low notes that defy human hearing thresholds in every direction. The piece rises and falls in a clear contrapuntal arc that never turns into a melody. Others, like “20220202” and “20220214,” are similarly atmospheric, composed of raw, unvarnished sounds; they feel more like demos than the focused interventions of Sakamoto’s past solo records.