I think it’s fair to say Ryuichi Sakamoto is one of the most gifted musicians and composers of both the 20th and the 21st century. His posses the ability to combine Japanese sentiment with a Western compositional form; whether that be the electro-pop of Yellow Magic Orchestra, the experimental and collaborative leanings of his solo work, or the romantic and classical styles of his many soundtracks – think Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, The Last Emperor.
Proxima tells the story of Sarah, a French astronaut training at the European Space Agency in Cologne. She is the only woman in the arduous program. She lives alone with Stella, her seven-year-old daughter. Sarah feels guilty about not being able to spend more time with her child. Her love is overpowering, unsettling. When Sarah is chosen to join the crew of a year-long space mission called Proxima, it creates chaos in the mother-daughter relationship.
Proxima’s opening track ‘Launch’ manages to evoke what the title suggests, we hear beautiful ascending clouds of sophistically designed synthesiser patches. There is also a sound design which is both soft and warm, added to this tinkling microtonal shimmer of background melody, like an ethereal Japanese flute. One of the most developed pieces on this recording.
‘Stella’ is musically shining, spread out, distant, and emerging. I assume it’s about a person, but it could be about a distant star. I would compare this to a luxuriant digital bath of pixillated noise.
‘Exhibition Room’ is fuzzy, lingering, and swooping; on the verge of orchestral and abstract electronic tones. It’s atmosphere is both curious and suspenseful. I can imagine this being an epic audio experience when played out in the vast auditorium of a high end cineplex.
‘Travel’ – once again orchestral tones emerging from an electronic fuzz, what could be brass and woodwinds, but immersed in the imager of the audio equivalent of an off kilter tropical forest.
‘Gravitation Test’ builds tension through what sounds like tens, if not hundreds, of strummed strings. It reminds me to Mica Levi’s soundtrack to Under The Skin (2013), perhaps one of the top original soundtracks of recent years.
‘VR’ sounds very rich in it’s string tones, which are immersed in a reverberant sound design. This is a longer piece, that suggests a drama of someone either lost in or exploring an unfamiliar virtual reality, in it’s self a sinister thought.
‘Rescue in the Water’ is dramatic but brief. You hope the person or people actually get rescued.
‘Training’ this piece is grounded in resonant strings with some vibrato synthesiser type sounds. It then has emerging fast strings, a sense of development, and it grows in confidence. Sakamoto’s music is as much about human potential as about anything else, and this is a shining example of his skill in delivering that lesson.
Of all the songs ’Reunion’ is the most reminiscent of the music on the recent Sakamoto album Async (2017) (well worth checking out). Synthesisers contrast each other with lines played in seemingly different tempos. This piece also has the qualities of Japanese intonation and melody.
‘Looking for Stella’ is spacious and wondering. Similarly, the next piece ‘Iceskating’ reflects the title; a glacial backdrop of shimmering synthesisers, and a melody played on what sounds like plucked ice.
‘Unconscious’ another pleasing piece of sound design which evokes a suspended dream like space.
‘Escape’ utilises an orchestra of strings, and as one would expect it has suspense, but once again with a microtonal Japanese sensibility. It evokes both escape, but also moving towards something. One would assume framing the final scenes of the film.
‘Rocket’ is not what you might expect were you to assume the music to reflect the title. It’s more drifting than take off. If you turn up the volume, you hear a wonderful lifting choral melody energy in front of the drifting synthesisers sounds. It reminded me of the music of 16th century choral composer Thomas Tallis.
‘Embarkment’ is the final piece on this recording. This combines a full orchestra of brass, winds, and strings with the sound of Sakamoto’s synthesiser. A lovely conclusion to some wonderful music, which must enhance the film, but in my view stands alone as a fantastic listen. Highly recommended, especially for fans of Ryuichi Sakamoto.