Net music

Ryuichi Sakamoto RFH, London
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The Independent Culture
Here we are at the cutting edge of technology, and from where I am sitting it looks about sharp enough to eat soup. Ryuichi Sakamoto's Friday night concert at the Royal Festival Hall is being broadcast live over the Internet, the first classical concert, apparently, in the UK to receive this treatment (a number of rock groups have been there already). Assuming you have the right technology - a sound card, Netscape and some other stuff - you can access the broadcast at, and have the sound beamed directly from the Festival Hall through your computer into your living room; if you have the right leads, you can play it through your stereo; if you have enough memory, you can download the concert to play it back later.

Within a couple of years, I'm assured by the technical staff behind the link-up at the Festival Hall, CD-quality sound and live pictures will be part of the package; and at that point, concert-going might well be revolutionised. At the moment, though, while the sound quality is not bad, it isn't spectacularly good; and the peripheral bits of the broadcast are unimpressive. Running down one side of the computer screen is a series of labels - "Biography", "Discography", "Chronography" - which you can click on to get supplementary information about Ryuichi Sakamoto's life and music: "Discography" gives you a complete run-down of all his recordings, from the earliest days with the Yellow Magic Orchestra; "Chronography" gives you the highlights of Sakamoto's life in date order (born 1952, began studying composition at Tokyo University of the Arts 1963, soundtrack for Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence 1983); "Biography" gives you the same information, but more discursively.

The best bit is the pictures: a series of eight or nine photographs taken earlier in the day showing the outside of the hall ("A beautiful day in London..." reads one label; " the distance we see Big Ben," adds the next) and Sakamoto and his musicians preparing for the concert ("Although it's only a rehearsal, the passion is still evident in Ryuichi's playing"). It's unfortunate that every time you try to access a picture or a bit of text, you lose the sound. Given this, you wonder whether all these extras are really necessary. A man from Mitsubishi, who are organising the broadcast, explains that they are there to stop people getting bored. Can this really be more interesting than the music?

Sitting in the Festival Hall itself, the answer seems to be "Possibly". The computer material makes great play of Sakamoto's eclecticism - he's said to be interested in jazz, bossa nova, modern classical, dub and gamelan - but here, at the last concert in the European leg of his TRIO world tour, it's hard not to be aware of how much his music borrows from other composers: a bit of Philip Glass here, a touch of Satie there; but try and imagine Glass re-writing the theme for Love Story or Satie's Warsaw Concerto. For this tour, Sakamoto has adopted a traditional piano trio format - himself on piano, with a cellist and a violinist - and reduced to these essentials, his music seems melodically and harmonically banal, the echoes of other composers reading more like gestures towards the modern rather than a fully integrated part of his language. Here too, the cutting- edge seems like something you could safely leave small children to play with.