David Sylvian: To Blow the Heart Wide Open
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?
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.
AAJ: 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.