David Sylvian: The Sound Atlas

Posted by in Culture, Design, Music, Travel

A new beginning in the offing.

Writing anything at all about David Sylvian is extremely difficult. So much has already been written and a new level of vocabulary is required, perhaps words that don’t even exist. A body of work that is manicured, stark, at times terrifying (think Tallow Moon or The Rabbit Skinner) and strangely engrossing.

It’s often said Sylvian has provided the soundtrack to one’s life so herein lies my personal history (though I hope it is identifiable to you the reader). I should add this is a long read some 9,000 words or so (over 10k with the playlist and credits) – longer than my university dissertation! So you may want to read it in stages but this of course is entirely up to you, the reader. *This blog contains affiliate links.

INTRO: STILL RETURN

Sometime ago in a Rock Encylopedia and a country far far away (New Zealand), a picture, possibly a polaroid and pretty in pink shows the band JAPAN. The words are saying something like ‘long overdue success,’ and ‘Sylvian’s tighter control of the band places a question mark over their future.’ What intrigued me was why would anyone quit on the verge of megastardom? And so it was that after many years of frustration Tin Drum became their final throw of the dice. 

Returning to the UK in early 1983 – I’m too late for JAPAN. Save for Oil on Canvas, which I may have seen, but it would have passed me over at the time as did its single – a live version of Canton. All I was looking out for was Synchronicity and Cargo (albums by The Police and Australia’s demi-lite version Men at Work).

A year later and Red Guitar is released as the first solo single. It’s moody and jazzy but I kind of like it. The follow up is The Ink in the Well which does little for me and in total naivety decide I don’t need to hear the album it comes from, Brilliant Trees. And why on earth would it have a yellow cover? Sylvian’s brand of reinvention and his past life with JAPAN don’t mean anything to me yet, but they will.

Enter Mills

In December the same year Virgin issue Exorcising Ghosts, a double album of JAPAN’s finest moments. It may only be a compilation but it does bridge the gap between Brilliant Trees cover and the future Gone to Earth in that its sleeve features a painting by Royal College of Art (RCA) alumni Russell Mills; known for his dalliance with Brian Eno. Also in 1984 Mills has produced the front window that will house Eno and Harold Budd’s The Pearl – a ‘go to’ album in the ambient genre.

XS-ive Sylvian.

SEEKING SYLVIAN

In 1986 on a day trip to Swansea and heavily into INXS, I’m like a bloodhound sniffing out their Kiss the Dirt single. But there is something else happening at HMV. The board outside announces the new David Sylvian album Gone to Earth. He’s also appeared in Smash Hits with brown hair and baggy white pantaloons, looking very much the sophisticate. 

As for the record, I take an instant dislike to the artwork. It is what I call hideous correct. i.e. Not to my taste but a pretty accurate description of what the album is like (but I won’t know this for a couple of years yet). See, I know who Sylvian is but I’ve been forewarned by another art some dude at school that JAPAN are very arty and very difficult to get into so like a gullible fool I’ve avoided buying Tin Drum. 

The fact that the first album I’ve heard – Assemblage – comprising mainly of their early material hasn’t helped either. Only Life in Tokyo, European Son and Quiet Life are piquing my interest. Something else sticks with me though. The quote on the back ‘ignore us if you like, but you will be missing something.’ Though less than taken with Assemblage, JAPAN would somehow etch themselves in my mind.

This may have been largely due to their titles; Communist China, Rhodesia, Suburban Berlin, and later on Canton, Cantonese Boy. It seemed like myself art, travel and geography were favoured subjects of Sylvian. He was in essence a Phileaus Fogg of music, seeking out new terrain in song in sound and in titles. This would manifest more so in his solo work beyond the constraints of the band but I’ll get onto that in due course.

You’ve heard of Paris, Texas now try TEXAS, JAPAN.

EPIPHANY

And so it continued until one day in 1989, March 30th to be precise. I touch on this on the Steve Jansen blog but I’ll elaborate. I’m about to buy TEXAS Southside on cassette. Their song I Don’t Want a Lover had been a big hit – itself evocative so I was without realising seeking the travelogue in sound.

On swinging round I’m faced with a deliciously shrink wrapped vinyl copy of Tin Drum in the racks before me. It’s almost slapping me in the face telling me I AM THE FUTURE! 

You see, after my nomadic youth, the eighties were a wash out for travel. I am missing it but at the same time hungry to discover more music. I dither for a bit before putting the TEXAS cassette back on the shelf.

I pick up the JAPAN album, and peruse it for a bit; African Flute, well that sounds exotic, what the hell is a Dida? Hmm, I suppose if there is a time to buy this bloody thing this is it. So I walk it to the counter and then home. 

Inside my box room of doom, I (technically speaking) undress the album by peeling off its shrink-wrapping. No inner sleeve, just a plain white bag housing the record inside – standard green Virgin label cat number OVED 158. Onto the turntable it goes and I kneel in front of my stereo – literally a shrine to sound! 

The Art of Parties kicks off, hmm it’s a bit repetitive. So is the next track Talking Drum but I’m enthralled by the nostalgia of it all having not been resident in the UK during the early eighties. The first side finishes. At this point it’s ok. So I flip it over like a sonic burger and slap on Side Two. 

Still Life in Mobile Homes enters the air, my ears, my cranium. A-ha (for once I don’t mean the band), now we’re getting somewhere. Then Visions of China neither that or Ghosts seem as good as I remember from hearing/seeing them on New Zealand’s Radio with Pictures show. 

Next comes Sons of Pioneers. Its exotic soundscapes are everything that I am missing in terms of travel. It combines the heat of Asia approached from a western perspective. Together with Still Life they would be the two songs that drove me to continue with JAPAN. At £3.99 it was cheaper than a flight to Tokyo. If this really was cultural tourism, then it was fine by me.

There was a boy, a very strange enchanted boy…

NATURE BOY

Having bought and been bowled over by Tin Drum (well, Still Life and Sons of Pioneers really) which in the end was no more difficult for me to appreciate then Tears for Fears The Hurting, I’m smitten. Within days I have Polaroids and within a month Brilliant Trees, Gone to Earth and Oil on Canvas. 

I still don’t like Ink in the Well that much but Red Guitar is amazing and what I hear on the second side (Weathered Wall) is enough to admit me to Planet Sylv for sometime to come.

There is still a lot to take in and learn (like the fact Ink took Forbidden Colours place on the album and that Level 42’s Mark King was considered for the bass part on Pulling Punches). At the time I think the title track is just ‘ok’ but now it’s right up there as one of his most important songs.

Somehow the boy had managed to cross from the myth of ‘most beautiful’ pop star (he was always more than that) to ‘adult musician.’ To put it into some kind of present perspective imagine Harry Styles disappearing for a few years, then coming back with the kind of material Sylvian created on Brilliant Trees or say the instrumentals on Gone to Earth and for it to be no fluke. 

That’s how crazy Sylvian’s transformation was, like Scott Walker – it was and is a rarity. Justin Timberlake kind of did it with Sexy Back but that was still contemporary and as far as I know, a one off – though I’ve not heard his Man in the Woods effort.

My timing with Sylvian was fortuitous in that he was now seen as either a has-been or too avant-garde for anyone to care; only a small audience remained and then there were people like me who were new or late to the table but this allowed me to find, for example a second hand 12” of Orpheus for 90p!

Today that would probably fetch god knows how much on eBay. Gone to Earth is a double album and £5.99 from I think a newsagent – how obscene! Beehive a little more expensive from Woolies in Newport if memory serves. 

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DRAWN TO EARTH

First back to Earth. Taking the Veil, like Ink in the Well does zero for me but the 12” version remixed by Julian Mendelsohn does and I was fortunate to speak to him about that. I asked how the intro had come about as I couldn’t her those sounds in the actual version on the album. He replied thus: “The intro of Veil was made up from various bits in the song with delays and fx.” Julian Mendelsohn, May 2020.

Sylvian himself is still in his twenties on recording Gone to Earth and a little over 30 by the time I’m hearing it (I’m 18 at that point). The segue between the bright Laughter and Forgetting and more foreboding Before the Bullfight calls like a beacon glowing through the woods, beckoning the listener and I was happy to follow, eager to hear whatever else lay in the dense forest of sound. 

Unfortunately what comes next kills things stone dead, it’s the title track and it’s plain awful. I’d only come to appreciate it years later when it appeared on the live album Damage with a melody attached. But right there is one of Sylvian’s main streaks of reckless creativity; to challenge his audience. 

Silver Moon and my own Notate.

Side Two opens with Wave. It, like Bullfight, weighing in at around 9 minutes and a lot of ‘kling-klang’ synth courtesy of Richard Barbieri, though I do like Robert’s Frippertronics. It’s the second song River Man that I’ll home in on.

I imagine a video which follows Weathered Wall (the dusk), River Man (the night) where Sylvian is merely a reflection in the water (along with the odd light and silhouettes of branches and trees) or ghostly singing without appearing at all. 

More or less in keeping with reality as he swam further away from pop into the unknown murkiness of the avant-garde. The final song of the vocal disc Silver Moon was a single but it’s Sylv does Sade and hence doesn’t interest me too much (not that I mind Sade but she is Sade, Sylvian singing the word ‘baby’ is always going to be weirder than even his most bizarre recordings). 

The instrumentals (Sides 3 and 4) are minimalist yet more captivating than the vocal disc; each play revealing a different layer (Answered Prayers especially). To this day Where the Railroad Meets the Sea and Sunlight Seen Through Towering Trees are among my faves and I would hint at this in my own sophomore effort Notate by subtitling my poem Sundays Hill as Sleeping Steeple. 

In addition the second part of The Silent Places recalls ‘Promenade lights that twinkle in the grey drizzle of typical English seaside towns.’  I intended the twinkling lights to echo the high piano notes during the latter half of Railroad.

Behold the Beehive

THE BEEHIVE BECKONS

It’s a little known fact that the parliament building in New Zealand is called The Beehive and it always makes me laugh that the first of Sylvian’s albums not to chart there was Secrets of the Beehive. Did Kiwi’s think it was some sort of overtly political work or were they (more likely) not too enamoured with Gone to Earth? This would be the case in the UK too (24). A drop of 20 places from Brilliant Trees top 5 showing and a further slide for Beehive (37) on its release in ’87.

Different again from Gone to Earth and some say his purple patch or golden trilogy. My copy was again on vinyl. The sleeve was on really flimsy card and again the record has no inner sleeve, just a paper bag. It does however come with sleeve notes as an aside, produced by the late Vaughan Oliver. September is my unofficial signature song and I discover – due to its subtleties – Beehive is a good record to play if you’ve a headache and find you’re out of paracetamols!

The difference between it and the records he produced with JAPAN less than a decade earlier are staggering. Geographically speaking a literal leap from Lewisham to the visceral vineyards of the south of France. Sylvian was officially plush and the music equally lush. Not only that but he was now able to work with Robert Fripp, Bill Nelson, Jon Hassell, and Danny Thompson. 

Sylvian had incrementally written himself into the A-league without anyone noticing and more importantly through talent alone. Why not Brian Eno? This is going to be controversial but why risk souring a relationship with someone you hold in the highest of regards? At least musically speaking, therefore anyone other than or around Eno was fair game for collaboration. 

If you think that sounds far fetched then check the story from Chapter Four of Anthony Reynolds’ book Cries and Whispers (via journalist Mark Prendergast) about Eno’s presence at the pub prior to Russell Mills’ event in a London church with Sylvian hiding in disguise behind the sofa! That pretty much nails my thoughts. That said this is not meant to humiliate Sylvian and I wouldn’t say he is purely a copyist. It is very easy to be ‘influenced’ both visually and musically. 

The Raven that Refused to Sing Night Music.

THE CULT OF INFLUENCE

Here’s an example; the avant-garde typeface that JAPAN use on say I Second That Emotion’s single cover was used by Lou Reed. But influence runs two ways; from artist and to artist. The D A V I D  S Y L V I A N type on Beehive was in turn used on Steven Wilson’s Raven That Refused to Sing and also many of my own books – Night Music for one. 

Having said all of that, further on in Reynolds’ book reveals TWO meetings between Eno and Sylvian; one during the Shamans tour and the other in Tokyo with Russell Mills in which the author notes they did not hit it off! So his disguise at the pub may have born of paranoia rather than it being Eno. In any case let’s get back to the Beehive.

The pretty Orpheus is already known but the rest is like fresh fabric waiting to be explored. Like the items on its cover, you wonder how they ended up there; what journey they had taken. I’ll get round to September later, but Secrets second song The Boy with the Gun is along with ‘Ink’ and ‘Veil’ one that just doesn’t grab me. Maria is creepy but interesting (I later name one of the short stories in Beats Per Minute after it). 

Happiness and the hidden man.

THE HIDDEN MAN

The Devil’s Own and its autumnal English tale of strong winds and rain that crack branches high up on (his) window is indeed a strong point; his voice was now his own. Matured and assured. When the Poets is deft by nature but its violence lay in the words ‘promising next time I’ll break every bone in your body.’ It’s a shock to the system alright. 

For ‘Mother and Child’ I again envisage a video – sepia in tone – and during the song’s jazzy excursions lots of cats in a musky cellar somewhere causing many urn’s to tumble from shelves and smash on the floor below.

You might think that sounds more like Orpheus ‘bottles that tumble and crash on the stairs’ but who cares? It’s merely an interpretation. The video for Orpheus itself shows him reduced to a silhouette; an outsider in southern Spain. Just as he wanted, to disappear from view entirely and let the song do the talking. 

Let the Happiness In… ‘the cool December sun, a cold that blisters. The hands of a working man, wasted’ usher in the most exquisite percussion from Jansen. And Waterfront is a fitting finale in pale blue. The CD version included a version of Forbidden Colours – actually recorded in 1984 – but it’s stripped down piano/percussion lent itself nicely to Beehive. Later versions end with Promise (The Cult of Eurydice) a little beauty that really should be on an arthouse film soundtrack.

Plight of the sophisticate ‘ere Yuka do you reckon we can wrap your scarf round a log?’ 

PREMONITION AND MEMORY

Sylvian rounded off the eighties with two instrumental works both with Holger Czukay. ‘Sylvian in the Can’ read one headline. To some ‘Plight’ and ‘Flux’ are notable takes in the ambient genre. I buy the latter one day in Bristol, the Saturday girl perusing the cover looks at me like I’m from another planet, I was officially the outsider! 

Both the Czukay collaborations have their moments but I’d still rather the instrumentals from Earth or Blue of Noon, found on the 12” of Let the Happiness In. On her website, the German songstress Claudia Brücken recalls an evocative night being chauffeur driven around Cologne in Czukay’s old Mercedes with Sylvian.

It’s also around this time I catch up with Alchemy and Words with the Shaman EP – the latter especially ordered in from Diverse Music in Newport at the time almost a defecto arts centre for the more musically curious. The disc is housed in a gold cover giving mention to its collaborators Jon Hassell, Steve Jansen and Holger Czukay in the most rich of reds and Amanda Faulkner’s very apt illustration. 

Praising the Shamen.

Obviously ironic and intentional as an instrumental work designed to confound record company suits who asked for a more poppy Sylvian. Other artists would have been dropped. Somehow Jean the Birdman pulled it off. And speaking of Brücken, Sylvian participates on Propaganda’s A Secret Wish album (P Machinery) but did you know he was considered to be its producer? If you’ve read Reynolds’ Cries and Whispers then yes.

I often mention the cross-cultural draw of some of the artists I like being better received in other countries or territories. In Sylvian’s case this falls on Japan and Italy, though unlike some he is able to tour the UK if he wanted to. It’s a further case in point that his grand designs didn’t stop at music but the kind of attention to detail found on his record sleeves would spill over into tour programmes, none more so than the 1988 In Praise of Shamans tour. 

A stunning booklet comprising band biogs, and tracing paper overlays designed once again by Russell Mills with assistance by Dave Coppenhall. Again the Phileaus Fogg influence is evident in the tours sub-heading – An 80 day tour of the world. Mills also handled the stage set design.

The Weathervane never predicted this!

SOMETIMES WE DO NEED TO CHECK A WEATHERVANE

Better still in an age of lavish box sets came Weatherbox and Ember Glance. Each an artefact in their own right. The first designed by Mills and the latter a collaboration with him. Weatherbox was a neat way of presenting existing material in a new way which would be of interest to fans and also make Virgin some more dosh and stave off the powers that be for new material.

The three albums (GTE over two) together with Alchemy, hitherto unavailable on CD, would be issued over five discs in a sturdy box with a booklet of artistic endeavour including embossed type. Over time Sylvian being marketed as a maker of rare and limited or deluxe edition artefacts would become almost standard. 

On New Year’s Eve a TV show (forget the name) celebrates the 80s. Over several hours videos and performances from other shows of just about anyone who was anyone in eighties music are rolled out. A face fades in askance. From the side and with the golden hair and make up, for a fleeting moment I think it’s Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran but it’s David Sylvian. 

It’s the performance of Ghosts I wrote about in my Live Baby Live blog, performed with just an acoustic guitar on the Riverside show announcing JAPAN’s demise. To think he was just 24 at the time is mind numbing. The same show had a segment called Scotland the Brave with many of the acts I discuss on the Hats off to the Scots blog. It’s as good a new year as I can recall. And with that we were officially into the nineties.

Memorize this!

GLANCING WITH STRANGERS

1991’s Ember Glance was housed in an A4 sized box with a book of extensive notes, drawings and photographs illustrating their installation in Tokyo Bay the previous year (in September if you’ll excuse the reference).

It is something else that Sylvian with one o’level (yesteryears GCSE) to his name was even considered to work with Mills – as mentioned an esteemed graduate of the RCA and having worked there I know how hard it is to even be admitted as a student!

So what exactly was Ember Glance? For the uninitiated or newbies tuning in here, it was intended as a three dimensional sculpture, in sound and light designed to instil the notion that space, time and memory should be central to our lives. Sylvian’s Epiphany in collaboration with Frank Perry (Dave Kent and Ian Walton are almost universally uncredited for their involvement) made up the sound element.

The visual recollections were composed from shark tooth, bones, feathers, stones, earth, sand, water, among other mixed media designed around a pool of ‘memory’ which, says Mills ‘is triggered by small events.’ I can definitely vouch for that – a ripple in a puddle birthed one of my own poems (Legacy of the Bay). 

‘Colours (he goes on) sounds, smells all go some way to feeding the imagination.’ So in short the arts are cultural nourishment. Fine by me and I especially like ‘time flows in any direction’ and ‘the past coexists with the present.’ Not sure about ‘fantasy and reality’ coexisting though unless one is a paranoid schizophrenic! ‘Memory (Mills again) is a filter for energies connecting us to our individual roots.’ 

If all that wasn’t enough, Sylvian was hinting at reforming JAPAN – only under a new name RAIN TREE CROW. Some people don’t like it, I think it better suits the material more so than the former moniker would have. All of this in the space of two years! 

Recognise this guy?

While it’s Jansen who plays on Claudia Brücken’s album Love and a Million Other Things, Sylvian offered to play the part of the model whom gets to kiss her in the Kiss Like Ether video early in 1991. In the end she settled on a real model and only Jansen makes it to the video fortunately playing himself, the drummer with trendy side whiskers. 

Stone the Rain Tree Crows it’s a reunion!

PEACE THROUGH CULTURE

A few months later and the rebirth or rather metamorphoses of JAPAN as RAIN TREE CROW is launched. The single Blackwater winds its way to 62, the album 24 – the same as Gone to Earth. It’s not the only in law of commonality, it’s released exactly the same date as Adolescent Sex! April 8th. The background to the fraught recording is well discussed. As Sylvian explained ‘everyone knew what buttons to push’ and that it was definitely the last time they would regroup.

The continental drift this time focuses on America. Big Wheels in Shanty Town and Every Colour You Are imbue the burning heat and dusty plains of America’s inner heartland. These are hinted at in the imagery on the front and back covers (more so the latter with the road and rare view mirror). 

Red Earth in Red China.

RED EARTH AND BRIGHT BLUE SKIES

Yet the inner sleeve and title track recalls not so much America but the misty vales of Ireland or the Welsh valleys. I recall one such journey, the surrounding hills draped in an overhanging tablecloth of fog. ‘His presence is everywhere’ my friend joked referring to Sylvian. Red Earth (as summertime ends) could illustrate anywhere from Bulgaria to Banff, Turkey to Tuscany. 

The album swings back to a breathtaking blue sky and the vistas thrown over Joshua Tree country but the music for Pocketful of Change speaks with a tongue more associated with fellow English post-rockers Talk Talk; Jansen’s bright drumming guiding a mournful organ motif and Mick Karn’s murmuring bassline. Richard Barbieri decorates with his unique synth tunings running in and out of the chorus. There’s even a nice brass line to round things off.

The second stretch and home run of the record again recall bright skies more akin to Mediterranea than the US and when you consider it was recorded everywhere from Ireland to Italy that makes more sense.

The recording budget couldn’t reach America and barely covered recording as Sylvian took a Mexican standoff to Virgin offering more money if the band used the name JAPAN. Thankfully Sylvian and common sense won out on that one. Boats for Burning – is lyrically speaking directly naked of the acrimony ensued during recording.

Blackwater (more blue) has something of John Denver about it. On his Sleepyard blog Jansen says he preferred the track to be ambient, bringing out the gentle timbre of the song. However his neat pitter patter dances around the song rather nicely. More desert shenanigans ensue for New Moon at Red Deer Wallow (the band call it a musicians track, I call it four guys banging about in the studio and passing it off as a musicians track). 

Black Crow Hits Show Shine City is back to business, slowly worked up into a full bodied strut by all on board. Scratchings on the Bible Belt more muso-noodling. Cries and Whispers another stunner if a touch mawkish ‘my heart grew wings over desert skies’. Again Jansen’s percussion providing a delicate endgame to the geographic approach of building a record from scratch.

Postcards from a box with a heartbeat.

IMAGINING AMERICA

Sylvian’s interest in America was no whimsy, he took the plunge and moved there lock stock and barrel soon after. Musically he was not just reconnecting with his Lewisham alumni but his next move reignited the cultural journey with Japanese maestro Ryuichi Sakamoto for Heartbeat,  available in… you got it, a limited blue box with postcards.

The other road was a personal one in not only marrying Prince protegé Ingrid Chavez but having kids! Was he testing himself? Pushing himself out of his comfort zone? It was all very surprising but as you know I am more about the music than an artist’s personal interests or needs. Save when it obviously influences the work (Blemish for example – more on that in due course). 

But first that collaboration with Ryuichi – Heartbeat (with the subtext Returning to the Womb) a slow burning balled in grey. ‘I killed the captain, sank the fleet, to liberate the heartbeat baby’ – there’s that word again all the way from Silver Moon, it still sounded odd to hear ‘baby’ in that baritone croon.

It also featured on Ryuichi’s album of the same name as did the more ethereal funk of Cloud #9 on which Chavez shares the vocal. If listening on headphones, the ‘cloud-number-nine’ is sonically smart; right headphone for cloud, left for number and centre for nine.

From the Sahara to the Silk Road, Sylvian is on his Golden Way.

MARCO POLO

Sylvian also guested on Hector Zazou’s Sahara Blue (unfortunately against Virgin’s wishes). This was bad news in that one of the highlights of this time Victim of Stars was made a hard to find rarity.

Its winning formula of ambient jazz is still enough to leave one ‘absolutely spellbound.’ The repackaged album had Sylvian going under the pseudonym Mr X. The song To a Reason survived the cull but it’s the lesser of the two in terms of listener engagement.

He also shows up for First Evening, Youth and the closing Lettre Au Directeur Des Messageries Maritimes reciting a poem with one of the best finishes of his career. His voice distorted through a megaphone when he says ‘blinded …in search of stars.’ It was typical Sylvian. He was there but not there, seen and unseen. Physical, invisible and always the last word.

Yet another collaboration occurs in the mid-nineties with Italian sound designers Nicola Alesini and Pier Luigi Andreoni and their musical adaptation of Marco Polo. You can see Sylvian’s interests lie in just about anything geographic. A living breathing sound atlas.

All three of these recordings feature a spectacular array of musicians. Sakamoto: Youssou N’Dour, members of Deee-lite, Arto Lindsay, and Bill Frisell. Zazou is joined by The Passions Barbara Gogan, John Cale, Anneli Drecker, while Roger Eno and Harold Budd guest on the Alesini/Andreoni recordings. And then there’s UNDARK – more on later.

As detailed some time back the titles – his own and as a guest – are equally important: Nagarkot, The Golden Way, Thalheim, Albequerque, and he guests on Arve Henrikson’s Cartography (though the songs on which Sylvian feature are not geographically titled), Transit (Fennesz), 2am Wake Up Call (Tweaker), and Nothing is Happening Everywhere (LAND). On Mick Karn’s Buoy Sylvian gives reference to the Baltic Sea and in his own Godman, the Eurasian steps. Sylvian is the map, the compass and the guide.

You’re ‘avin a laugh!

WHICH WAY IS DARSHAN?

UNCUT Magazine called it David Sylvian’s first heavy metal album. The First Day is unleashed on unsuspecting ears in July 1993 with Jean The Birdman following as a single in August; an alternative way of marketing at the time. The album does pretty well reaching 21, but Birdman’s efforts match those of the magnificent men and their flying machines leaping off a pier only to crash in the harsh undercurrents of the 60s.

God’s Monkey is almost a rock update of Taking the Veil. Firepower  – again utilising the distorted vocal approach popular with U2 and INXS at the time – is robust as it sounds but not without thought as its 10 minutes close out with a harmonic narration of letter play. F I R E P O ending on W or double you? 

Recorded in upper state New York, this is the only album to feature the drumming of legend Jerry Marotta with production by David Bottrill (both had worked with Peter Gabriel). Fripp and Bottrill would work with Toni Childs on her album The Woman’s Boat the following year. Its own birth to death concept both poppy, unsettling and worth a listen if you don’t know her work (as is her debut Union). 

I thought I asked for Vaughan Oliver not VIVID ID!

Darshan is released as a two track mini-album and three track CD with visuals by Jim Friedman. The former featuring remixes by The Grid and a total reworking – Darshana by Future Sound of London. The CD adds the album version. The typography differs from The First Day though the tour programme uses similar imagery to Darshan again by Friedman, while Vaughan Oliver is on hand for the inner styling. 

The tour in turn results in its own album Damage and subsequent limited box. In time, this would receive two separate editions. The original version is Fripp’s interpretation, the second down to Sylvian. It’s worth hearing for the otherwise unreleased titles: The First Day, the title track, and Blinding Light of Heaven.

Darshan is slimmed to near 11 minutes from the 17 of the studio version and I always have to listen to Pat Mastelotto’s apocalyptic drum finish more than once! Brightness Falls is also given a twist in its tail in order for it to lead into Every Colour You Are. As mentioned earlier its by far the best version of Gone to Earth (for me anyway) and GTE faves Wave and River Man both receive make overs.

OK who is laying who down after dark?

HOW SAFE IS DEEP?

Following Damage is a lengthy hiatus with Sylvian enjoying family life, spiritual growth and more travel. His creative output here lie in photography (Sunset House for example – unfortunately omitted here for copyright reasons) and the beginnings of the songs that would make up his next recording.

There’s an exception to the rule in his offering to long time collaborator Russell Mills. How Safe is Deep? From Mills 1996 UNDARK project is an almost direct xerox of Brian Eno’s Innocenti, a brooding sound canvas of charcoal grey, though this may have been completely accidental. I asked Russell about the song for this blog… 

“The music was composed, created and produced by me in its entirety, working with the sound engineers Tom Smyth and Will Joss. The track was then sent to David for him to add his vocals, which he returned recorded to a click track. I gave him no instructions nor did I request he follow any particular direction.

As with all the contributors to the Undark recordings, nothing was prescribed, the contributors were free to respond in whatever way they felt. The music and vocal tracks were then edited together with minimal tampering.” Russell Mills, September 2020

The song hits the three minute mark before Sylvian utters a single word. He croons of a ‘shadowland’ and ‘cold cold winter hands.’ It’s a winter that is no wonderland, climbing up ‘charcoal trees’ and – ‘after dark who lays you down?’

A metallic sounding rhythm bed adds to the icy chill. Tallow Moon (issued as part of the Jean the Birdman singles) is another track not for the feint hearted. Every so often Sylvian caters to the impression of him being an aloof man of mystery. 

If you’ve seen the Blair Witch project, the stone house in the woods at the end is the kind of place I can imagine him living (I say that part in jest – he probably does have a sense of humour and likes central heating the same as most of us).

Interestingly he did once allude to the fact that one had to be of sound mind to get through America’s brutal north eastern winters. So clearly someone was getting his goat and barking up a charcoal tree. Cue another three year silence.

Peter Gabriel says hi.

EMBRACING THE WORLD

Dead Bees on a Cake comes out just ahead of my leaving Wales for London (see the Nomad book). The backpackers scene of Earls Court is mainly populated by Aussies and Kiwi’s but one time a Japanese guy swings through. Not your average Japanese male, this one is a bit hippy and has shoulder length wavy hair. 

I can’t resist to ask about Japan (the country) and obviously the band. Once he realises who I mean he says “ahhh, David Shivian, in Japan 10 years ago (about 1990) very, very famous. Now, no.” We both grin at his abrupt but humorous way of putting things. 

The album like many in the discerning spectrum of recording artists is 14 tracks and 70 minutes of music. Why the gravitas toward 14 tracks from 7 or 9 is anyone’s guess. Answers on a postcard. However, DBOAC was intended as another double – since released on Record Store Day in 2018. 

We, the listener, become used to hearing things and in my mind the singular record works better than the intended double album running order. The abbreviated I Surrender becomes his first top 40 single since Ink in the Well but Godman housed in an EP banished him beyond the chart. I could see Thalheim being single number three during September (the month) but it wasn’t to be. 

It’s what isn’t on the album that mystifies as some of the stronger material lie as extras on the CD singles. Les Fleur du Mar (The Flowers of Pain) is a stand out. To me if offers a more Polynesian vibe with its shingle percussive elements, the synth, the backing children’s chant and the lyric ‘sitting in a long boat without a paddle or a sail’ yet it mentions ‘the brilliant moon on the Ganges’ so guess I’m geographically flummoxed on that one. I also like the lyric ‘embrace the world and give it up’ which felt like what I was doing gradually shedding possessions in order to travel.

Starred and Dreaming is typically mysterious and Remembering Julia cinematic. On the main album Sylvian’s personal life and perspectives dominate on I Surrender as he sings ‘I looked back and glimpsed the outline of a boy, his life was sorrows now collapsing into joy’ and ‘I’ve travelled all this way for your embrace, enraptured by the recognition on your face, hold me now as my old life dies tonight and I surrender.’ 

On Thalheim – ‘take the shadow from the road that I walk upon, and be my sunshine.’ Alphabet Angel speaks candidly about his daughter Ameera, and it is this kind of etherial mood that I wished the Manic Street Preachers had used for Cardiff Afterlife rather than the Dylan-esque harmonica.

Dead Bees calls at #31, the last of his albums to chart (not including compilations). What is perhaps most surprising of all is that the original release in 1999 came with no limited editions. The difference of funds in the record industry over the decade now visible to us all.

Mr Carson your artwork is too good so we’re going with a dog with eyebrows.

EVERYTHING AND NOTHING LESS

Just as Weatherbox had signalled the end of the eighties, the millennium was catalogued by a series of compilations. The biggest was Everything and Nothing (vocal), Camphor (instrumentals including some notably remixed work specifically for the project – Wave and Mother and Child) and Approaching Silence (Ember Glance and Redemption housed in new artwork). 

The tragedy here is that the E+N project originally mooted for 1994 with artwork by David Carson (himself a nomadic designer known for his work with Ray Gun magazine) came with revised artwork; a dog with eyebrows. I wanted to cry! The inner is ok – images of rice, bowls, and a path. These images seem random but are more in keeping with Sylvian’s vision (the railroad in the Rain Tree Crow project for example).

As standard E+N came with unheard material: The Scent of Magnolia, Ride (the intended centrepiece of Beehive), Cover Me With Flowers, Thoroughly Lost to Logic and another of the dobro pieces Aparna and Nimisha (for his second daughter Isobel) which couldn’t be accommodated on DBOAC.

Slightly less than 125 Spheres.

The Song Which Gives the Key to Perfection and Praise (from Dead Bees) are, however lovely, not instrumentals. Mother and Child with jazz trumpet (following Sylvian’s original vocal line) is a nice interpretation and surprising how well it works as an instrumental with the addition of an extended coda.

Upon This Earth comes across clear as day and minus the voice of JG Bennett. Best of all though is the title track, a modern take on his Preparations for a Journey with filigree voice filtered through electronics.

No wonder he didn’t want to go Late Night Shopping. …hugging a tree while it’s on fire isn’t recommended either.

FOREST FIRES AND SORROWFUL SNOW

The story behind Blemish is well known; a divorce album is never going to front for an easy listen but strangely pain and anguish suit Sylvian better than the ‘happy’ Sylvian of the Slow Fire concerts of the mid-nineties. My original review for Blemish was written for New Zealand music mag Rip it Up but was never published. This is it… 

It took just three years for Japan to amass five albums. In his solo career it took David Sylvian nearly twenty and those expecting Gentlemen Take Polaroids, Pulling Punches or even I Surrender will be sorely disappointed here. Like Talk Talk, Sylvian’s slide into the more enigmatic structures and landscapes of sound are pivotal to his ongoing role as a musician in the widest possible canon. 

The opening title track for example is pleasant, but at 14 minutes is way too long for the minimalism Sylvian offers; fractal guitar, electronics and a voice so close to the mic it’s as if Sylvian is singing in your own room, which as this album is compared to ink drying on a diary page is precisely what he wants and it does create an intimacy, especially when listening on headphones. 

A similar dictation is captured more successfully on the near eight minute Heart Knows Better which nearly takes ‘stand out track’ title. In an odd way it’s chord structure seems Beatle-esque had they been around and got off on Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden.

The three pieces recorded with free jazz guitarist Derek Bailey, resemble the dobro pieces from his previous Dead Bees on a Cake and Lost to Logic from the retrospective E+N. Prickly guitar stabs and twangs don’t front for an easy listening experience but do convey a sense of skill that Sylvian manages to wrap his voice around such skeletal arrangements. 

The lava like flow of Only Daughter is difficult too with disjointed vocal and electronics like Radiohead’s Right Place from Kid A or an avant garde Madonna, and if the latter’s skill is to take the underground and make it a commercial furore then Sylvian’s is to reverse the process and take it right back.

His will to surprise is captivating, who would have thought a title as blasé as Late Night Shopping would ever find a home in one of the most exquisite of English catalogues? Like putting After Eight dinner mints next a Mars bar, or the Cocteau Twins calling an album Happy Shopper, the American life (no Madonna pun intended) must be brushing off on him. 

The piece itself though is another of the albums winners, like a glam rock stomper with its lifeforce removed; a slow hand clap rhythm provides pulse, it’s as quirky as Blemish gets and with electronica to suggest Sylvian is keeping an eye on commercial affairs between Mirwais and his bread winner.

The endgame delivered, A Fire in the Forest, is not a dull dark eerie piece as one might imagine, but a warm and sensual firery red, very similar to Darkest Dreaming which concluded Dead Bees. 

Maybe Sylvian is running low on ideas or maybe he just wanted to explore the terrain further, nonetheless if he had engaged with Christian Fennesz as much as Bailey, Blemish would be more of a durable affair, but then again Sylvian did say that he had only recorded three full length albums of worth since the break up of Japan, Dead Bees being one of them.

It’s a wonderful world…

A BLEMISH BORNE OF SORROW

His next move would be to reconnect with brother Steve (Jansen) and German Burnt Freidman for a joint project; Nine Horses Snow Borne Sorrow. The album is even reviewed in London’s backpacker bible of yore TNT! They call it Sylvian’s most commercial release in years. This is certainly true in some respects.

Darkest Birds for example treads a neat furrow between Sylvian’s ideology of ‘form’ but still carries enough air from his new favourite trumpet player Arve Henkikson to strike a perfect balance. It’s a shining example of Sylvian’s oft quoted line ‘if you think of the avant-garde and pop being opposite ends of the ladder, then my work is somewhere in the middle.’

Atom and Cell strikes another chord altogether, a homeless figure in a doorway being left naked to the elements at the end of yet another day. Jansen’s hard edged glitch electronics open the title track – attributed to the raw emotion of Sylvian’s divorce. The Librarian rounds things off, an open letter to his daughter; grab your favourite books. 

From the vineyards of Sylvania, comes forth vintage Manafon!

OXFORD: TOWERING TREES AND MANAFON

Speaking of books, my 2008 move to Oxford was to try and further a career in publishing. This was crushed by the latest recession. The silver lining being I could now appreciate where the music on Gone To Earth came from.

The sunlight seen through towering trees on walks through the fields off Oaklands Road toward Botley. It’s possible Sylvian had written and recorded the piece prior to getting to Oxford but the impression cast on those afternoons was enough for me. 

And on the Oxford canal I chance on the hippy section mid way up. A dishevelled barge boat with cats crawling all over it. A table decorated with assorted objects. I called it Sylvian’s Yard. Perhaps Steve Jansen would call it the Sleepyard.

While based in Oxford, Sylvian releases his last proper album Manafon. On seeing the artwork comprising several of Dutch artist Ruud van Empel’s Studies in Green – I thought, this is what Gone to Earth should have looked like! No offence Russ.

Sylvian has never played in Wales so maybe Manafon was his way of making up for it, aside his interest in RS Thomas and Angus McBean. Other than the front image the record pays limited dividends for me, only Random Acts of Senseless Violence with its reference to the Heathrow Express having left the platform, Snow White in Appalachia and the title track work ‘There’s a man down in the valley, Who doesn’t speak in his own tongue, He bears a grudge against the English, The tune to which his songs are sung.’

Even in the midst of an English recession life had a knack of swallowing time and I could no longer afford the attention once granted to repeat listenings. Another decade had elapsed and with that there was enough flotsam and jetsam to piece yet another compilation of odds and ends together. 

Entitled Sleepwalkers, it’s a compilation of curiosities. In keeping with the title the songs are the sonic ghosts of his life washed up much like the artefacts on Beehive. Finally joined in audio matrimony were Sugar Fuel, Five Lines, and Exit/Delete among others.

A sleepwalkers guide to dusk.

VICTIM OF THE PEACE

And so it continued into 2011 with Died in the Wool (I’m not a fan of the artwork which makes Sylvian look like some glorified dictator) and think he should have used more of van Empel’s imagery as the release is variations of Manafon with the addition of several new pieces. I Should Not Dare in particular showed he was still capable of brilliance. Not since Weathered Wall has he captured the dusk quite so gloriously. 

On the compilation A Victim of Stars which crudely exempts its title track comes a new composition; Where’s Your Gravity. This is not pop or rather it isn’t pop as we know it. There is no BOO-BOO-BOO-BOO/BOO-BOO-BOO-BOO-DUM-DUM Phil Collins style drum to lift the song from its lazy stroll. No, this is music that – much like its creator – stays on its own course, oblivious to what anyone else thinks of it or what it should do. 

It isn’t alone in its restrained arrogance, Wasn’t I Joe, which much to the chagrin of fans remains unreleased, is astounding and this time there is rhythm to give it an extra impetus – needed for a piece of almost 12 minutes. 

Meanwhile, lurking at the other end of Sylvian’s spectrum is the probable origin to what became Gravity. Culled from Sleepwalkers The World is Everything, with us for just one minute and forty-three seconds proves the world is indeed alive, albeit divided between lyrical enigmas and driven by sublime subtleties. 

Punk Deities? Anything is possible in Sylvania.

SPEAKING FOR THE UNCOMMON

Already skilled at curating his own anthologies, Sylvian, as artist in residence did the same for Norway’s Punkt festival. The 1988 ambient work Plight and Premonition was brought to life with a series of minimalist performers including Jan Bang and Erik Honoré whom would share their own platform with Sylvian the next year.

His continuing almost academic quest into producing work in many forms of recorded sound led to spoken word and the unexpectedly engaging Uncommon Deities in 2012. This to me is probably his last decent outing. Comprising haunting ambience, glitch electronics, avant-garde jazz and spoken word I play it to a German friend in Gibraltar, he says Sylvian’s words sound like a National Geographic documentary.

Bear in mind said friend has never heard of David Sylvian but his recitation of Paal-Helge Haugen and Nils Chr. Moe-Repstad’s poems are warm and sensual. Favourites? The God of Smaller Gods, The God of Small Caresses. It must be said that UD would for most be hard going and Sidsel Endresen is very much an acquired taste.

When in The God of Black Holes Sylvian narrates ‘standing on the edge, blasted by longitudes of a demarcation line between the visible and the invisible, between light and ultimate darkness’ he could literally be referring to himself.  

The God of Tiny Islands sounds like the kind of ambient music one would expect in a museum while walking through an exhibition about space or the formation of our own earth. Its words are equally mesmerising… ‘the surface of the endless ocean is broken by reefs and atolls and the remnants of extinct volcanoes, his domain begins. It is his delight to see life breaking out from rock and volcanic ash, seeds carried by the wind, birds building their nests and turtles making their way onto the beaches.’ 

September’s here again; a note for the tenant.

A TENANT, A WORLD CITIZEN

Whilst teaching in (communist) China I learn that TIN DRUM is actually quite kitsch and was certainly doing nothing for my students whom were born in the mid-nineties (neither was Five Lines). But one is inquisitive; I call her Movie Girl for her fascination over the medium. Over time she becomes like the daughter or niece I never had. 

She asks for music recommendations. One of the artists I suggest is David Sylvian. She comes back to the next lesson beaming saying she loves The Devil’s Own and when it’s my birthday she handwrites the lyrics to September and hands them to me with cake (thankfully minus any dead bees). Now if that isn’t an endearingly Asian way to my heart I don’t know what is.

Still in Guangzhou I shoot a series of images around dusk. In that moment and mood I can think of nothing better to call them than The Tenant – named after JAPAN’s 1978 track signing off Obscure Alternatives, possibly the strongest and/or important thing on it. It paved the way to the future. Another song which sounds subliminal in the late afternoon is his recitation of Arseny Tarkovsky’s poem Life, Life over Ryuichi Sakamoto’s delicate sound design. 

The words are beautiful yet arcane, a little like Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010, Tarkovsky speaks of the wonder of life but also hints at rebirth ‘all will be repeated’ and ‘I am and I will be.’ Existential, ‘On each wave is a star, a person, a bird’ and I love the idea of cities and Seas being iridescent but the last line is as enigmatic is they come. ‘A mother in tears takes a child on her lap.’ Either way it’s an odd last line and I wonder how the poem came to end that way – was it unfinished or abandoned?

Back to the Future, ghosts from the past.

THE GHOSTS OF OUR LIVES RETURN

Back in 2003 Japan and David Sylvian’s catalogue was given a significant makeover by Virgin EMI. Both Gentlemen Take Polaroids and Tin Drum recently got the half speed master treatment and in February 2019 Sylvian’s golden era from 1984’s Brilliant Trees to 1987’s Secrets of the Beehive are being revised on vinyl with new black and white artwork. All of these have something the original issues (save for Brilliant Trees) do not – inner bags!

Newbies (new bees, see what I did there?) The original Dead Bees artwork top left, the black design for the vinyl issue top right, middle right, original artwork reduced to inner sleeve design and finally the white sleeve reissue for record store day 2018.

This began in earnest during 2018 with black and white vinyl editions of his fourth solo release Dead Bees on a Cake with differing covers and inner artwork, all of which must be keeping designer Chris Bigg rather busy. ‘Bees’ however came with additional tracks while the upcoming issues have only visual changes.

Their secondary purpose is for the collector and fanbase whom Sylvian continues to challenge not just in his music but by design changes, especially with ‘Dead Bees’ above which never saw a vinyl issue back in ’99 and Gone to Earth (see below). In addition the two albums with the late Holger Czukay have also been repackaged by Bigg again in monochrome (save for one arresting image in red). 

It seems Sylvian is putting these forward as some kind of archival statement. Memoirs from a life in music, though in typical fashion, he’s also stated he isn’t nostalgic. The new design approach, according to Sylvian’s expansive post on social media, was prompted by ‘loss’ of the original imagery, hence the need to create something contemporary yet true to the time. 

I’d say if he’s changing some of the artwork why not change all of them and keep the same type as on the new Brilliant Trees below. That’s really my only problem – a lack of continuity. Had they been all portraits or all abstracts then it would have been a cohesive statement. As it is it just seems muddled and in some cases amateur, though like most I’ve yet to see the inner sleeves. Whether that sways my opinion is yet to be seen.

The changing faces of Brilliant Trees, top left the original ‘yellow’ cover from 1984, top right an American issue with red type featuring both the album and Words with the Shaman EP from 1994, middle right the (imo) hideous 2003 issue and above the new 2019 issue with the new type which is (again mo) more elegant in its approach.

DESIGNS ON BRILLIANCE

These designs vary from the familiar to the new. Most are previously seen photos with added typography. Some are more successful than others. Brilliant Trees conserves its favoured crop-shot cover with the addition of embellished type (much better than the bloody awful hotchpotch on the 2003 CD reissue). 

Alchemy (released only on cassette in 1985) sees the biggest change while Gone to Earth remains a misadventure by design. Sylvian in a car!? While I have never been a huge fan of Russell Mills ‘hideous correct’ original artwork (and Sylvian himself says he is not ‘in awe’ of it), it is nonetheless indicative of its contents. ‘Beehive’ meanwhile retains its washed up flotsam image but why move the type!? Actually as already suggested why not just change the whole package?

Sophomore album Gone to Earth was originally issued in 1986 left is the revised inner artwork and right, that car shot, hmmm….

Rain Tree Crow, astonishingly approaching 30 years of age, followed in March. As per the Facebook post by Sylvian on the reissues and their artwork, the material with Robert Fripp is owned by Fripp so a new edition of The First Day would be up to him.

As for the Samadhisound years, Blemish and beyond have been requested for reissue by Sylvian but would keep their original imagery (though I’d like to think Blemish could benefit from a new design approach). 

There’s been a flurry of activity since Manafon such as There’s a Light That Enters Houses With No Other House in Sight (a long form tone poem narrated by American poet Franz Wright), Playing the Schoolhouse and There is No Love (with Mark Wastell and Rhodri Davies) – all improvisational and avant-garde in content. Back in London I am fortunate to come across the exhibition Like Planets which I cover here.

This is your life; Sylv’s beautiful career (an endgame in the offing?)

Sylvian has provided the glum and grey world with a fine collection of carefully worded poems, songs, and other rare and beautified artefacts. All of this was given a make over for the colossal tome that is HYPERGRAPHIA which may or may not be his endgame. If he does return maybe we won’t recognise him. 

Returning to what was my home in the early part of 2020 my bus took me through Beckenham. The birth place of David Sylvian (and Nick Heyward in case you wanted to know). In the winter afternoon sun I sense the fine sense of place; far more plush than I would have imagined. A little like Blackheath village which I give reference to in the London Nostalgia blog. It sure seems a world away from urban Catford and (communist) China.

I take the car, I travel ‘round, But nothing stays on my mind – Talking Drum, David Sylvian

A KINK IN THE ROAD, AN ERROR OF WAYS

If you think Duran Duran are the only ones having an anniversary, think again. In November 2021 (40 years since Tin Drum) Mr Limited Edition reappeared following stints in Berlin and again traversing America (New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado) with a photo book entitled ERR (meaning ERROR) so called as the images enclosed were taken on iPhone while in motion, in transit, the randomness of selection and those which carried interesting errors. 

Some of the images presented on his site resemble Mark Rothko or Barnett Newman’s fields of pure colour. In what might be his most revealing statement ever, he recounts spending months at a time in various locations and that he sees nothing wrong with wasting your own time! 

In essence he’s as nomadic as yours truly and he now knows the pitfalls of renting (i.e. it didn’t work out with the landlord) join the club Dave! But at least you got a refund, try doing that in Thailand! He is also fortunate to have a doting audience who will purchase anything with the name DAVID SYLVIAN attached. A nice problem to have.

His residence in Santa Barbara, the Lemon Tree Inn looks like the kind of place where Leonardo di Caprio’s Frank Abagnale stayed in Catch Me if You Can with a pool. Sylvian might be nomadic but he can afford better than a sticky carpet motel. Better still he says he was given a room which doesn’t exist – how Sylvian is that. But this spirit of eden was rudely interrupted by the pandemic.

As always the book comes with additional collaborators, some familiar (Shinya Fujiwara and Yuka Fujii) and some entering Sylvania (hope they had a covid test) such as British poet Daisy Lafarge ‘a road is a shape of devotion’ and Giles Dunn, a designer educated at London’s Central St Martin’s and formerly with Neville Brody’s studio before forming Punkt in 1995.

Are we too late for heaven?

BUT HE STILL HASN’T FOUND WHAT HE’S LOOKING FOR

As of now Sylvian appears to still reside in his beautiful country – a land as adopted as his name and perhaps sometimes not quite as beautiful as he mentions the people can be kind but also brutefully unkind. 

Sylvian says San Francisco is the most beautiful city in America but I’ve never been so have no reference points of my own other than what I’ve seen on numerous TV or movies. But his words produce more questions than answers, I wonder why – bearing his liking of San Fran – he doesn’t live there? Possibly aware of its infamous fault line and it becoming his own Alcatraz? Why does he continue his search for a home – what is it he is seeking? 

And then most likely to relocate again anyway. What went awry TWICE in Berlin? Like his songs it’s an endless quest for home and to an extent the divine. While his recording career has (to date) ceased, his creative pursuits now lie largely in creating work for other artists (Melaine Dalibert’s Night Blossoms among others) and publishing making him an all round artisan.

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS


BUY SYLVIAN merch here. *disclaimer I am not responsible for third party content, bootlegs being sold as new for example so please read the eBay info carefully.

Thanks for reading here, should you be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, check out the MEDIA page, and/or the UNIVERSITY page for my teaching ethos. 

Meanwhile, stay tuned with things here at Kulture Kiosk via THE ATLAS or on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. My thanks to Gerrit Hillebrand, Julian Mendelsohn, and Russell Mills. Blog originally published September 2020.

BOOKS
Hypergraphia: The Writings of David Sylvian 1980-2014
Japan: A Foreign Place – The Biography 1974-1984
Cries and Whispers: Sylvian/Karn/Jansen/Barbieri/Dean 1983-1991
both by Anthony Reynolds and available exclusively from Burning Shed.
BUY Notate here

PLAYLIST
Red Guitar (from Brilliant Trees) – David Sylvian
Kiss the Dirt (from Listen Like Thieves) – INXS
Life in Tokyo (from Assemblage) – JAPAN
European Son (from Assemblage) – JAPAN
Quiet Life (from Assemblage) – JAPAN
I Don’t Want a Lover (from Southside) – TEXAS
The Art of Parties (from Tin Drum) – JAPAN
Talking Drum (from Tin Drum) – JAPAN
Still Life in Mobile Homes (from Tin Drum) – JAPAN
Sons of Pioneers (from Tin Drum) – JAPAN
Weathered Wall (from Brilliant Trees) – David Sylvian
Brilliant Trees (from Brilliant Trees) – David Sylvian
Laughter and Forgetting (from Gone to Earth) – David Sylvian
River Man (from Gone to Earth) – David Sylvian
Answered Prayers (from Gone to Earth) – David Sylvian
Where the Railroad Meets the Sea (from Gone to Earth) – David Sylvian
Sunlight Seen Through Towering Trees (from Gone to Earth) – David Sylvian
Epiphany (from Ember Glance) – David Sylvian/Frank Perry
Orpheus (from Secrets of the Beehive) – David Sylvian
The Devil’s Own (from Secrets of the Beehive) – David Sylvian
Mother and Child (from Secrets of the Beehive) – David Sylvian
September (from Secrets of the Beehive) – David Sylvian
Let the Happiness In (from Secrets of the Beehive) – David Sylvian
Promise (from Secrets of the Beehive 2003 edition) – David Sylvian
Blue of Noon (from Let the Happiness In) – David Sylvian
Ghosts (Riverside acoustic version) – David Sylvian
Kiss Like Ether (single version) – Claudia Brücken
Blackwater (from Rain Tree Crow) – Rain Tree Crow
Big Wheels in Shanty Town (from Rain Tree Crow) – Rain Tree Crow
Rain Tree Crow (from Rain Tree Crow) – Rain Tree Crow
Red Earth (as summertime ends) (from Rain Tree Crow) – Rain Tree Crow
Pocketful of Change (from Rain Tree Crow) – Rain Tree Crow
Black Crow Hits Show Shine City (from Rain Tree Crow) – Rain Tree Crow
Cries and Whispers (from Rain Tree Crow) – Rain Tree Crow
Heartbeat (Returning to the Womb) – Ryuichi Sakamoto ft David Sylvian
Victim of Stars (from Sahara Blue) – Hector Zazou ft David Sylvian
The Golden Way (from Marco Polo) – Nicola Alesini and Pier Luigi Andreoni ft David Sylvian
Heaven Sent (from Welcome to Wherever You Are) – INXS
The Fly (from Achtung Baby) – U2
Firepower (from The First Day) – David Sylvian & Robert Fripp
Darshana (Future Sound of London)(from Darshan) – David Sylvian & Robert Fripp
The First Day (from Damage) – David Sylvian & Robert Fripp
Innocenti (from The Shutov Assembly) – Brian Eno
How Safe is Deep? (from Strange Familiar) – Undark ft David Sylvian
Praise (from Dead Bees on a Cake) – David Sylvian
I Surrender (single version) – David Sylvian
Godman (from Dead Bees on a Cake) – David Sylvian
Thalheim (from Dead Bees on a Cake) – David Sylvian
Les Fleur du Mar (from I Surrender single) – David Sylvian
Starred and Dreaming (from I Surrender single) – David Sylvian
The Scent of Magnolia (from Everything and Nothing) – David Sylvian
Aparna and Nimisha (from Everything and Nothing) – David Sylvian
Camphor (from Camphor) – David Sylvian
World Citizen (I Won’t be Disappointed) – David Sylvian/Ryuichi Sakamoto
The Heart Knows Better (from Blemish) – David Sylvian
Trauma (from the Japanese edition of Blemish) – David Sylvian
Snow Borne Sorrow (from Snow Borne Sorrow) – Nine Horses
Darkest Birds (from Snow Borne Sorrow) – Nine Horses
Atom and Cell (from Snow Borne Sorrow) – Nine Horses
Sugar Fuel (from Sleepwalkers) – Readymade ft David Sylvian
Snow White in Appalachia (from Manafon) – David Sylvian
In a Landscape (from Pieces in a Modern Style) – William Orbit
I Should Not Dare (from Died in the Wool) – David Sylvian
Where’s Your Gravity? (from A Victim of Stars) – David Sylvian
The World is Everything (from Sleepwalkers) – David Sylvian
The God of Smaller Gods (from Uncommon Deities) – Jan Bang/Erik Honoré ft David Sylvian
The God of Small Caresses (from Uncommon Deities) – Jan Bang/Erik Honoré ft David Sylvian
The God of Tiny Islands (from Uncommon Deities) – Jan Bang/Erik Honoré ft David Sylvian
The Tenant (from Obscure Alternatives) – JAPAN
Life, Life (from async) – Ryuichi Sakamoto ft David Sylvian

Photo Credits:
JAPAN pink photo from Rock Encyclopedia. Unknown photographer.
Sleeve images from discogs.com, except the Pop Song portrait from rootsvinylguide.com and retouched by KH. The Pearl and Exorcising Ghosts were designed by Russell Mills.
Gone to Earth advert from davidsylvian.net – art and design by Russell Mills.
Brilliant Trees portraits by Yuka Fujii.
Silver Moon – art and design Russell Mills, Notate image by KH.
Secrets of the Beehive ad from davidsylvian.net design by Vaughan Oliver.
Night Music image and design by KH.
Let the Happiness In ad from davidsylvian.net Orpheus still from You Tube and Beehive portrait by Yuka Fujii.
Plight & Premonition cover design Vaughan Oliver, image by Yuka Fujii, Pop Song portrait by Alistair Thain.
In Praise of Shamans tour programme and stage image from russellmills.com.
Tour programme design by Russell Mills, assisted by Dave Coppenhall, Tour set design and lighting by Russell Mills.
Weatherbox images from personal archive. Art and Design by Russell Mills, assisted by Dave Coppenhall.
Ember Glance and Epiphany covers from davidsylvian.net, exhibition image from russellmills.com Art and design: Russell Mills, Design assistance: Dave Coppenhall, Installation photography: Masataka Nakano.
The Rain Tree Crow advert from Q Magazine/personal archive. Photo: Shinya Fujiwara, design: Russell Mills.
Undark lyric images shot in Chenzhou (shadowland), Foshan (charcoal trees), China and in Taipei (amber leaves), Taiwan by KH. Lyrics by David Sylvian.
Undark album cover from russellmills.com. Design Russell Mills.
Art and design: Russell Mills, Design assistance: Michael Webster.
Dead Bees drawings: Shinya Fujiwara, design: Russell Mills, Design assistance: Michael Webster.
Everything and Nothing original image by David Carson. Inner image photography by Shinya Fujiwara.
Camphor cover photography by Charles Lindsay, portrait by Kevin Westenberg, spheres shot in Warsaw, Poland by KH.
A Fire in the Forest tour prog from my personal archive. Blemish illustrations by Atsushi Fukui.
Nine Horses design: Chris Bigg, artworks by Wes Mills.
Manafon deluxe images from davidsylvian.net, teaser ad from playbsides.com. Artwork by Chris Bigg, artworks by Ruud van Empel.
Sleepwalker image by Kristamas Klousch. Written in Dusk photo shot in Chenzhou, China by KH.
PUNKT flyer and Uncommon Deities ad from davidsylvian.net.
Sylvian’s Yard, Red Earth and The Tenant photos shot in Oxford, UK and in Chenzhou and Guangzhou, China respectively by KH.
September handwritten lyrics by Li Jiamin, photographed in Guangzhou by KH.
Hypergraphia shot in London, UK by KH.
ERR cover: Giles Dunn @ Punkt, London, images by David Sylvian.