On Thursday night I went to Hamer Hall in the Arts Centre to see Alva Noto (aka Carsten Nicolai) and Ryuichi Sakamoto perform Insen at the Melbourne International Arts Festival.
I have been interested in Sakamoto for a long time, so it was wonderful to finally see him play live. I loved all of the pieces. It’s difficult to describe the music – classical piano with Japanese melodies meets a mellow Kraftwerk. The melodies came mostly from the piano, not the electronics of Noto, who did beats, loops, textures and interuptions to Sakamoto’s piano. It’s beautiful, funky and cerebral.
Sitting in the front row, I could see that Sakamoto is intense, making subtle tortured facial expressions. Noto was almost Kraftwerk expressionless, except for the final piece. After playing for 45 minutes, they bowed to strong applause and left the stage. They returned for an encore performance, bowed again to applause and left the stage again. After sustained applause they came back on stage for a second bow, and 2 ushers came out to present them with the customary flowers for an opening night performance.
At that moment, however, they decided to play a second encore piece, and so went to their respective instruments holding a large bunch of flowers wrapped in crackling silver paper. Noto put his down on the stage to manipulate his 2 laptops, but Sakamoto sat his flowers in his lap and played half the piece with them there! Composition for piano, laptop and flowers. Noto could barely contain his laughter and smirked widely.
Sakamoto was dressed in black trousers, shirt and jacket, with black and white sneakers. Noto was in a black long sleaved top, black trousers and white sneakers. You don’t see Kraftwerk play in sneakers!
The performance of Insen is of music recorded and released last year, and this recording is reviewed here by the BBC and here. The photo below of the two at work is from a Japanese blog called Livedoor.
Seeing this performance completed a kind of art-rock circle. Sylvian famously took his last name from that of a character in the David Bowie song Drive in Saturday, Bowie has used elements of Japanese art, theatre and music in his work, Bowie worked with Sakamoto on the film Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, Sylvian did an album called The First Day with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp around the same time he did Heartbeat with Sakamoto, and Fripp played on Bowie’s albums Heroes and Scary Monsters.
I recently learned that Sylvian and Fripp had performed live in 1993 and recorded some shows, which were released as Damage. I’m listening to it while writing this article.