Ryuichi Sakamoto: What Interesting About Bowie is Not the Sound

An account written by Ryuichi Sakamoto, published in the February Issue of the New Music Magazine in 1979, along with the interview between Sakamoto and Bowie.

Read the full interview: https://lysisme.art.blog/2021/02/26/ziggy-stardust-in-exile-in-la-ryuichi-sakamoto-interviews-david-bowie/

New Music Magazine, February Issue, 1979

Author: Ryuichi Sakamoto

Photographer: Masayoshi Sukita

English Translation by Stella Hsieh

Album cover of Equinoxe

I bought a Jean-Michel Jarre LP [Equinoxe] today and was listening to it but…my reaction to it is simply a NO. Only the record sleeve is good. A lot of people are looking through the telescopes in the picture, and the telescopes are like eyes, so they look like monkeys- it’s this kind of cover of monkey-like people looking through the telescopes. Speaking of the music, it means nothing no matter how many computers were used in it, however. To say it means nothing sounds like bigotry, but in short, it lacks power, and it’s not even something like Dadaism. Isn’t there a lot of music same as this? Not just music, though. They call it punk in magazines, and the album reviews are poor. Is it because there are no good albums? Given the guy who wrote the review of our album Yellow Magic Orchestra as an example, he didn’t care about the music at all, but only wrote that he hated the “German progressive rock.” He doesn’t have to write such things since he is mentally deficient for it.
There are a lot of writings about who is influenced by whom in rock music, or what kind of ad-libs [Elvis] Costello plays, etc. If you have time for that, you better just pick up a guitar and sing. That’s enough of that. Rock music has no truth. There are no coordinates for “truth.” In a word, every and each one of you can do whatever you want.

By the way, I don’t think people have been communicating well nowadays. It’s not a matter of “words.” For instance, when Devo superficially talks about degeneration and devolution, my, aren’t they degenerating even more? In a nutshell, we can’t communicate in our daily lives any more than the way we play or listen to the music.
I’m a bit of on trend myself, so I’ve been saying that I like punk music. YMO performed at the Pit Inn at Roppongi today, and we played something I jokingly called it electronic punk. It got me pretty excited, and the other musicians as well as people listening to us were carried away, too. We got a lot of laughs, but it scared me. I think it was frightening not really because it’s trendy or fashionable, but because I do feel that our ears for listening to the music have degenerated.
Akko-chan [Akiko Yano] also played solo on the piano at the gig today. You see, I’ve been trained to play the piano since I was a child, learning classical music and those skills of the so-called old music. So, I think I understand what is good and great about music that is not superficial. But, when I listen to the music with my head in the sand, I feel like I’m losing out on the superficial impact of the three-chord music, even though it may not be bad because it’s three-chord music itself.

David Bowie

For me, the idea of music as a pace is German and conceptual. Roughly speaking, it was probably from Debussy onward that I began to place importance on the intuitive coloration of sound in music. So, in a sense, modern music, or rather contemporary music, started with Debussy. And that kind of music has come to the point where we have Philip Glass in contemporary music, or punk rock and the new wave in rock music.
It’s also has something to do with drug culture. But drugs have been around for a long time; deep consciousness has been known for a long time; and although I don’t know precisely how long it is, meditation has been practiced for a thousand or two thousand years. So human beings haven’t changed, have they? Basically, we are degenerating.

As Bowie said, when he was living in America, he was on the verge of mental illness for about three years. I suppose my current state is similar to that. That is to say, even though I’ve found consciousness through something like drug culture, it would nevertheless drift into the superficial pleasure. Therefore, the deeper mind is left behind, and the right style of expression still cannot be found, which I think people are getting desperate at. Now the computers are easier to use, and techno-logic is becoming the place to escape to. It’s not just about sound technology, but also about the connection of sounds. For example, there are some fine young crossover groups these days, whose technology is mostly to manipulate the sound. There is something different about them-not saying that they are boring, but seems that it’s not music at all. They even have the same face that one of them feels like a clone of the other. You can’t tell regardless of at first glance or with closer observation. I don’t sense the creative power nor the memory of it through the artificial. It’s like everything is established in a place where there is absolutely no power of the mind.
In fact, I have a tendency to do the same, but I think there is a kind of music that does not manipulate sound, which was what Bowie and Roxy Music were doing. That’s why I didn’t really understand Bowie- he is not that interesting sound-wise.
But with Low, Bowie took the style of German rock and [Brian] Eno, and thus made it sound appealing to me. Then I got interested and started listening to Roxy Music, and finally realized that it wasn’t their sound that was interesting. I don’t have the right word for it, but I’d say it’s a “beat,” not a rhythmic beat, of course, but a maniacal, fashionable awareness. It was Tonovan [Kazuhiko Kato] and Yukihiro [Takahashi] who taught me this. Bowie claimed that Low was a very peaceful album, but I told him I didn’t think so. I said so because my feeling lies in the spirit instead of the sound. The psyche is very tumultuous in the depths of consciousness like the deep ocean. When I persisted, he said, without the interpreter, that he understood what I was talking about. I was so surprised yet glad that I told him to take a closer look at the imbalance of Tokyo. But it seemed that he already knew all that. He looked at me as if to say, “Do I even have to see any more?” He was doing it all on purpose- he can do it because he’s smart and is a groupie. Then he gave me a lovely wink- not with that dilated eye.


3 thoughts on “Ryuichi Sakamoto: What Interesting About Bowie is Not the Sound

  1. Thanks so much for translating the article!! I really love the album Low, and it’s so much fun to read the comment from Sakamoto-san about the album, and the last sentence just made me lol awwww

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading! Low is one of my all-time favorite Bowie albums and I personally relate to Sakamoto-san’s opinion that it reflects a tumultuous consciousness, so I also enjoyed translating the article. And yes, the last sentence is lovely indeed 😉


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