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Ryuichi Sakamoto, '20211201'

Ryuichi Sakamoto was many things during his wondrous life. He was an electronic pop pioneer with his group, Yellow Magic Orchestra; an Oscar-winning composer of some of the most beloved soundtracks in movie history; and, later in his life, a collaborator of minimalist pieces with musician Alva Noto. Perhaps the most important relationship he had was with his piano, an instrument he treated with respect, adoration and limitless potential.

Sakamoto honored that relationship in his album, 12, released two months before his death at 71. The album, he said, served as an "audio diary" of his final years, its songs titled by the dates they were written. In "20211201," pensive piano notes emanate from his fingertips as an angelic voice beams softly from above. The celestial scene is countered by the sound of Sakamoto's own breathing, fast and nasal and sucking in air. The recording is intimate and physical, a harsh reminder of the pain he endured while battling cancer. Heard after his death, it comes across as one of the greatest modern composers pondering the afterlife.

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Miguel Otárola