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Friday, September 14, 2007

David Sylvian When Loud Weather Buffeted Naoshima

Everywhere He Goes He Always Takes The Weather

When Loud Weather Buffeted Naoshima
David Sylvian

Landscape and weather have always been inseparable bedfellows for artists since the year dot. Whether it is popular songsters immortalising the highway as the premier place to get your kicks, or classical composers toiling over tone poems, the need to nail a particular landscape has been hardwired into the musicians’ modus operandi. The cutting winds that squall across the swells of Debussy’s La Mer, or the languishing sunlight of Holst’s Egdon Heath, itself a recreation of Thomas Hardy’s fictitious moorland, may well be only in the mind of the listener but feel real enough.

Commissioned by the Naoshima Fukutake Art Museum Foundation on the island of Naoshima, in Japan, as with most site-specific installations, you probably had to be there to fully appreciate the interactions, (both intended and unforeseen), between Sylvian’s music and the environment with which it mixed.

Over an hour or so, we hear ambient recordings of the eponymous weather mixed with restrained additions from co-conspirators with plenty of previous form in the sound-design world.

On headphones one is completely immersed in the ebb and flow of fragmentary songs, water, distant bells, horns, flute, high frequency whirs and as if to remind the listener that this is after all a musician’s album, the occasional glow of a golden chord.

Sylvian is delving into the territory of sound artists who share John Cage’s belief that noise, however generated, can be heard as music.

Alan Lamb’s manipulation of wind howling through the telegraph wires of the remote Australian outback make for astonishingly gothic, almost symphonic, listening; Bill Fontana’s 1994 Soundbridge mixes the unmediated ambience surrounding bridges in Koln and San Francisco. He chronicles the chance correspondences between the between the built and open environments of two separate continents to form a surprisingly absorbing melange of aural perspectives.

More recently, Stephen Vitiellos’ World Trade Center Recordings, captured an unsettling sonata of creaks and groans from within the building as the New York winds swept about it. Heard in the post 9/11 world, the natural stresses and tolerances within the structures take on chilling aspect.

Sylvian’s soundworlds are far more benign and calming propositions even when largely stripped of their usual musical trappings. More austere than his collaborative ambient works with Holger Czukay, or the multi-media installation soundtracks collected on Approaching Silence, there’s a meditative intelligence artfully manipulating weather, sound and memory into an imaginary travelogue.


Simon Pitchforth said...

Nice one. I still reckon that Dave 'n' Holger's Plight and Premonition is one of the best ambient albums of all time. Up there at the top of the pile with Eno's On Land. Eternal drift baby.

Sid Smith said...

Hi Simon,
yes I rather like plight and premonition too. Great atmospherics for sure.


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