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David Sylvian: To Blow the Heart Wide Open

Nenad Georgievski By

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DS: I came across the word in relation to the life and work of R.S. Thomas. It's the name of a village in Wales, the location of Thomas' first parish and the place where he wrote his first three volumes of poetry. Over time, the word became for me a metaphor for the poetic imagination, the creative mind or wellspring, hence the cover art of the CD depicting an implausible idyll, if you will. A place where the intuitive mind taps into the stream of the unconscious.

AAJ: What prompted you to incorporate free improv music again after working with Nine Horses on Snow Borne Sorrow and its sister album, Money for All?

DS: I started work on what was to become Snow Borne Sorrow prior to starting work on Blemish. Once Blemish and its accompanying tour were completed, Steve and I continued to work on the songs we'd written, and I started writing a separate set of songs with Burnt Friedman, whom I'd met on the 'Blemish' tour. So, over time, as has been documented elsewhere, Nine Horses came into being born out of these twin projects. Somewhere in the midst of that work I'd already recorded the first of the sessions for Manafon. So I had two separate streams of my work co-existing for long periods of time. It's not a matter of jettisoning one in favor of the other. I didn't see any conflict in my pursuing both avenues simultaneously. The goals we collectively set for Nine Horses differ from those I've been pursuing in my own work. I intend to continue to embrace this kind of diversity in my activities.

AAJ: The deluxe edition of Manafon features a documentary titled Amplified Gesture. It features interviews with people that took part in the making of the new album on the subject of improvisation. Could you talk more about it?

DS: Having completed Manafon, having spent time with some remarkable individuals who'd chosen to pursue, so to speak, the lesser trodden musical path, I thought it might be interesting, possibly important, to document these musicians in conversation speaking of their backgrounds, the relation they have with their respective instruments, what led them from one musical path to another until they found themselves working in an area which became known as free improv. An introduction to the philosophies behind the work, to the individuals behind the music. I wasn't aware of anything comparable having been attempted, which struck me as a rather large omission. Positively neglectful, in terms of the paucity of resource material available on this subject, these subjects. I thought of it as a primer, an introduction, an invitation to delve deeper into the volumes these practitioners have produced over decades of dedication.

David Sylvian—BlemishAAJ: Describe the overall approach you took to putting Blemish together. If the key elements to the previous record, Dead Bees On A Cake, were love, devotion and spiritual intoxication, it seems that (as stated in other interviews) the theme subjects are elements that disturb you.

DS: Disillusionment, conflict, isolation, betrayal, even going so far as hatred...you know, the whole trip!

AAJ: Please describe the conceptual contrasts between Blemish and your other solo releases.

David Sylvian / NaoshimaDS: The greatest and most significant contrast might be the approach to the writing and recording of the material. This, in effect, was a simultaneous act, a series of improvisations performed over a very short space of time, which included the writing of the lyric and its performance before the ink was dry. All very much in and of the moment. Add to this the fact that I was literally, completely alone throughout the entire six-week session, and I think you might begin to comprehend the difference behind the creation of this work when compared with previous projects. Then there was the open-ended form many of the compositions ultimately took. Structurally these are very loose, never amounting to more than two chord changes per composition. Essentially (they are) drone based pieces, which allowed me to work as lyricist and vocalist in a relatively unconstrained fashion.

AAJ: How would you describe the types of stories your records tell? How comfortable are you when you have to start from your own experience and expose it?

DS: The latter lies at the heart of what I do. I no longer question the need for it. I do, however, occasionally feel uncomfortable when talking to media about the content of any given album because it is so innately personal. For someone who exposes so much of himself in his work—we're talking nervous system rather than simply standing naked—I feel I'm allowed to throw a cloak around my daily life to protect it as much as I'm able.

I don't know how to answer the former part of the question. Either I can't be that objective about what it is I do, or there's not a simple answer to that question. I'd have to go through the songbook page by page to describe the difference of approach between one set of songs and another.

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