AMN Reviews: Willits & Sakamoto – “Ancient Future” (Ghostly International)

Christopher Willits is a guitar innovator and firebrand of the San Francisco electronic and alternative music scene, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, from the groundbreaking Yellow Magic Orchestra to scores for such films as “The Last Emperor” and the opening of the Barcelona Olympics, is probably the most famous electronic musician and composer Japan has ever produced. Collaborations with microsound engineers like Carsten Nikolai (Alva Noto) and Christian Fennesz have endeared him to the thin edge of the avantgarde wedge.

Willits and Sakamoto first collaborated in 2008 with the album “Ocean Fire”. While that was a work of highly-evolved ambient music, “Ancient Future”, for all its singular ambiance and stippled texture, is actually kind of a jazz album.

Working together directly then, this time Sakamoto sent a handful of solo piano pieces for Willits to treat. Willits describes the album as “a space of opening and release”. Basically, it sounds like Willits making Sakamoto´s piano very nervous, only to repeatedly calm and reassure it. Each note he strikes, and Sakamoto strikes relatively few but each all the more significant for his parsimony, either passes through Willits´ mangrove roots of loops and static or bypasses it untouched. The ambient resonance of “Ancient Future” is spectacular, chillingly so. Even those familiar with Willits´ thoughtful and well-wrought ambient discography will be impressed by the craftsmanship and detail of “Ancient Future”.

Worked to bring out the grain of the music like a master carpenter raises the unpigmented flame and stripe of a slab of curly maple, Willits´ guitar and Sakamoto´s piano fuse into one.

Stephen Fruitman