‘It’s embarrassing to be flashy,” says Ryota Miyake, explaining why he chose the sparrow, one of the plainest, most ubiquitous birds in Japan as his moniker.
The 34-year-old musician and bird lover is one of Japan’s two Red Bull Music Academy participants in Paris this year. He was selected by the academy for his solo work as Sparrows, as well as his involvement in synth-pop group Crystal.
Miyake’s attitude of shying away from the spotlight is apparent in his music as Sparrows. When talking about his 2013 album “Collected Visits,” Miyake says, “I imagined it to be a collection of B-sides from a lot of older artists; none of the songs sound like they would have made the main cut.”
“Collected Visits” aims to evoke the feeling of discovering your parents’ music collection in the attic. The album is tied together with a bright, cheerful tone, but the tracks themselves are an eclectic mix ranging in style from folk to early electronic music.
“I wanted the album to sound good as background music in a furniture store,” Miyake says with a laugh. “Maybe I shouldn’t explain it in that way.” The comparison makes perfect sense, however. “I wanted there to be an organic, acoustic feel — nothing too aggressive. That’s why furniture store music felt like a good theme to bracket the songs under.”
On the occasion that Miyake feels comfortable taking to the stage, it’s with his band Crystal and under a protective layer of irony.
“We started the band almost 10 years ago because we wanted to make cheesy music,” he says. “We decided to name ourselves a really uncool name on purpose; it was going to be either Crystal or Pegasus.”
The music Miyake makes under Crystal goes in a completely different direction than his work as Sparrows. Releasing material through the club-oriented Sound Pellegrino as well as Flau, Crystal’s music is completely flashy. This summer’s “Monsoon” EP made use of 1980s-era drums and Nintendo synths — a great “bubble era” callback.
“The aesthetic concept came first when we formed Crystal, so when I make tracks for the band I already know how I want it to sound,” Miyake says, while adding that Sparrows allows him the chance to experiment while he makes music.
It’s understandable that his solo project would be an outlet for less electric and more nuanced songwriting, but Miyake doesn’t consider it to be intentional.
“I don’t mean for them to be so separate,” he says on the distinction between Sparrows and Crystal. “In the beginning I decided the two projects should have different sounds, but now they both influence each other.”
It’s precisely this variety that makes Miyake an ideal RBMA student.
“I’ve been wanting to learn what makes a good sound sound good,” he says when discussing what he hopes to get out of the experience. “I want to learn how to mix and master music. You can do anything on your computer, but it sounds nothing like the sounds you can make in a big studio.”
While RBMA is mostly associated with electronic music, Miyake also doesn’t want to limit himself.
“I have an eight track recorder and used to make music with tapes,” he says. “When I have time, I want to go back and listen to the sound of tape recordings and not rely on my computer.”
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