Reinventing one’s processes in search of new stimuli and direction is something most artists do at some point in their careers. For David Sylvian, the end of his long-term stint with Virgin in 2002 and the setting up of his own Samadhisound label in 2003 was a useful convergence that saw him embark on a different method of songwriting when working with renowned avant-guitarist and free jazz pioneer Derek Bailey for his label’s debut album, Blemish.
Bailey’s spiky inventions are akin to poking a stick into the turning wheel of the artist’s imagination, deliberating and interrupting the flow of Sylvian’s usual way of working, provoking strange dissonances and embarking on new exploratory tangents.
That kind of provocation can be said of most of the collaborations across all 10 of these albums, with Sylvian spurred into increasingly abstract rumination with the late Ryuichi Sakamoto, avant-garde elders Evan Parker and John Tilbury, and contemporary Nordic players such as Erik Honoré, Jan Bang and Arve Henriksen, whose own intricate methodologies lend a beauty and stillness to much of this box set.
The exception is the sophisticated ambient pop of Snow Borne Sorrow, the 2005 album he made with his brother Steve Jansen and Burnt Friedman, which connects more directly to more old-school Sylvian writing and performing.
Amid the field recordings, installation soundtracks and sparsely decorated spoken-word pieces, Sylvian seems engaged in a disappearing act, often removing his own singing from the mix entirely. Some of it’s unsettling, not exactly made for repeat listening but more occasional contemplation in the way one might access a book of poetry. The accompanying hardback book consisting of two short essays, original artwork, and credits deepens the aesthetic experience of this absorbing period in his storied career.
The box set is available now via Universal / Samadhisound.