Next Tuesday (9/14) is the long-awaited release date of David Sylvian’s newest effort. Titled Manafon, it will be released on his Samadhi Sound record label he formed after he left Virgin Records in 2003.
This departure from Virgin has given David one of the most productive and creative periods since his 80’s output. But, I think it was the situation surrounding the ostensible 1991 Japan reunion album Rain Tree Crow that started to stress the relationship between Sylvian and Virgin.
These session started with improvisations of the band and were later amended with Sylvian’s vocals and lyrics. Around the time of the release Sylvian was interviewed (I think Magnet Magazine) and he said that he was under a lot of pressure to release the album unfinished– he had wanted to add more production and texture to the work.
It is the improvisational work that dots the landscape of Sylvian’s career, and a place he frequently stops on his particular path of creation. Just as the initial session recordings for his departure album Blemish in 2003 were based on improvisational work done by Sylvian, Derek Bailey and Christian Fennesz and structured into a suite of sorts, so then is Manafon. In fact, Sylvian describes Manafon from his website as a “sister piece to the Blemish album.” The essay on the Manafon site describes the album as such:
…Sylvian pursues “a completely modern kind of chamber music. Intimate, dynamic, emotive, democratic, economical.” In sessions in London, Vienna, and Tokyo, Sylvian assembled the world’s leading improvisers and innovators, artists who explore free improvisation, space-specific performance, and live electronics. From Evan Parker and Keith Rowe, to Fennesz and members of Polwechsel, to Sachiko M and Otomo Yoshihide, the musicians provide both a backdrop and a counterweight to his own vocal performances – which, minus one instrumental, are nakedly the center of each piece.
Indeed, when you listen to the samples of each of the tracks from the site, it is noticeably more a vocal work than instrumental. David’s voice still the gorgeous tenor it has always been, but the trademark lush and/or ambient production is non-existent apparently on Manafon.
In my article about Manafon from March of this year, I surmised that the album titled likely came from the Welsh village of the same name and mentioned the poet R.S. Thomas who studied the Welsh language while working as the rector. In the essay on the site it is confirmed that the track “Manafon” from the album is indeed about the Welsh poet– “There’s a man down in the valley who doesn’t speak his own tongue.”
Manafon will come in two forms: a standard CD release in a 6-panel digipak with the Ruud Van Empel artwork pictured above, and a Deluxe Edition which will have the same CD as the standar release, plus a DVD with a feature-length documentary titled “Amplified Gesture” and a 5.1 Surround (Dolby and DTS) version of Manafon.
If the bonus content of the Deluxe Edition weren’t enough, the CD and DVD will come with 2 hard back books in a rigid slipcase as well as a portrait print of Sylvian done by Atsushi Fukui. The first 2000 of this edition will be signed by Sylvian and Fukui.
Volume One of the two volume set is a “40 page full color printed, perfect bound book to accompany ‘Manafon’, featuring the complete lyrics from ‘Manafon’, accompanied by artwork from the artists Atsushi Fukui and Ruud Van Empel.”
Volume Two is “a 24 page full color printed, perfect bound book to accompany the documentary “Amplified Gesture”. With a foreword by Clive Bell, this book contains photos and biographies of all of the contributors to the documentary.” (quotes from the Manafon Editions Page)
The Deluxe Edition is simply breathtaking from the photo provided on the site. The edition is $85 plus shipping where applicable. While that may seem steep, consider what you are getting– CD and DVD plus two gorgeous books in a slipcover. It should sit proudly with any art book you may have in your collection.
The standard edition has a suggested price $15.99 and available either from Samadhi Sound or other retail outlets like Amazon- who has it for $12.99.
By collaborating with the innovative artists who work within the field of Electro-Acoustic Improvisation, Sylvian obviously intended to challenge himself and in turn, challenge his audience. Yet the music on this cd is not nearly as stark nor as bare in the manner which it is being portrayed in advance notices. In my opinion, the contributions from both pianist John Tilbury and saxophonist Evan Parker are absolutely stunning and allow the listener to focus on solid instrumentation at an equal level with Sylvian’s vocal.
Sylvian’s lyrics are deep and captivating throughout…seemingly more focused on character studies rather than personal reflections. ‘Small Metal Gods’ focuses on tossing aside the need for gurus and spiritual journeys…’The Rabbit Skinner’, as best my metaphorically challenged brain can decipher, is about a man with no redeeming qualities…’Random Acts Of Senseless Violence’ deals with terrorism cells and the loss of civil liberties due to a nation’s paranoia…’The Greatest Living Englishman’ seems to be about a melancholy writer who appeals to no one since he writes solely about himself…perhaps Sylvian is slightly mocking his reputation during portions of this track?…’125 Spheres’ leaves me completely baffled, but it is over before one knows it…’Snow White In Appalachia’ focuses on a girl who struggles with addiction to Cocaine – and the snowstorm makes for a strong metaphor…’Emily Dickinson’ seems to be a continuation of the previous track’s topic – a girl is ‘no longer a user’ and becomes ostracized by her former aquaintances – the majority of this track is instrumental as it features a spotlight for saxophonist Evan Parker’s considerable skills during an extremely eerie passage of music…which is then followed by even more instrumental experimentation on ‘The Department Of Dead Letters’, where the interplay between cellist Marcio Mattos, Evan Parker and John Tilbury is highly impressive…’Manafon’ is, as was indeed mentioned above, about the misanthropic poet Ronald Stuart Thomas – with a bit of commentary by Sylvian at the conclusion : “don’t know his right foot from his left”.
There will no doubt be many comparisons and contrasts put forth by other reviewers, but if allowed to stand on its own, “Manafon” makes for a satisfying listen, and is clearly a strong testament to Sylvian’s ability to successfully integrate his unique sound with radical musical styles.
First– Thank you so much for your thoughtful and very welcomed in-depth response to my post!
I have been a fan of David’s since I first heard Secrets of the Beehive back in 1990 or so. As you seem to have gathered your opening statement I wasn’t sold with the preview tracks, and I think your comment about the PR materials is one of the problems. When I listen to the short samples, they just aren’t enough for me to establish a frame of reference. I’m hoping the Blemish references are closer than they appear in the samples as I loved that release.
Your comments have given me some hope about this release– I’m just not prepared to lay out $90 for the Deluxe Edition if it isn’t something that I will return to after an initial listen. I’m also not big enough on David’s PR team’s radar to merit a review copy. 🙂
After I get some time with this release in whatever format I get it in, I’ll post a review that gives a better perspective, hopefully. I will arm myself with your comments as I listen.
You’re quite welcome Mike.
I did happen to purchase the deluxe edition since:
1) I am a pathetically determined completist who admires Sylvian’s penchant for tastefully artistic packaging in addition to the high quality of the music.
2) I am an admirer of many of the musicians who Sylvian has collaborated with on this release, and am equally anxious to watch the documentary, Amplified Gesture.
I’ll definitely be interested in reading your opinions of the cd. Thanks.