Before the Bullfight

‘the battle between the animal and the spiritual’

DJ David Jensen interviewed David Sylvian on a number of occasions in the early ’80s for his evening show on BBC Radio One. By the time Gone to Earth was approaching release, Jensen had moved on to a rival station, Capital Radio, so it was there that the pair would reunite to discuss what the new album might promise. Judging by what he had read in Virgin’s press release, Jensen predicted that ‘it’s sufficiently different from your last albums to again surprise a lot of people.’ Sylvian was more measured in response, ‘In a way for me it’s an extension of a lot of the work I did on Brilliant Trees, so I wouldn’t say it was extremely diverse in nature – but there should be a few surprises on there.’

It was a theme he expanded on in other interviews, ‘It’s just like a summing up. It’s something I have to do. I couldn’t just leave Brilliant Trees as it was and say, “Oh well, that’s the end of that avenue; that’s explored.” For me Brilliant Trees is a better album because I was fishing in the dark, I didn’t know what was going to happen. But I have to go through the process of following the avenues that I’ve found interesting – even if it’s against my own will. I still have to do it. It’s something I had to get out of my system.’

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Ghosts

‘adventurous and strange’

‘New means change the method; new methods change the experience, and new experiences change man. Whenever we hear sounds we are changed: we are no longer the same after hearing certain sounds, and this is the more the case when we hear organised sounds, sounds organised by another human being: music.’ So said the ground-breaking composer of electronic music, Karlheinz Stockhausen, during a lecture given in London in 1971.

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When We Return You Won’t Recognise Us

‘the interior life of a community’

March 2009. The venue is on the north-east coast of Gran Canaria, the near-circular island surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. Part of a Spanish archipelago but geographically much closer to Africa. In fact, at its closest point, Morocco is less than a hundred miles to the East. Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno (CAAM, or the Atlantic Centre of Modern Art) in Las Palmas has dedicated exhibition space to the second architecture and art biennial of the Canary Islands, with parallel presentations taking place at a number of venues across Gran Canaria.

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Brilliant Trees – Steel Cathedrals – live

Re-taking the stage

Live performance was something that David Sylvian confessed he didn’t really relish with Japan. The occasional highs never seemed to outweigh the constraints of the experience. ‘I don’t really like touring and repeating material over and over,’ Sylvian reflected when the subject of taking to the road was raised just after the release of his second solo album, Gone to Earth. ‘You have to be in a certain frame of mind to do it, and it’s a quite uncreative frame of mind. It’s almost like, “It’s time to take a holiday, I’ll do a tour.” I always felt that way with Japan, because once I start touring I just don’t think creatively at all. But that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable, it can be very enjoyable if you’ve got the right people around you.’

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Atom and Cell

‘a small seed that burrowed its way into my mind’

Manhattan, 10th September 2001. ‘That’s where the story starts,’ David Sylvian confirmed to the host of BBC Radio 3’s Mixing It programme. ‘That’s because I was in New York the night before the attack took place. I was there with my wife and family, and Ingrid turned around to me and said, “There’s a really ominous feel in the city tonight, you know, that something awful is going to happen.”’

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