Masakatsu Takagi first worked with David Sylvian on the Fire in the Forest tour, starting out in the UK in September 2003 and ending in Japan in spring 2004. The dates were put together based on the unexpected success of Blemish. Budgetary constraints meant that the on-stage musicians would be David Sylvian and his brother Steve Jansen only, and the nature of the material dictated that the performance would be largely laptop-based and consequently somewhat static. Another element was required for the mix, a visual component to provide added depth to the audience’s experience. Yuka Fujii became aware of Takagi’s innovative moving image work, shared samples with Sylvian, and so it was that he came to complete the on-stage trio.
Takagi had not been familiar with Sylvian’s work before the approach to collaborate on the road, other than an early band image that was engrained on his consciousness: ‘I just knew him from a picture on the sleeve of a Japan album. I found it when I was in junior high school; I thought, “What is this? And why are they making up their faces???” haha… So I only remembered his face.’ He soon came to appreciate the pieces featured in the live performances, however; ‘I love every track he did at that tour.’ (2004)
Video wasn’t Masakatsu Takagi’s only artistic medium. He had released his first music, the album Pia, in 2001 and by the time of the mid-tour break at the end of 2003 he had put out a total of eight releases, often including a DVD of visual interpretations of the sound. The title track of his 2003 DVD release World is so Beautiful, commissioned by the designer agnès b, contains elements characteristic of Masakatsu’s earlier material. A music-box lullaby weaves beneath the voices of children from all over the world, sometimes in boisterous play, sometimes more reflective, often capturing their uproarious laughter. A celebration of the simple pleasure of life.
The preparations for the Fire in the Forest tour stirred new areas of consciousness for Takagi, informing where his music might move next. At the time he said of working with David Sylvian, ‘I learned lots of different things than before. Especially dark beauty. I don’t want to use the word “dark”, but I can’t find any other nice word for that. He taught me some beautiful inside darkness.’ (2004)
Masakatsu told me more: ‘At that beautiful time with David in 2003, I was 23 years old, just got married and nothing worrying had happened in my life yet. I was more into pop and was fun oriented in my mind, so I remember I hesitated to go to David’s place to collaborate because Blemish was such heavy emotional music for me at that time.
‘As soon as I arrived at his home and studio, my mind was getting open to wider visions. Many things inspired me. Of course David and Steve’s rehearsals were perfect inspiration, but even more their daily attitude – the atmosphere in David’s home. They were so relaxed and found joy in everything.’
The remote location in New Hampshire made a huge impression, and one experience captured an aspect of that ‘dark beauty’. ‘Just before our departure for touring, a family of deer came up through David’s huge garden and looked on at us in silence. That was one of the unforgettable moments.’
For his next project, again incorporating music and video in a CD and DVD set, Takagi decided to include more ‘real’ instruments, moving away from a predominantly computer based approach to create something that was truly his expression. The inspiration came when rehearsing. ‘In the middle of the night, I was working alone – David and Steve were sleeping – because I wanted to concentrate on making better video alone. Suddenly I felt that I must play the piano, but there was no piano in David’s studio, there was only a Rhodes piano. So I switched on the Rhodes and played what I wanted, and recorded it on my video cam. That song became one of my most important pieces of music, called ‘Girls’. My music career got started at that moment.’
The song ‘Exit/Delete’ started out very differently to what it would become. ‘I never thought David would take my offer to collaborate on that track. Originally there was another lyric and singing by my female friend, Itoko Toma. It was a totally different song. Somehow, I felt some difficulties in the music…’ He had the idea to ask a male vocalist with a low voice to sing on the track. Surely there was only one candidate! It seems at first he was too bashful to approach Sylvian for the job, but finally turned to email to make the request – which was readily accepted.
Sylvian: ‘He was working on an album at that time and he asked if I would contribute a vocal to it, and I said, “of course”…after the tour I got some sound files via email and it was this very gentle piece of music with acoustic guitar and something akin to noises of a kitchen!…Or whatever it was it was some environmental sound supporting the acoustic and rhythmic structure.’ (2010)
The DVD disc of the resulting album, COIEDA, has a bonus track called ‘EXIT/DELETE_FIRST_SIGHT’. The soundtrack to this delightful video is the instrumental of ‘Exit/Delete’, embellished in the final stages of production but no doubt resembling the track as Sylvian received it. The ‘real instrument’ elements include finger-picked guitar, accompanied in the melody by more distant piano. The metallic clatter of environmental ‘kitchen’ sound are one of several elements that bring some disquiet to the mood – together with a moment where the rhythm falters and, later, percussion which underpins but periodically drops out completely.
‘I recorded many sounds in my house and used them for rhythmic elements. I remember I just imitated Steve’s playing for that song. I watched him many many times sampling sounds and playing in his own style. So the rhythmic part was really influenced by Steve Jansen.’
Interestingly, unlike some other occasions when Sylvian has responded to music written by others – notably ‘Forbidden Colours’ – the vocal is not a counter-melody to the accompaniment. Here the voice firmly takes its lead from the underlying musical theme.
Sylvian’s on-site samadhisound studio was no doubt a factor in him accepting a number of such collaboration projects around this time. He could work in his home surroundings where everything was set up to record his singing exactly as he wished. His contribution for this piece came together well. ‘David sent me the wonderful lyrics really quickly and I immediately went to his studio again for the recording of the vocal. But the recording was already done and it was perfect. I had really wanted to see the recording!
‘I love his voice, it’s very special. One thing I remember about his voice…when we were moving on the tour, driving a long way to another venue, sometimes David was singing in a whisper. I really loved those moments. It was like the most peaceful lullaby.’
These one-off songs can give a glimpse into Sylvian’s future direction in his own work (see ‘Come Morning’). Collaborating on this piece unlocked a new aspect for his solo recordings. ‘I found myself still in a very… a troubled place, I guess you could say, after the breakup of a marriage…I’d worked through that on the Blemish album lyrically and emotionally, but I was still in a pretty dark place. I found myself writing a lyric that I had to throw into the third person to allow myself to deal with the subject matter.’ (DS, 2010)
In Sylvian’s career-spanning retrospective Hypergraphia the lyrics to ‘Exit/Delete’ sit in the Blemish cycle between the poem ‘A Diner called Heaven’ and the song only ever performed on the tour with Steve Jansen and Masakatsu Takagi – ‘Wasn’t I Joe?’. Both express the anguish of an unwinding relationship through the detail of particular moments:
‘At breakfast she called, requests only now
Wanted to know what time I’d be home
How late could I leave it?’
(from ‘A Diner called Heaven’)
‘So many hours of conversation
I doubt there’s anything left unsaid
The hope of reconciliation
Slowly paces round my bed’
(from ‘Wasn’t I Joe?’)
It’s unnecessary to speculate how Sylvian’s third-party lyric for ‘Exit/Delete’ relates to his own experience, but the articulation of emotion is similarly precise. The sense of loss is deeply felt, and here the character is suspended in that state:
‘Feels like an ending
She’s winding a way towards a conclusion
That never comes
Caroline feels uncomfortably numb’
Perhaps the fictional Caroline of this lyric is the same as featured in the later Nine Horses song ‘Get the Hell Out’: only Sylvian knows. His description of the protagonist of ‘Exit/Delete’ was ‘someone who finds the inability to communicate with others a cul-de-sac from which she’ll never escape. Someone who feels her loneliness and isolation intensely. She’s exhausted and is ultimately defeated by her inability to change, to see beyond her suffering.’ (2004)
The eerie silence experienced in a life crisis is captured in a question:
‘How can it be as quiet as this
This close to the edge?’
End of stanza lines repeat in a pattern, moving from what ‘Caroline feels’ to what ‘Caroline says’ and then to the certainty of what ‘Caroline knows’ – that ‘there’s nobody home’, and then chillingly:
Winding its way towards a conclusion
Caroline knows there’s nothing to come’
The final image is impersonal and closure comes as matter-of-fact as exiting a computer document, or a single stroke of the delete key:
‘The files are deleted
No resisting at all
On my Vista playlist I precede ‘Exit/Delete’ with Masakatsu Takagi’s instrumental ‘Cruz’, also from COIEDA. Acoustic instruments are to the fore, with a persistent dissonant guitar note implying that all is not as sweet as it might otherwise seem. I follow ‘Exit/Delete’ with ‘Girls’, the track on the album inspired in the middle of the night in New Hampshire.
This collaboration benefitted both artists creatively. For Takagi, as he wrote on the liner notes for COIEDA, it had the effect of ‘freeing me into another world.’ For Sylvian, penning the lyric for ‘Exit/Delete’ likewise unlocked a new form of expression. ‘In a sense that led onto the creation of Manafon because speaking in the third person allowed me to say a lot of things that I felt I couldn’t otherwise say. Speaking indirectly liberated me enormously in terms of the content and the themes I could tackle, and subsequently that’s what I did on the Manafon album – there’s very few first person narratives on the Manafon album, most of it is in the third person.’ (2010)
At the time of writing, Masakatsu is releasing a series of improvised piano pieces called Marginalia; daily recordings from his studio in Hyogo, Japan, where the sounds of nature are caught through the open windows and mingle with his playing. ‘Right now I’m living in an old house surrounded by mountains. This situation reminds me of David’s house. When I open all the windows and welcome the sound of nature and play the piano together, somehow I well remember the precious time spent with David…especially in the peace of the night in darkness, when owls whisper, when deer make a high sound, when the insects sing and when no sound comes, just silence.’
Masakatsu Takagi – all sounds; David Sylvian – vocals
Music by Masakatsu Takagi. Lyrics by David Sylvian.
From COIEDA by Masakatsu Takagi, W&K Tokyo Lab, 2004.
Lyrics © samadhisound publishing
Physical media: COIEDA (Amazon)
Thank you to Masakatsu Takagi for contributing to this article. All quotes are from our conversation unless otherwise indicated. Full sources and acknowledgements can be found here.
davidsylvian.net interviewed Masakatsu Takagi and David Sylvian at the time of release, read the article here.
Masakatsu’s bandcamp page including the Marginalia series can be found here.
‘Before this, I never tried to make something dark. So I wanted to try that too. Maybe this is influenced by David Sylvian’s ‘Blemish’.’ Masakatsu Takagi, 2004