Sifa 2019: Japanese maestros team up for arts fest

Multimedia artist Shiro Takatani reflects on perceptions of time and space in ST/LL, while composer Ryuichi Sakamoto improvises to visuals in Fragments

On a stage flooded with water and set for dinner, four performers move slowly in tune to projections created by Japanese multimedia artist Shiro Takatani, with music by renowned composer Ryuichi Sakamoto.

This is ST/LL, a performance installation that shows at the Singapore International Festival of Arts on Friday and Saturday at the Esplanade Theatre.

Takatani is known for creating a new performance and visual vocabulary with Dumb Type, the group he co-founded in 1984 in Kyoto, while Sakamoto won an Oscar for the soundtrack of the Bernardo Bertolucci film, The Last Emperor (1987). They have been working together on various projects since 1999, when Takatani was the visual director for the composer's opera, Life.

Takatani, 55, describes ST/LL as reflecting human perceptions of time and space. The performers' actions play out slowly and deliberately in water, alongside objects such as tables, chairs and crockery.

In an e-mail interview, he explains that the flooded stage helps viewers visualise how humans move through time, just as the performers move through water. The juxtaposition of everyday household objects is so people "feel a gap or variance or something strange" is happening.

Silence is as important as the music in the work.

  • BOOK IT / SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS: ST/LL

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Friday and Saturday, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $40, $60 and $80 from sifa.sg or Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg )

    INFO: Performed in Japanese with English surtitles

"I think artwork is like prayer, so I don't fear silence," Takatani says. "Both praying in silence and praying in a loud voice are important."

Apart from ST/LL, he showcases another unique collaboration with Sakamoto, titled Fragments, at the arts festival on May 28.

In this, an audience of fewer than 300 takes to the Esplanade Theatre stage with Sakamoto, who performs improvised and previously composed music on the piano, with accompanying visuals from Takatani.

This is not a typical live soundtrack performance.

"I imagine it will be an experimental performance," Takatani says. "It is something like Ryuichi reacts to the video, and then we react to his sound, and lighting and video are changing independently."

His collaborator agrees.

"I let the visual elements run freely without synchronising to the music," says the 67-year-old composer via e-mail. "In other words, neither music nor visuals are master or slave."

An initial 200-odd tickets to Fragments sold out an hour within the launch of the arts festival programme in February, and another 40 seats released in April were similarly snapped up.

A storied composer like Sakamoto could easily fill up the nearly 2,000-seat Esplanade Theatre, but he prefers intimacy for the performance.

"I like playing in a small place so the audience will be almost able to listen to the sounds and the music without going through the PA system. That's ideal."

He adds that while he is inspired by the images Takatani creates, it can be challenging to play to projections.

"If the moving images have a very clear tempo of their own, sometimes that tempo could interfere with the tempo of the music."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2019, with the headline 'Japanese maestros team up for arts fest'. Print Edition | Subscribe