Interview in Wall Street Journal

David's solo career interviews

Interview in Wall Street Journal

Postby Blemished on Sat Sep 12, 2009 9:15 am

David Sylvian and the mysterious sound of inspiration

STRETCHING POP MUSIC to the point where it reaches the avant-garde is no easy feat. But over the course of 30 years, starting as a teenager with the New Romantic band Japan and through a series of acclaimed solo albums, David Sylvian has successfully navigated the musical opposites of improvisation and composition, tonality and atonality. Along the way he’s worked with a changing ensemble of top-flight musicians from the jazz and electronic worlds.

Mr. Sylvian’s new release, “Manafon,” which comes out next week, brings together leading figures from jazz improvisation scene, including Evan Parker, John Tilbury and Keith Rowe, as well as the electronic musicians Christian Fennesz and Otomo Yoshihide. Each piece of music on the new album was improvised and recorded in one take. Mr. Sylvian added his vocals at a later stage, basing the melody on the improvised themes and writing the lyrics on the spot. “Manafon” is a sparse work from start to finish, with Mr. Sylvian’s minimalist melodic lines upfront in the mix, working against an abstract musical background. But it is lyrically dense and explores themes such as faith and solitude—in spirit close to the films of Ingmar Bergman. The result makes for intense listening; “Manafon” is unlikely to be played as background music.
We talked with Mr. Sylvian about his new release at his management’s office in West London.

Q: How would you describe the working process behind “Manafon”?
I’ve tried to create a modern chamber piece, in the sense of chamber music as well as theater, where there is a central narrator, but every slight nuance around them adds or changes the meaning of the work. So, I wanted a dramatic intimacy, but sense of a profound isolation of the main character. There is an economy of means and I tried to strip the work back to the bare essentials—this has been an ongoing process for me. I think I have found the right context with this group of improvisers, with enough silence in the music, so that the voice could make its presence felt.

Q: And that voice added after the improvisation?
There was nothing written when we went into the studio— this was very much free improvisation. So, the selection of the group of musicians for each improvisation was paramount. I recognized on the day which pieces could work for me. The process was that I took the material away and then wrote and recorded the vocal line over in a couple of hours. So I couldn’t analyze my contribution and that in a way was my form of improvisation—and I enjoyed the rapidity of response.

Q: The resulting vocal seem stripped back.
The improvisations have minimal melodic lines, but I think that the vocal melodies are richer and quite folk-like. They are drawn out and they don’t repeat very often, so in that sense they are complex. So I didn’t shy away from melody—I enjoy melody—they are all suggested by the improvisation and there is nothing in the vocal that isn’t at least hinted at by the improvisation. It was important the vocal felt integrated and not layered on, even though it was recorded at a later date.

Q: It seems that the lyrics are much less personal than on previous work.
That’s right. The opening track is in the first person, the rest are not. Recently, I wrote a piece for another project and I had to recast it in the third person as it became too much.

For me now, the idea of stories has become more attractive, and I found could speak more home truths that way, without it becoming overwhelming. So, it is a cloaking mechanism for an intensely personal record. It was definitely an unburdening.
User avatar
Blemished
Site Owner
Site Owner
 
Posts: 412
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2007 5:12 pm
Location: London

Re: Interview in Wall Street Journal

Postby Blemished on Sat Sep 12, 2009 9:17 am

Thought the comments towards the end about "another project" are interesting and hopefully suggest even more music before too long...is he referring to nine horses? the Jacqueline track?...have been wondering about the meaning of Jacqueline in the light of some of Ingrid's interviews...
User avatar
Blemished
Site Owner
Site Owner
 
Posts: 412
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2007 5:12 pm
Location: London

Re: Interview in Wall Street Journal

Postby proggrl on Sat Sep 12, 2009 11:42 am

Yes, Of course I'd love to have another Nine Horses album, but the fact alone that he is working on another project is good enough for me.

Nice interview - and in the WSJ! Of all places!!! Good exposure tho and probably hits a good target audience!! Thanks for posting that!
Trust the proggrl.
User avatar
proggrl
Everything & Nothing
Everything & Nothing
 
Posts: 876
Joined: Tue May 09, 2006 8:37 pm
Location: Tampa, FL

Re: Interview in Wall Street Journal

Postby missouriman on Sat Sep 12, 2009 5:13 pm

Blemished wrote:Thought the comments towards the end about "another project" are interesting and hopefully suggest even more music before too long...is he referring to nine horses? the Jacqueline track?...have been wondering about the meaning of Jacqueline in the light of some of Ingrid's interviews...


Believe me the Jacqueline in the radio interview with Ingrid has NOTHING to do with the Sylvian song. God strike me down if I am wrong.
missouriman
Everything & Nothing
Everything & Nothing
 
Posts: 470
Joined: Sat May 23, 2009 9:56 am

Re: Interview in Wall Street Journal

Postby inkinthewell on Sun Sep 13, 2009 8:42 am

missouriman wrote:God strike me down if I am wrong.


Hey, are you still with us, Missouriman? :lol:
Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans - JL 1940-1980
User avatar
inkinthewell
Everything & Nothing
Everything & Nothing
 
Posts: 982
Joined: Tue Aug 28, 2007 3:38 pm
Location: Italy

Re: Interview in Wall Street Journal

Postby missouriman on Sun Sep 13, 2009 5:10 pm

No.
missouriman
Everything & Nothing
Everything & Nothing
 
Posts: 470
Joined: Sat May 23, 2009 9:56 am

Re: Interview in Wall Street Journal

Postby Tim91 on Sun Sep 13, 2009 5:49 pm

missouriman wrote:No.

EXCELLENT!
User avatar
Tim91
Obsessed
Obsessed
 
Posts: 135
Joined: Mon Dec 08, 2008 4:52 pm
Location: Boston, U.S.

Re: Interview in Wall Street Journal

Postby baht habit on Mon Sep 14, 2009 10:05 pm

There appears to be a entirely separate article pertaining to Manafon, also from the Wall Street Journal:

IN A SYLVIAN GROOVE
by JIM FUSILLI
Wall Street Journal rock and pop music critic

Few musicians have traveled as far from their original style as has David Sylvian. He met the public in 1974 as the vocalist for Japan, a British commercial pop group in the vein of Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. His new album, "Manafon" (Samadhisound), is a fragile, challenging, experimental work that uses its underpinning whispered, disquieting sounds and music; at times, his voice, as rich and evocative as ever, seems to perch on what's absent in the haunting background, its timbre and resolve keeping things from falling apart. The life and poems of R.S. Thomas (1913-2000) provided inspiration: The album takes its title from the Welsh village in which Thomas, an ordained priest in the Church of Wales, lived and served as a rector.

"It's such a set of intersecting characteristics within him, profound faith in God and then the questioning of that faith," Mr. Sylvian said of Thomas when we spoke by phone. "I love the dichotomy. His mission was the betterment of his life and the lives of others, but his austerity was detrimental to it. Everything in him is pared down to the essential. The man himself takes on a sort of a tragic-comedy element. He wanted to uplift humanity, yet when he saw his parishioners coming down the lane he'd hide behind bushes to avoid them."

At once, "Manafon" is completely unexpected and yet a logical progression of Mr. Sylvian's development as a writer and musician. Since he began his solo career in the mid-1980s, he's worked with jazz musicians Jon Hassell, Mark Isham, John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler; experimental guitarists Robert Fripp and David Torn; and pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto, with whom he's collaborated on several projects.

Mr. Sylvian considers "Manafon" a sequel of sorts to his "Blemish," released in 2003. But that experimental album, in which the delicate melodies hover above electronic waves and ringing guitars, was recorded in six weeks. Work on "Manafon" began in 2004, over a seven-day period in Vienna, where he convened musicians who included members of the free-improvisation group Polwechsel.

"Everything was pretty much open," he said. "But there was the question of how do I steer incredibly talented musicians in the direction I want to go. I was mining for a particular kind of gold only I knew I was looking for."

Mr. Sylvian took the recordings home, but he didn't work on them for a year until "I went into my studio, played them on my computer, and started drawing out the lyrics and melody. It was a form of improvisation for me." Later, he recorded a session in Tokyo with a different set of musicians. Finally, saxophonist Evan Parker, pianist John Tilbury, cellist Marcio Mattos and guitarist Christian Fennesz, who played on the Vienna sessions and "Blemish," gathered with Mr. Sylvian in London. He finished the album in his studio late last year. Mr. Sylvian pays tribute to the musicians in the film "Amplified Gesture," which is included in a limited edition of "Manafon".

"Manafon" has more in common with the music of Edgard Varèse, John Cage and Morton Feldman than the so-called New Romantic pop with which Mr. Sylvian was associated some 35 years ago. The song "Emily Dickinson" rests uncomfortably on a bed of low growls, static, distant sparks and what sounds like a wolf's call but actually is Mr. Parker on sax. In "The Rabbit Skinner," Mr. Mattos's cello and Mr. Parker's sax make seemingly random sounds that Mr. Sylvian connects with a melody. "Small Metal Gods" is a folk song in slow motion, while haunting piano by Mr. Tilbury adds a chill to "Random Acts of Senseless Violence."

"It's a matter of paring down," Mr. Sylvian said. "You just try to keep the arrangement of the piece sparse and not decorous. There's a freedom or liberation in the eradication of any recognizable form." Of the musicians, he said, "They are pulling back, holding back, not developing melodic lines, ignoring tonality, sonority, and I'm fleshing it out to add a melodic vocal line."

With its vague traces of David Bowie and Bryan Ferry, Mr. Sylvian's voice is resonant, intensely emotional yet almost conversational. And then there are his lyrics inspired by Thomas, who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996 and whose work is largely centered on Wales, its people and the poet's spirituality. Even admirers concede that Thomas was a bitter man who led a severe existence.

The title track, which closes the album, alludes directly to Thomas—"There's a man down in the valley who is moving back in time"—as does "The Greatest Living Englishman" and, perhaps, "The Rabbit Skinner," with these lines: "As a God, everything was felt to exist/As a man, he settled for less."

"The album has twin themes of disillusionment and creativity," Mr. Sylvian said. "It's an album that poses a lot of questions rather than providing answers. My experience as a writer was to live through an experience then comment upon it. Here, I'm trying to live through the work itself."

The lyrics to "Small Metal Gods," the first song he worked on, indicate he was aware how different "Manafon" would be from his previous works: "It's the farthest place I've ever been," Mr. Sylvian writes. "It's a new frontier for me."
baht habit
Everything & Nothing
Everything & Nothing
 
Posts: 667
Joined: Sat May 20, 2006 3:37 pm


Return to Interviews

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests