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David Sylvian: To Blow the Heart Wide Open

Nenad Georgievski By

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David Sylvian and Holger Czukay / Flux + MutabilityDS: 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.

David Sylvian / Everything ande NothingAAJ: 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?

David SylvianDS: It isn't true to say that all of the additional material on these re-issues were present in the Weatherbox set. There's material on the re-issues that's available for the first time. As for the re-release of Weatherbox, this was something Virgin/EMI were interested in pursuing. I personally never thought it the right thing to do. Fortunately they couldn't find the original artwork, so that idea was put to rest. The re-issues were always on the cards independent of the boxed set. In fact, Virgin/EMI are still talking over the possibility of creating a new boxed edition.

AAJ: In relation to publishing out-of-print materials, the bootleg community is flooded with these materials, be it video or audio. Bands have been releasing stuff from their archives (live stuff, mostly) to prevent this. Do you plan to re-release any past material video/audio/books in near future? (This refers to stuff like Preparations, Steel Cathedrals, Trophies Vol.1, Polaroids, etc.)

DS: I don't like the idea of being forced to recycle material that has, to my mind, run its course just because the bootleg community are having a field day with it. However, if there's a demand, and if I still feel a connection of sorts with the material, then I wouldn't be adverse to re-issuing certain editions. No plans at present, though.

AAJ: In 2003 you founded your own label, Samadhisound. How has the label evolved from an idea to what it is today?

DS: Samadhisound came into being almost of its own volition. Running a label wasn't something I'd anticipated as being on the cards for myself, but I've enjoyed my involvement in Samadhisound quite considerably. There have been periods where I've fought for its survival because we'd come a fair way in establishing it on a fundamental basis, and it felt premature to let the enterprise go. Having said that, we can see that the business and media are changing rapidly and that sales are in decline. If it wasn't for the hard work of a few good people, the label couldn't possibly have continued to exist as a platform for as long as it has. With that firmly in mind, I only look to the year ahead. I believe 2010 will see more releases on the label than in any year prior. Rather than indicating the health of the industry or label, this simply reflects the number of projects that have reached my ears that I've wanted Samadhisound to be a part of. As frequently said in reference to my aspirations for the label, it's possible to plant an apple tree without harboring dreams of an orchard.

AAJ: How involved are you in Samadhi's day-to-day business?

DS: Currently I am very hands-on in every aspect of the business. I am the engine which drives it.

AAJ: What is the artistic direction/aim of Samadhi?

DS: Samadhisound is a place both real and virtual for the meeting of minds and shared creativity. It is local and it is global, a breeding ground for ideas and new directions in music and the arts. This is one possible future for the company. I tend to believe that Samadhisound has a life of its own, aspects of which are revealed to me as and when appropriate. I tend to intuit what the next step in its development might be. I may have a personal preference for the directions it may take, but ultimately I try to listen and follow.

AAJ: One of the artists who has released an album for Samadhi is David Toop. I'm interested; what do you make of his books like Ocean of Sound, Haunted Weather or his other writings?

DS: David is one of the best writers on music that we have in this country. His works display an evolved awareness of the art of listening, which, accompanied by his breadth of knowledge of the history of different genres of music, sound art, noise, etc., informs much of what he's published. His works are never less than fascinating, and frequently filled with penetrative insight into the sound worlds with envelope and absorb us.

AAJ: What are the main difficulties that accompany an independent label entirely devoted to experimental music?

David Sylvian—Nine HorsesDS: Your assumption that the label will be entirely devoted to experimental music isn't correct. It's my intention to release music by artists working in a variety of different genres. The difficulties, however, tend to be the same regardless of the nature of the work: how do you notify the general public of the work's existence, and how do you get people interested enough to give it an hour of their time? If we managed to solve those issues to some extent, I think we'd be doing well.

AAJ: What have been the greatest rewards you have experienced running Samadhisound?

DS: Outside of my own work, creating the visuals for the respective releases with Chris Bigg. As art director, I locate the images and create the initial rough layout of the package. Chris then takes things a step further with the design element. Chris is a wonderfully collaborative designer. Enthusiastic, flexible, with multiple variations offered on any given idea or layout.

I've also enjoyed gathering together the global community of artists with which we've worked. In other words, I'm deeply involved in the creative side of things, and that's where my satisfaction lies. I'm also involved in the business side of things to some extent, but the team which manage the label are trusted partners, and I'm happy to delegate responsibility in whichever department I can if I am convinced of an individual's capabilities.
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