As many of you will already be aware, despite relatively continuous work on solo albums, I've maintained strong ties with a number of musicians throughout my life and have continued to produce collaborative work in one context or another. The most important of these in recent times has been the Nine Horses project with Burnt Friedman and Steve Jansen. On this new collection, Sleepwalkers, a selection of collaborative work produced over the last decade or so, I've included compositions by Nine Horses as well as more fleeting flirtations and one offs. Neglected offspring. Represented also is long term friend and writing partner, Ryuichi Sakamoto, as well as more recent, but potentially equally productive, partnerships such as Christian Fennesz, Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, Arve Henriksen and contemporary classical composer Dai Fujikura. Dai and myself are currently putting the finishing touches on a radically reinterpreted version of Manafon that features original orchestration by Dai and a number of fresh compositions which extend the themes of the original album (after one has abandoned a belief in god, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption: wallace stevens), to be released early 2011.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the work presented here, personally selected, remixed and sequenced and entirely remastered. These are the orphans, abused, estranged, exotic, migrating from diverse corners of the globe, brought together under one roof which they're learning to share despite their differences.
We contain multitudes. We're nothing if not contradictory.
(Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life: Aldous Huxley)
In the ‘00s, David Sylvian produced two of his strongest and most solitary statements, Blemish and Manafon. But those records don’t tell the whole story. In the same period, Sylvian created a more playful body of work: a series of collaborations and side projects with leading talents of pop and improv, electronic and contemporary classical music. The best of these recordings are gathered here on Sleepwalkers, meticulously sequenced and remixed: the fruits of one-off meetings and lifelong partnerships, they jump from bliss to intrigue, romance to sensuality, as arch experiments lead into the lushest pop.
The single “World Citizen – I Won’t Be Disappointed,” written with Ryuichi Sakamoto, is a sublime example, with an impeccable melody and lyric warmed by Sylvian’s gorgeous tenor. Sylvian has worked with Sakamoto for close to three decades. By contrast, on “Pure Genius,” a collaboration with Chris Vrenna aka Tweaker, he sounds like he’s walked into a heist flick, singing the part of a delusional, dangerous bedroom genius. As Sylvian explains, tracks like this “give me a chance to write in a way that’s completely non-personal, playful. It’s an exercise of some kind, working within the parameters of a given assignment.”
Intrigue of a different kind drives “Sugarfuel,” with music by Jean-Philippe Verdin, aka Readymade FC. The lyrics offered “an opportunity to grapple with a more overt sexual theme than anything I’d attempted previously, as suggested by a vocal sample in the original track provided, a threateningly insistent ‘I’m on your side.’ So I took that as my point of entry and ran with it. I would love to write more on this subject should I find the right context. You’re always aware of walking a thin line exploring sexuality with language alone. The failings of the great and the good are strewn all around.”
Sylvian’s longest-running partnership is with his brother, drummer and electronics artist Steve Jansen, and two of their projects find their way here: the Nine Horses trio with Burnt Friedman, and Jansen’s debut album (and samadhisound release) Slope. “Wonderful World” strolls in on a black tie bass line and the echoing coos of Swedish chanteuse Stina Nordenstam, whose high chirps brush hands with Sylvian’s lead; while on “Ballad of a Deadman,” his voice and Joan Wasser’s (Joan As Police Woman) roll together over the tune’s dusty blues. But Sylvian is alone again with the bitter memories of “Playground Martyrs,” while Jansen’s exquisite music recalls the orchestrated ballads of Secrets of the Beehive.
Sleepwalkers also spotlights the innovators who contributed to Manafon and Blemish. Christian Fennesz hangs a crackling, shimmering curtain behind the vocal on “Transit,” matching his signature mass of sui generis sounds to Sylvian’s stately performance. And the title track began with an instrumental handed to Sylvian by Martin Brandlmayr of Polwechsel, soon after the first recording session for Manafon. Spite crackles in the gaps between the percussion, and onkyo artists Toshimaru Nakamura and Sachiko M set the stage for the scathing lyrics in the chorus.
It cuts close to the bone, and so do the two spoken word cuts, “Angel” and “Thermal,” produced by samadhisound recording artist Jan Bang and Erik Honoré (and featuring Arve Henriksen on trumpet). Sylvian describes the latter work as a “love poem” to his daughter. “‘Thermal’ reflects on a period when our time in Sonoma, CA was coming to an end. We’d stayed in temporary accommodation which had lulled us into a false sense of security. We had pear, apple, lemon, and figs trees growing in the yard. A small but exotic paradise. A cocoon. But the cracks were beginning to show in the relationship between [ex-wife Ingrid Chavez] and I which is where I think this underlying sense of anxiety, which runs throughout the poem, is derived from, coupled with the need to provide physical and spiritual stability to the children, the youngest of whom was just under two at the time. The poem is addressed to her. Our world was dissipating, coming apart at the seams, but we were an island unto ourselves.”
The previously unreleased “Five Lines” marks the start of a new partnership with acclaimed young composer Dai Fujikura, who is also working on remixes of Manafon for a future release. The string quartet was performed by the celebrated ICE Ensemble and written for Sylvian, who Fujikura cites as an early influence. Says Sylvian, “The composition moves through numerous changes in time signature but as I had no knowledge of what these were I just relied on my gut instinct, and responded, as I always do, with what felt right to me, composing an entirely new melody in the process. Some months later I was working in a studio in London and Dai dropped by. I rather tentatively asked if he’d like to hear a rough mix of the song as it stood, painfully aware that my contribution might make no sense to him at all but, to my relief he loved the result.”
Like 2000’s Everything and Nothing, Sleepwalkers is a retrospective of the past decade – but it’s also an eye-opening complement to his solo releases. As Sylvian explains, “Some collaborations seem to be a one off exchange but you can never be too certain of that fact. Others have been long term. Ryuichi comes to mind as, of course, does Steve. And then there’s others with whom you hope to continue working as you feel you’ve barely scratched the surface. Other times offers come out of the blue, welcome, inspired. Regardless, it’s wonderful to have so many possibilities to juggle with. Each collaboration seems timely. It’s as if there’s a rightness to the exchange at a given moment in time.”
The title track taken from David Sylvian's compilation "Sleepwalkers". Featuring images by kind permission of Kristamas Klousch.