Blackcrow Hits Shoe Shine City

‘this dark emotional experience personified’

As the sun set on an artistically fruitful 1980s and a new decade dawned, collaborative projects would be the primary outlet for David Sylvian. ‘For the past almost three or four years, I’ve being going through quite a powerful emotional change in my life and it took me a long time to come to terms with what was happening. So I thought, rather than just slogging away without getting to grips with it, I should perhaps collaborate and allow myself to work more on the spur of the moment,’ he explained in 1991, as the eagerly awaited reunion project of the former members of Japan – Rain Tree Crow – was first shared with an intrigued audience.

‘The idea was to have a loose outfit of musicians and just respond to the characters involved,’ said Sylvian, ‘which was actually fun.’ As Richard Barbieri, Mick Karn, Steve Jansen and Sylvian entered the studio in France in the September of 1989, there was a firm commitment to a new way of working from all involved: developing material from scratch in the studio environment rather than bringing in compositions written in isolation and further developed in the rehearsal room (see ‘Red Earth (as summertime ends)’). All parties were eager to discover where this new musical path might lead.

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The Other Side of Life

‘a new high mark of maturity’

There were fundamental differences in band preparations for Japan’s third LP. The material for the first two albums, Steve Jansen explained, ‘was performed extensively live before we had the opportunity to record it. Therefore, those albums serve more as a document of what we’d learnt as a group performing together. There was very little recording craft involved, just a lot of energy and influences from an eclectic mix of styles, which were all a part of our early teenage years onwards.

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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.’

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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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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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