David Sylvian: To Blow the Heart Wide Open
AAJ: Your interest in Eastern culture is well established and evident. Elements of Eastern spirituality are also present in your work. How closely do you identify with those traditions? Also, eastern musicespecially from India seems to be one of the most important influences on you. Which aspect of this music is the most fascinating to you?
DS: Aspects of Hinduism and Buddhism are part of my discipline/practice, so inevitably the answer has to be that I identify with these traditions in a fundamental way. I appear to have grown into them over time, though; they weren't always an entirely comfortable fit but have become more so. I can't say that Eastern music has a particular hold on me. I've been exposed to a considerable amount of Indian devotional music for the past nine years or so, and that has been absorbed and digested over time. I have enjoyed the living spirit of devotional music (in other words, hearing it performed live rather than recorded) and have been incredibly moved by it. However, it would be wrong to say that I'm drawn to this, or any music emanating from the East, more so than any other.
AAJ: How important is spirituality to you and your music?
DS: It can't fail to be anything other than fundamentally important in life, and therefore work.
AAJ: You are heralded for your collaborative work as much as for your solo work. You worked with premier avant/jazz musicians (Czukay, Fripp, Hassell, Ribot, Sakamoto, etc.) Does working with these gifted musicians grant you a confidence that you can challenge or transcend your own capacity and ability as a composer/arranger?
DS: A challenge is a good thing and something I often request of my collaborators. Ultimately, as a composer you're simply trying to do the work justice, nothing more. I have been fortunate, as you say, to work with talented musicians, but I tend to regard the composition as the benefactor. I'm trying to bring it alive, to give it substance.
AAJ: Your work with Holger Czukay has produced some of the most interesting ambient albums. Was there a concept behind these two albums?
DS: 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?