Produced by Tin Drum, the mixed reality show sees the late Ryuichi Sakamoto in concert, traversing his decades-long career

It’s a sweet kind of surveyance, watching Tin Drum’s KAGAMI—wandering from Ryuichi Sakamoto’s fingers, moving with adroit ease across the keys of a grand piano, to a view of his face in quiet concentration. The mixed reality show sees the late composer in concert, whereby the audience, equipped with MR headsets, can experience a cinematic solo performance that traverses 10 celebrated original pieces from Sakamoto’s decades-long career.

Upon entering, the crowd files into seats arranged in a circle, where—once properly goggled—their present reality blurs. In the space’s center, Sakamoto is a ghost come to life, and the audience becomes ghostly along with him, their shadows moving carefully through the mutable frame of his performance.

KAGAMI marries the present with the past in an imaginative landscape that’s a strange type of transportive: Your immediate surroundings appear just as incorporeal as Sakamoto does. It’s a different plane of existence, experientially. At the end of the show’s first edition at The Shed, the viewer’s skin is no longer damp from the New York heat, but from the artificial window above Sakamoto, which blows glittery, snowflake-like orbs around the liminal space. Across the hour-long performance, the only interruption that reminds you of real reality is the occasional, horrible flap of another audience-member’s flip-flops as they traverse the experience from all angles. But you can’t blame them, really, for feeling a sense of heedless solitude. We are together and alone, at once; Sakamoto is just as close to us as we are to each other.

Rendering courtesy of Tin Drum.

“I don’t think there was ever so complete a relationship as that between Ryuichi Sakamoto and the piano,” said Tin Drum Director Todd Eckert in a press statement on KAGAMI. “It began traditionally enough, but through his relentless curiosity, it resulted in decades of redefining what sound can mean. Electronics and sonics and all manner of compositional elevation formed a body of work elementally human and monumental in both breadth and scale. But in the end, it all came back to his relationship with those 88 keys.”

The immersive quality of the concert is particularly suited to the work of Sakamoto, who, through music, was expert in the art of world-building. Between the city outside and the performance space sits an intermediate room where blown-up portraits of the composer flank the walls, leading to a short film on loop that sees him on frozen terrain. “I’m fishing for sound,” he says with soft-spoken glee, lowering his equipment into a small stream through a crack in the ice. His music was informed by his work as an environmentalist and an activist; the fantasies he built were made from life as he lived it.

Left: Collaboration Process by Tin Drum. Right: Image by Marissa Alper.

Before his passing, Sakamoto wrote of KAGAMI:

“There is, in reality, a virtual me.
This virtual me will not age, and will continue to play the piano for years, decades, centuries.
Will there be humans then?
Will the squids that will conquer the earth after humanity listen to me? What will pianos be to them?
What about music?
Will there be empathy there?

Empathy that spans hundreds of thousands of years. Ah, but the batteries won’t last that long.”

For now, our batteries are well-charged, and, with KAGAMI, they’re put to good use.

KAGAMI will be presented at the 2023 Manchester International Festival in the United Kingdom, continuing in 2024 to the Sydney Opera House and Big Ears Festival.