David Sylvian: To Blow the Heart Wide Open
AAJ: The artwork on your album covers has been like an art gallery exhibition with works by Russell Mills, Anton Corbijn and Yuka Fuji. Being a painter (and photographer) yourself, do you think cover art adds anything to the music when it's released?
DS: The artwork might resonate, enter into dialogue with the music, elucidate possibly? If nothing else, it can allude to the contents therein.
AAJ: Can you describe the philosophical intersection where art and music meet for you?
DS: I don't think it is a case of one intersection, but many. Simply put, in the realm of the heart, or possibly wherever it pushes up against a truth of sorts.
AAJ: Can you contrast the creative catharsis of the finished aural product to when you finish a piece of visual art?
DS: I only feel eloquent enough in my work in music to achieve what might be called a state of catharsis. The visual work (such as it is) doesn't function on a comparable level.
AAJ: Do you believe the evolution of digital music downloads is substantially impacting the perceived importance of album artwork?
DS: Yes, of course. But this will change and evolve in ways that will prove interesting and satisfying. I fully expect the visual component to become more elaborate, more an integral element of the entire experience. Once the physical product is all but obsolete, we will see dramatic developments in this area. The digital download also does away with the notion of format. As composers, we are now at liberty to offer up work that isn't defined by medium, from a piece that lasts literally seconds to one that may run for hours if not indefinitely.
AAJ: Could you describe the genesis of the new record, Manafon, and the creative process?
DS: I continued with the approach that I developed on the album Blemish, which involved improvisational performances accompanied by a process of automatic writing. I expanded this approach by embracing the input of larger ensembles recorded live in studios in Europe and Japan. At the outset, I wasn't sure if, or how, this was going to work in practice. But after the first sessions, which were recorded in Vienna in '04, and which resulted in a number of the pieces you'll find on Manafon, I knew I had unearthed an exchange which could yield fascinating results. That first session ran for seven and a half days. There was a lot of exploratory work done during that time.
Many beautiful improvisations were captured but, as I was looking for something specific, something I wasn't able to verbally communicate to the musicians involved, I had to gently nudge or cajole, make hints and suggestions, bring individuals into and out of the studio so as to change the internal chemistry of the ensemble, until I finally heard what it was I was looking for. This happened on the seventh day of the sessions, the last full day of work. The ensemble at that point in time was a quartet consisting of Werner Dafeldecker on double bass, Michael Moser on cello, Christian Fennesz on guitar and laptop, and Keith Rowe on guitar. I've described this and the resulting work as a form of modern chamber music.
Once I knew the process worked, I gave myself less time to produce results on subsequent sessions. The Tokyo session in '06 was a one-day affair, as was the London session of '07. I would work on the writing and recording of the lyric and vocal melody at a later point in time, sometimes as much as a year after the initial recordings were made. This gave the writing sessions back their spontaneity and freshness, as it was like hearing the work for the first time (I'd made an initial selection of which tracks would work for me around the time the original recordings were made).
I'd play back a given improvisation and start the writing process. After a matter of hours the lyric would be complete, composed simultaneously with the melody, which locked into precise queues heard within the improvisation. I would record the vocal on the spot, meaning there was little time for revision. This is what I mean by a process of automatic writing. It was a matter of adhering to the process or the discipline and running with it until it felt complete. There's rapidity about the process which feels urgent, decisive, and emotionally linked to the spirit of the original improv.
AAJ: What significance does the word Manafon have?