Paolo Bedini’s first involvement with David Sylvian’s activities in Italy came through the television programme Doc, a show for which the singer performed a number of pieces with the full band line-up for his 1988 In Praise of Shamans tour. It was the start of a productive working relationship that helped Sylvian to deepen his connection with an appreciative audience in the country and included staging the only European outing for the trio of Sylvian, Fripp and Gunn in 1992.
In ’93 this trio were back on the road with an expanded line-up as part of a much more extensive Sylvian/Fripp itinerary which started in Japan, moved to the US, and then crossed Europe. Italy was the only country on this global outing where the number of shows reached double figures. There was an evident affinity between the singer’s work and the sensibilities of a sizeable group of Italian music lovers.
‘David Sylvian was touring with Robert Fripp in Italy,’ remembers Andrea Chimenti. ‘Paolo Bedini, with whom he worked on different occasions, was my manager during those years and he had the opportunity to give David several CDs by Italian musicians. I guess that David wanted to have an overview of Italian music at that time. Among these CDs Paolo included the demos for L’Albero Pazzo.’
The Road to Graceland tour commenced its Italian leg in Chieti on 6 November 1993. Chimenti had been vocalist for the band Moda during the ’80s, launching his solo career with La Maschera del Corvo Nero in ’92. Now his energies were focussed on following up that debut release. Sylvian’s response to hearing Chimenti’s rough tracks for his next project (The Mad Tree in English translation) was almost immediate. ‘Days afterwards, Sylvian said to Paolo that he was interested in my record. So it was that he was asked about his openness to a collaboration – and he agreed.
‘Shortly after, the Sylvian tour arrived in Bassano del Grappa and I arranged a meeting.’ This was on 17 November with the show being staged at the Teatro Astra. ‘I remember that he entered the theatre’s foyer proudly holding a new-born, but we didn’t have the opportunity to talk. Therefore I went to dinner with his wife Ingrid Chavez and she confirmed to me that David was absolutely interested in this collaboration and that he would work on the piece. She was very kind to me.’ Something else stuck in Andrea’s memory from that meal: the decorum of the Sylvian/Fripp touring band! ‘Next to us there was the table of his musicians and I was impressed by their composure and how they spoke in low voices. Tables of Latin musicians are very often noisy!’
The prospect of this collaboration was an exciting one. ‘David Sylvian was for sure a writer that I liked even though I had little knowledge of his solo output; I mainly knew the work linked to Japan. In Italy Sylvian was a much loved writer during those years and I fell for his charm too. In the pop field he stood out thanks to his investigation into sound and to the great stylistic elegance of his music, but also because of him as a person. The East always fascinated me and Sylvian succeeded in translating those textures in the pursuit of a personal and charming style. His vocal timbre distinguished itself from others, creating a fascinating contrast with his androgynous appearance.’
Once the Sylvian/Fripp tour was over, tapes were exchanged with the suggestion being that Sylvian contribute to two songs from among the existing demos, both musically and with vocals. A faxed response addressed to Paolo and Andrea from the singer’s US home revealed some uncertainty as to whether that was the right approach. ‘I’ve listened to the recording numerous times,’ Sylvian said, concluding that ‘the work itself has an organic beauty and completeness which needs no additions. I could indulge myself adding textures and treatments but this would be ornamentation which I think could only take away from what you have already produced.’ Finding the right space for his vocal was also proving difficult. ‘With the possible exception of ‘Low Du Du’ there are no real areas to justify my presence so I’ve had to “invent” one for myself which may or may not please you. On ‘Low Du Du’ as requested I’ll attempt to sing in English alongside Andrea’s vocal. In ‘Si Dirada la Nebbia’ I’ll write for the instrumental coda.’ Becoming involved this far into the genesis of the pieces was evidently uneasy. ‘I think you’ve made an excellent album which I thoroughly enjoy with a beautifully clean production. Maybe we can collaborate on something at a later date where my involvement is clear from the outset. I hope so.’
For Chimenti, the time for this deeper partnership was now, so a change of approach was necessary. Contributions to the two named tracks were abandoned in favour of something entirely new. It’s a bit of a mystery what happened to ‘Low Du Du’ and whether this was renamed for the album (Andrea can’t recall), but ‘Si Dirada la Nebbia’ was maintained as the closing track. Chimenti observes that the latter ‘had a long coda with Marco Parente percussion and Massimo Fantoni guitar,’ and ‘probably had an interesting space for Sylvian. But he said that the album was perfect as it was and that he didn’t see where he could fit in. So I wrote ‘Ti Ho Aspettato’.
‘I composed the melody at the piano instinctively using odd tempos. There’s something Japanese in the riff, dictated by my love for oriental textures and perhaps by writing a piece that could be sung by David Sylvian. Once the melody was composed I recorded a demo on a four-track Akai tape. The purpose was to outline the piece and send it to him in order to understand if he might like it. At this time Sylvian lived in Minneapolis and since the internet was not yet available, the time for receiving a reply wasn’t short!
‘I was expecting him to tell me, “Yes, I like it,” or, “No it isn’t an arrangement that inspires me,” or to ask me to change this or that. Another possibility was that he played that composition himself, making the changes he considered worthwhile. In short, it was simply a demo.
‘There was a long pause as David caught a serious cold that caused him hearing problems and for this reason he had major problems in working. Absurdly in the same period I had a severe cold too with significant troubles in my ears, so significant that I still suffer from an annoying tinnitus.
‘One day the tape with Sylvian’s recordings finally arrived and to my astonishment he took the demo as it was, singing his own melody and lyrics on top of it. Wow, but it was just a demo! We had to perform everything again whilst keeping his voice when usually the voice is the last thing that is recorded. But what he had done was beautiful, a wonderful interpretation, with a particular crack in his voice which I’ve never heard before and that made everything intimate and deeply felt. He sang the melody in the chorus by retracing the piano riff and I was surprised how he made a complex musical tempo simple and catchy.
‘It wasn’t easy for us to play everything again under his voice, I remember that it was a difficult recording task… We were not using computers where we could edit files, but we were working on tape. I’m happy with the outcome and David was too.’
Some raw footage exists of the final stage of completing the song. ‘It’s a nice document and I regret that there aren’t any more. I never documented the recording of my records and today I regret it a little bit. This was a video shot without my knowledge by a friend: Claudio Sacilotti. The recording studio was Studio Emme in Calenzano, near Florence. Today that studio doesn’t exist anymore. I guess it was the last recording day, the record was finished and only ‘Ti Ho Aspettato’ was missing. We were recording Antonio Licusati’s bass and I was rehearsing some missing sections on the keyboards. In this footage we finally completed the long work of playing the piece again under David’s voice.’
Ideas for the lyrics were also exchanged by fax – the only medium for ‘instantaneous’ messaging available at the time. The concept from the outset was that each artist would write and record their own vocal part. ‘The suggested theme was that of a prayer,’ Andrea told me, ‘each one of us freely developed this according to his own sensitivity and system of beliefs.’
Andrea’s words are delivered in his rich, melodious voice, close to being spoken yet with a singer’s emphasis and intonation. The opening imagery is taken from The Book of Disquiet by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa:
‘Forse ci siamo sfiorati in alto mare
come imbarcazioni che passano nella notte
e non si salutano e non si conoscono
Ti ho aspettato quando credevo
nell’inutilità della speranza
quando mendicante ero carico di sogni
Ti ho aspettato pago di una completa sconfitta
Ti ho aspettato quando il sorriso
era una smorfia sul mio viso’
‘We maybe skimmed each other on the high seas
like boats passing by into the night
and they do not greet each other and they do not know each other
I have waited for you when I used to believe
in the uselessness of hope
when as a beggar I was laden with dreams
I have waited for you content with a complete defeat
I have waited for you when the smile was a grimace on my face’
Andrea explains how each party responded to the agreed subject matter: ‘I developed it talking about the wait for a reply, about an encounter that could give sense to life. Most of the time the encounter happens and we are not aware of it, like boats coming across in the dead of night but not knowing each other they pass by in the darkness without greeting, without communicating. Sometimes we live like beggars seeking a condition or a place where we can spiritually rest.
‘David developed the theme by imagining humanity at its dawn, in the forest where a cry in the night seems to awaken consciousness, perhaps breaking the come and go of the seasons. An inexorably repeated cycle that the child of a mother seems to interrupt, a messianic image and a profound abandon towards this Child without whom we are nothing: ‘Without you I’m nothing’.’
‘One leaf in the forest fell
One cry in the night
One life lived under branches
Where even the shadows are bright
She said “I will be there”
She said “alright”
The seasons they come and they go
With no end in sight’
I was amazed to discover that the original vocal track sent by Sylvian from Atma studio, his home set-up in the loft of the family home in Minneapolis, contains not only the words we hear in the song as it was released – but also an entire second verse. The comfort brought by the female voice heard in the familiar lyric continues in the words that follow, with the protagonist hearing the whisper of her name in the sounds of surrounding nature. It’s a presence that causes his existence to explode into life and gives strength for the ups and downs of life on this planet. With both verses set together, the lyric fits well alongside songs like ‘I Surrender’ which also have their roots in the early ’90s. There is a similar sense of longing for something beyond oneself and expression of being uplifted through an experience of the divine:
‘My mother’s son
I long to sing
Without you I’m nothing’
Rather than either of Andrea or David’s contributions being responses to the other, they were in fact written simultaneously and came together in the construction of the final version. ‘David recorded the whole piece with his own melody and lyrics,’ says Andrea. ‘When he sent it to me, he told me to remove a verse of my own choosing, replacing it with my section, and to add some vocal harmonisations. He wrote to me saying that he very much liked how I was vocally harmonising. And so I did it. I kept his first verse and all of his choruses to which I sang harmonies. I then added my section in the second verse which was actually sung, even though it might seem recited.’
The musical arrangement was true to Andrea’s vision for the album, using predominantly acoustic sounds but with a beautifully alluring and subtly processed lead theme which swoops and rises almost like a third voice in the closing section. Sylvian’s involvement was in fact key to being able to complete the album as the artist conceived it. ‘Due to musical choices throughout my career, I’ve often had difficulty in continuing,’ confesses Andrea. ‘When I wrote L’Albero Pazzo, I received no support from my label owner. He thought it was too acoustic and that it wasn’t following the trends of the time. I absolutely didn’t want to distort the signature I gave to that project and I didn’t want to compromise to follow the market. This difficult period lasted long enough to make me decide to give up music and find another job. To earn a living I then started to sell encyclopaedias door to door – with poor results. I remember it as one of the worst periods of my life and in addition to the financial difficulties I was also suffering because of my musical failure. I had come out of a happy period, the ’80s, where many positive things had happened. At that very moment everything seemed to collapse.’
His manager’s inclusion of the demos in his bundle for Sylvian was ultimately responsible for a significant turn-around in fortunes. ‘One evening, coming back home, I found a message from Paolo Bedini on the answering machine: David Sylvian would collaborate on the L’Albero Pazzo album. This event changed many things, the label reopened their doors and it meant a great injection of confidence for me. So that record nobody wanted to release wasn’t so bad in the end! This collaboration put me back on track. Sylvian doesn’t know it, but he accomplished a true rescue in a dark period of my life.’
‘Ti Ho Aspettato (I Have Waited for You)’ was never released as a single, in fact Virgin resisted both this and the release of the album outside of Italy. Promo CDs were however manufactured for distribution to radio stations, and a video was also produced. ‘The video is based on a photo shoot that Guido Harari undertook for me and Sylvian. I loved that photo shoot and it gave me the opportunity to get to know David better.’
The pair never actually met until the song was complete. ‘We always worked remotely using the postal service and fax. It was nice to get to know each other after things had already been finished, he was really satisfied with the result. We met three times: twice for his concerts and the third one for the Guido Harari photo shoot. On all occasions David was very kind and I remember every meeting fondly. We never talked about making other things together, but we kept on writing to one another for a while.’
Recently the album has been released on vinyl for the first time, resplendent in entirely new artwork. It’s evidently a project that Andrea continues to be pleased with. ‘Frequently the passing of time makes you see the flaws in old records and sometimes you come to no longer take them into consideration. L’Albero Pazzo remains a record I am proud of even now and ‘Ti Ho Aspettato’ contains one of the most beautiful collaborations of my life.’
For Sylvian’s part, he wrote the following words that were included in the promotional material back in 1996: ‘How often does pop music become the medium of the heart, of soul-searching sojourns, the expression of the life of the spirit? In my experience all too rarely and that’s why it was a pleasure to participate in a small way in the making of Andrea Chimenti’s new album as I believe these are qualities that can be found in his latest work. With unforced humanity and poetry Chimenti wrestles with his angels and in the process acquires a unique voice with which to communicate what is gleaned.’
An enjoyable track to play alongside the duet with Sylvian is ‘Carta di Riso’ – ‘Rice Paper’. It’s another tasteful setting of acoustic guitar and piano and, just as he does on ‘Ti Ho Aspettato’, Antonio Licusati plays some sumptuous double-bass. For this track Andrea’s vocal is more overtly sung and his lyric encapsulates both the fragility of the creative life and its absolute joy.
‘Srotola la mente fragile come carta di riso
Calpestata, stropicciata, consumata, lacerata’
‘Unroll the fragile mind like rice paper
Trampled, wrinkled, worn, torn’
‘Segreti bisbigliati e poi dimenticati…
Musica la mia vita’
‘Secrets whispered and then forgotten…
Music my life’
Through this project Sylvian became even more connected with Italy and its music scene. My parting question for Andrea was to ask for his perspective on why Sylvian’s work has resonated so strongly in his homeland? ‘I believe that Italy loves and is capable of recognising beauty, probably because we are surrounded by it, and for this reason it’s easy to identify it in David’s music.’
‘Ti Ho Aspettato (I Have Waited for You)’
Andrea Chimenti – voice, piano, electric piano; Massimo Fantoni – guitars; Alessandro Finazzo – slide guitar; Antonio Licusati – bass, double-bass; Marco Parente – drums; David Sylvian – vocal
Music and lyrics by Andrea Chimenti and David Sylvian.
Executive producer – Gianni Maroccolo. From L’Albero Pazzo by Andrea Chimenti, Consorzio Produttori Independente, 1996.
Lyrics © samadhisound publishing
Physical media: L’Albero Pazzo vinyl re-release (www.andreachimenti.it – available to order only for delivery within Italy)
My grateful thanks to Andrea Chimenti for his generous contributions to this article. Thank you also to Marta Roia for translating for us. The photograph in the featured image is by Guido Harari. Full sources and acknowledgements for this article can be found here.
‘I guess my affinity with Italy is played out in my relationship with the people there along with aspects of the culture: cinema, literature, etc.’ David Sylvian, 2005