David Sylvian: To Blow the Heart Wide Open
DS: 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 workwe're talking nervous system rather than simply standing nakedI 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.
AAJ: The Good Son consists of material from Blemish remixed, reshaped by other people. In the past you were unwilling to let other people reshape any of your songs (as it is usually done these days). Also, there is the Darshan (Sylvian with Robert Fripp) single reconstruction by FSOL from years ago, which was both great and unusual. What is your opinion on today's culture, where everything is reinterpreted, reshaped and recycled? What is your opinion on the remix issue?
DS: In general, it doesn't interest me. As you say, Virgin commissioned a few remixes of my material and I was never remotely interested in the results, with the one exception of the Wagon Christ remix of 'Godman' by Luke Vibert, which was a personal choice.
I don't want to get into the history of the remix, which was largely used as a marketing tool by major labels in attempt to give an act cross-genre appeal, but as most practitioners will tell you, it was a commissioned job which used to pay ludicrously well. Maybe it still does for the few. I've never purchased a remix album because I've generally believed that the artist's intentions were clear in the original work, and that anything thereafter was at best secondary and subject to the needs of the commercial market, at worst exploitative. I guess, in that respect, Blemish is something of an anomaly for me.
AAJ: What was the aim of the remix album?
DS: I felt that the majority of the Blemish material was infinitely malleable and wanted to see what other artists, whom I respected, would make of it. It was a means of testing the water for possible future collaborators, such as Burnt Friedman, who did a couple of remixes for me before we started writing material together for what was to become Snow Borne Sorrow. There are some extraordinary artists that really do have an inspired take on work that's presented to them for remixing. When the remit isn't 'try and make this more appealing to a wider audience,' the potential for creative results is raised considerably. Ryoji Ikeda has done a couple of remixes for me, and his take on 'The Only Daughter' was simply remarkable.
AAJ: How did you choose the pool of artists that took part in reshaping that material?
DS: I was already in communication with all of them for one reason or another. All potential candidates for collaborative work.
AAJ: The single World Citizen expressed your views and attitude to current world politics. Is there a political component to your music?
DS: All music is potentially political in my eyes, as to effectively act as catalyst to change in the heart or mind of an individual is a political act. Sometimes current affairs are addressed directly; at others, less so. I'm not overly fond of the use of popular song as soapbox. I tend to think that it undermines the innate power that music has to dig deep into the subconscious.
AAJ: You have been involved with many exhibitions of audio-visual "installations" or sound art, like Ember Glance and When Loud Weather Buffeted Naoshima. What attracted you to work in this area? Could you talk about the Naoshima work?