Dai Fujikura had an early and unusual fascination with David Sylvian’s work. ‘I grew up listening to his music—which is a bit strange, as I was born in 1977. The first album I listened to was Secrets of the Beehive. At that time I was 13 years old or so, and I hadn’t listened to pop music—well, maybe I’d heard it on TV, but I’d never purchased it nor was I interested in any music other than classical. Being a classical musician was my life from the age of five! Practicing every day, doing homework, going to “juku”, which was a sort of “extra school” that lots of kids in my generation attended. So, I had no time to waste, and no time to search in other genres of music.
‘Secrets of the Beehive, as you know, uses classical instrumentation, so when I first heard the album, it was so easy for me to get into. I’ve bought this album four times in my life, to give to people as gifts. I think David owes me a pint of beer! But the main reason I was hooked by his work was, of course, his voice. The most beautiful voice in the world. I just love that voice.
‘And also I appreciated his ear for instrumentation, which is very good. To prove that, Gone to Earth doesn’t really sound dated when compared to the popular glitch electronica of today, it is much juicier and richer.’
The teenage fascination would persist such that Fujikura would still be citing Secrets of the Beehive as his most-played album by any artist more than two decades after he discovered it. Around 2007 it was the Osaka-born but long time London-based composer who made the first move to explore whether the two might work together. ‘I asked the South Bank Centre if I could meet or possibly collaborate with David. They were surprised that I knew or was interested in music from the pop world, and that I wished to collaborate, as I have never collaborated with any other music creator. And then it happened that David and his office were planning to have a meeting with them near that time! The first time I met him was in this meeting. Since then we’ve exchanged a vast amount of emails and also spent time together either in London or in New York.’
Sylvian was working on the material for Manafon at the time of Fujikura’s approach. There was evidently a reciprocal enthusiasm to explore the potential of such a collaboration, with Sylvian’s first thought being that the composer contribute to his album which was still taking shape. ‘I sent Dai a couple of tracks from Manafon for him to orchestrate. He’d already expressed a desire to re-work older material such as Blemish so I felt this might be the place to start…We set up the sessions in New York City with members of the ICE ensemble. Although the sessions went well I later came to feel that the orchestration was working against the minimal aesthetic embraced by much of Manafon, and so discarded it.’
One of those arrangements did, however, make it onto the Japanese cd release of the album as a bonus track – ‘Random Acts of Senseless Violence (Remix)’, sowing a seed that would result in further variations of Manafon tracks for the subsequent album, Died in the Wool, in 2011.
Just as Sylvian provided music for Fujikura to work on, the same was true in the opposite direction. ‘He also composed two new pieces for me to respond to,’ said Sylvian. ‘Of the two original compositions, I only developed one, which evolved into ‘Five Lines’ and later found a home on the Sleepwalkers compilation.’
This was a whole new direction for Dai. ‘As a classical composer, I’ve never collaborated. I don’t collaborate. I write everything, every note, and even write text, to explain how the musician should play my music precisely (sometimes saying where to “turn the page”!).
‘Also in classical music, the vocal line is just another instrument. With a string quartet and vocal, that means the vocal presence is just a fifth member of the ensemble, nothing more. So this is a very different experience for me.
‘Initially, I wrote ‘Five Lines’ for string quartet and vocal line (imagining David’s voice), then we recorded the string parts with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), which has played my music in concert many times. David liked the string part but not the vocal line, so he composed a new vocal line and wrote the lyrics, and recorded it.’
Sylvian was fascinated by the musical challenge, explaining: ‘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.’
‘I remember when he first let me hear the new version,’ said Fujikura. ‘He warned me that I might hate it, that I would think it makes no sense musically, etc., etc. I told him, “C’mon, just play it!”, and then I really loved it. It works much better than how I imagined it, or with the vocal line I initially wrote.
‘I thought, this is a really unique collaboration, because I am doing my own thing, writing music the way I would write my own concert music, and I have the contemporary ensemble I’ve worked with many times, then David composed his music to it, and it just worked…“we” naturally met.
‘This may not be so unique if we were both pop musicians, but we are from, and we live in, totally opposite parts of the musical globe. So this was collaboration in every sense, and not collision.’
Sylvian described his 2010 compilation Sleepwalkers as including ‘fleeting flirtations and one offs. Neglected offspring.’ Music created with others outside the confines of a solo album project and therefore an opportunity to experiment, to test new directions to see where they might lead. ‘Five Lines’ fits in perfectly among this company, being the only previously unreleased song in the running order. ‘The rewarding aspect of collaborative work is that it tends to lead you out of your comfort zone into territory in which you don’t have a sure footing,’ said Sylvian. ‘You’re afforded a challenge of an entirely different nature than when working alone.’
An exciting aspect of this track is the fact that Sylvian responded to Fujikura’s composition and the performance of the string quartet in devising the vocal line and lyric. Once he had laid aside Dai’s composed part for his voice, the challenge might perhaps be compared to that of responding to Bill Frisell’s dobro pieces for Dead Bees on a Cake, Derek Bailey’s guitar for Blemish or the ensembles of improvisers for Manafon. Much though I love Dai’s subsequently released re-imaginings of songs from Manafon on Died in the Wool, there the vocal line is a given: familiar and ‘fixed’ from the earlier recording. Here, there is a different dynamic at play between the two musicians.
The track starts with Sylvian’s unaccompanied voice, joined firstly by long bowed notes from the ensemble, then by fast bowing which injects tension into the atmosphere. As the piece develops the vocal trades with darting exclamations from the strings, deep notes from the cello emerging to lend an ominous undertone. Amidst the forthright interjections from the string instruments there is ample space for the vocal line despite this having been reinvented from the original score. It’s unlike anything from the singer’s catalogue to that point.
The lyric is one of Sylvian’s most mysterious, made even more so by the sub-title attributed to it in Hypergraphia – ‘the cry of the ornithologist’.
Five lines with which he marked time
Five lines flared from the ovens
He pulled the ribbons from their hair
With melodies beaten from the sheets of his mother
Songs for the end of time.’
It would seem supremely apt for the ‘five lines’ to be a reference to the stave on which musical compositions are set down by their creators. In some ways such a score symbolises the differing musical worlds inhabited by the collaborators, it being second nature from a young age for Dai to devise his pieces in this way, whereas David does not read music, meaning ideas could not be shared in written form but only through sound. As others have observed, ‘He pulled the ribbons from their hair‘ might well be a poetic expression of the curling treble, alto or bass clefs of musical notation, perhaps hinting at an unfurling of the traditional towards new expression in service of emotions demanding to be manifest in sound.
The creative endeavours of the protagonist are a vital outpouring, being ‘flared from the ovens’, forged by the flames of harsh life experience.
This opening has often reminded me of the French composer Olivier Messiaen. Captured by the German army in 1941, he was detained at the Stalag VIII-A prisoner of war camp. There he composed his famous chamber music piece, Quatuor pour la fin du temps, or Quartet for the End of Time, which was first performed to an audience of both captives and captors. After the war, Messiaen would teach both Karlheinz Stockhausen and Fujikura’s mentor, Pierre Boulez. Intriguingly, Messiaen was well known for his love of birds and for incorporating their sounds into his work, including a movement within his prison camp quartet for the ‘end of time’.
‘Five lines returned the birds to their singing’
This is not necessarily to claim that Sylvian is making this explicit reference, it is just where my mind takes me. The singer was certainly familiar with the composer’s work, stating in regard to earlier exploratory exchanges towards collaboration with Scott Walker, ‘there was no clearer indication of the content of the proposed album than a few chord sheets taken from Messiaen along with some requested literary references.’ (2019)
The song now brings alive the image-world of the artwork of Manafon, a place inhabited by wild animals of whose existence we can only catch a glimpse, and whose lives are mostly conducted under the shroud of darkness.
‘The sun fell
[Should we leave it to the foxes]
The sun fell from the sky
[Leave it to its wits and its devices]
The sun fell from the sky in the form of a stag
Buried deep in the forest’
The cultural iconography of the stag is a rich one. Bearing the sun on its antlers it symbolises vitality and power, and a connection with a spiritual realm that can bring enlightenment. We are probably all familiar with images of shamans wearing a head dress adorned with antlers or a representation thereof, inducing a trance that enables them to run free like a deer into an other-world.
‘And that’s where he found it
A blow to the head had left it unconscious
Nothing further was said’
David Sylvian again summoned the image of the stag in 2011 when announcing his ultimately-abandoned Implausible Beauty tour. Here Toru Kamiya’s graphic reveals an antlered head which gradually transforms such that it is comprised of white-on-black silhouettes from the imagination: animals of the forest including owl, bear, rabbit and squirrel alongside figures of children and the fantasy that is Alice in Wonderland. And eerily, there too is the hunter’s rifle.
Sylvian has spoken about Ruud van Empel’s artwork on the cover of Manafon as an expression of the richness and fertility of the creative imagination. It calls to mind a figure who is quoted in the book accompanying the Manafon deluxe edition and whose influence would later be explicit in Fujikura and Sylvian’s original work for Died in the Wool (and someone who might also be described as an ornithologist), Ted Hughes. Take, for instance, the opening stanza of his poem ‘The Thought-Fox’:
‘I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.’
In the conceit of the closing line the fox is an embodiment of the act of expression through art:
‘Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.’
‘leave him for the foxes’
In September 2011, David Sylvian was artist-in-residence at the Punkt Festival in Kristiansand, Norway. On the evening of Friday 2 September he curated an evening of music that opened with compositions by Dai Fujikura performed by various combinations of a string trio and clarinettist. Included was the world premiere performance of ‘Scion Stems’ for string trio, which Fujikura dedicated to David Sylvian.
‘In this piece,’ said Fujikura, ‘I wanted to start with one texture and transform the music into all sort of different textures. It is as if you are working on one sample of a recording and first you process it electronically to make a completely different sound, then you split the spectrum of sound into even more different textures. Rather than just lining up the contrasting textures one after the other, I wanted to expose the more organic process of transformation, which happens when you play around with knobs and lever (values) in effectors in computer music.’
The recording of ‘Scion Stems’ from that evening, performed by the trio of Cecilia Zilliacus (violin), Johanna Persson (viola) and Kati Raitinen (cello), was included on the debut release of Fujikura’s own Minabel label entitled Flare (2013). Also on the track list was Persson’s solo performance of ‘Flux’ from Punkt, the liner notes explaining that here Dai ‘experimented with how both the direction and speed of bowing have a bearing on the way the solo violist phrases a line. In fact, he took the unusual step of writing the rhythm played by the bow before organising the pitches…The composer has in mind the way a tiny silver fish darts with a sudden spurt across the floor of a rockpool.’ ‘Flux’ precedes ‘Five Lines’ on my playlist, with ‘Scion Stems’ following it.
Two inquisitive minds coming together to expand one another’s musical universe, their enjoyment of the experience warmly expressed. Fujikura didn’t travel to Norway for the premiere of his piece dedicated to Sylvian due to the birth of his daughter, Mina. Sylvian marked the occasion by, in turn, dedicating his own participation in the festival to Dai’s new-born.
Jennifer K. Curtis – violin; Michi Wiancko – violin; Wendy Richman – viola; Katinka Kleijn – cello; David Sylvian – vocals
Lyrics by David Sylvian. Music by Dai Fujikura & David Sylvian.
Strings orchestrated and conducted by Dai Fujikura.
Produced and mixed by David Sylvian. From Sleepwalkers, samadhisound, 2010.
lyrics © copyright samadhisound publishing
All quotes from Dai Fujikura and David Sylvian are taken from interviews in 2010/11. Full sources and acknowledgements for this article can be found here.
The featured image is a detail from the Sleepwalkers artwork, a self-portrait photograph by Kristamas Klousch.
Physical media links: Sleepwalkers (Amazon)
Interviewer: What drew you to David Sylvian’s music and led you to seek him out as a collaborator?
“Very simple, his fantastic voice. I wanted to write music for that voice!” Dai Fujikura, 2011