David Sylvian: To Blow the Heart Wide Open
DS: The first of the two albums, Plight and Premonition, wasn't planned, so if there was a concept at work it arose during the process of recording the material. Holger had invited me to Köln to record a vocal for a track he was working on. But when we arrived at the studio late that first evening, something entirely different from what had been expected took place. At the Can studio, as it then existed, there were instruments set up all around the room (an abandoned cinema). I settled down at the harmonium, I think it was, and unbeknownst to me Holger put the machines into record. And so began the Plight and Premonition sessions.
As the evening went on I recorded a series of improvisations on a number of instruments. It became clear as the work progressed that there should be little in the way of 'performance,' that the work should sound as though it'd been captured illicitly while the instruments themselves reverberated in that large room. Holger made a point of recording me in the process of finding myself on any given instrument. At the point that I felt I had developed something worthy of recording, the moment had already passed and we'd move on. We tried to recapture the spirit of these sessions at a later date with the recording of Flux and Mutability, but we weren't successful in manufacturing what had been so intuitively created the first time around.
AAJ: Through the years you stretched both as an author and as a singer in various settings, genres, beyond the current trends. In general, the world at large takes electronic music far less seriously than music created for acoustic instruments. Could you please describe the balance between feeling and technology when you make music?
DS: I'm sure the above assessment no longer stands. We've come a long way in our embracing of electronics in music. Only a few rarified areas of any particular genre might reject electronics out of hand. On the other hand, even the most 'natural' of recordings uses some pretty advanced technology these days. For me, technology is a tool like any other. You work in service to the composition, whatever best serves the composition. Surely only a purist or Luddite would reject electronics out of hand. Surely all options are worth considering at the outset of a work? These become narrower as the character of the work defines itself for you in total, including its sonic identity.
AAJ: How do you look back at the The First Day experience? What are some of the sonic challenges in having to work in this format?
DS: Personally, it was getting my voice to sit well within the context of the guitar-heavy music. As you can hear, we ended up treating it a fair amount to enable it to rise above the fray to some extent. I left the sessions about one week into the recording as things didn't appear to be working out the way I would've liked them. I thought it best to leave Robert (Fripp) alone at the helm for a bit. Two weeks later I returned, and a number of basic tracks had been recorded, but sonically the sound was incredibly dense, with little room for air. This fact was compounded by yet more overdubs on guitar and Stick. It took quite some work to sort the material out in the mixing stages. I was still trying to improve upon it in the mastering stage. Never a good sign, that! As for the experience overall: I really enjoyed touring with Robert. That's where the material seemed to come alive. I thoroughly enjoyed my friendship with him. They were difficult times for us both. His presence in my life was benevolent.
AAJ: One of the past projects that I would really like to ask about is Rain Tree Crow. How do you look back on its music from this standpoint?
DS: I haven't heard the album in its entirety since the time it was completed, but I was happy with many elements of that particular collaboration. Most of the work was born of improvisation, but much of it was worked and reworked over time, although the final recordings still contain elements, seeds of the original improv from which they grew. If personal relations had allowed, I think all involved could've foreseen the project developing over two or three albums, with the possible addition of live work.
AAJ: Life is full of disputes and politics, yet that friction can yield some timeless music. Does tension serve as a creative catalyst for you?
DS: I once would've answered this question in the negative, but I've embraced the conflicts in my life to the point where I've tried to get at the root of them in my writing, without feeling the need to provide tidy resolutions.
AAJ: Beside the two compilations, Everything and Nothing and Camphor, there were several reissues of your past solo work as well as some older material with your previous band. The additional material on the reissues is present on your boxed set, Weather Box. Since there was a lot of rumor about the re-release of this box, was this the only way to re-release the material from this box?