Acclaimed composer, producer, singer (and everything) Ryuichi Sakamoto has unexpectedly been in headlines in Korea recently after Yoo Hee Yeol released a statement of apology to him for unconsciously using similar chords to Sakamoto’s “Aqua” in his song, “A Most Private Evening“.
“First and foremost, I would like to offer an apology. Since fall of last year, I have participated in a project called ‘Yoo Hee Yeol’s Life Music’, where I release a piano accompaniment piece each month. On June 14, I was notified through Instagram that the second piece from that project, ‘A Most Private Evening’, sounds similar to ‘Aqua’ by Ryuichi Sakamoto. Ryuichi Sakamoto is an artist that I have respected for the longest time, an artist who has influenced my music the most of any artists out there. It seems that I unconsciously composed similar chords to the chords that lingered in my head, and what I believed to be a pure product of my own creation turned out to be a piece similar to an already existing one. This, I cannot deny. Thus, I would like to offer my sincerest apologies for my failure in thoroughly examining the piece, and for disappointing many of you. I want to above all apologize to teacher Ryuichi Sakamoto and his fans for causing this issue. The release of the ‘Yoo Hee Yeol’s Life Music LP’ has been postponed, and through direct communication with Ryuichi Sakamoto, I plan to handle all matters regarding proper crediting and composition rights.”
Coolly though, Sakamoto didn’t seem fussed, responding to the public apology by essentially saying there’s no need for legal to get involved, soundalikes aren’t a big deal, and that’s how music goes basically.
“I appreciate my fans who reported the incident to me and Mr. Hee Yeol Yoo’s honest intention to speak publicly about the song. The music has similarities, but I don’t think it is on the level of requiring any legal actions to protect my piece ‘Aqua.’ I can see his great respect for my composition. I have some pieces that have obvious strong influences from Bach and Debussey, whom I love, respect, and from whom I have learned a lot. I don’t mean to put myself on the same level as Bach and Debussey, so please don’t get me wrong. Every creation is influenced by existing arts (the public domain). It would be great and appreciated if you could put 5-10% of your originality into it. That is my long-time opinion. I am still trying my best to raise my originality percentage on every music I create, which is challenging. But that makes the art beautiful, I think. I thank Mr. Hee Yeol Yoo and my fans’ generous support. Good luck with Mr. Hee Yeol Yoo’s new album. I wish him the best.”
It’s basically why I hate so many of these accounts dedicated to finding soundalikes and then whining about plagiarism, so it’s extremely cool for such a legend to have this outlook on the copyright mess in music. It’s really not so much about this individual case’s ‘did he or didn’t he’ debate for me, it’s about the larger discourse around it — especially now that people realized you could get ignorant juries to confound soundalike and plagiarism — and how it hampers music, so this was refreshing.