David Sylvian (born David Alan Batt, 23 February 1958, Beckenham, Kent) is an English singer-songwriter and musician. He came to prominence in the late 1970s as the lead vocalist and main songwriter in the group Japan. His subsequent solo work is described by critic Jason Ankeny as "a far-ranging and esoteric career that encompassed not only solo projects but also a series of fascinating collaborative efforts." Sylvian's solo work been influenced by a variety of musical styles and genres, including jazz, avant garde, ambient, electronic, and progressive rock.
1970s-Early 1980s: Japan
The band Japan, whose other members included bassist Mick Karn, guitarist Rob Dean, keyboardist Richard Barbieri and Sylvian's brother Steve Jansen as drummer, began as a group of friends. As youngsters they played music as a means of escape, playing Sylvian's two-chord numbers – sometimes with Karn as the front man, sometimes with Sylvian at the fore.
They christened themselves Japan in 1974, signed a recording contract with Hansa, and became an alternative glam rock outfit in the mould of David Bowie, T.Rex, and The New York Dolls. Over a period of a few years their music became more sophisticated, drawing initially on the art rock stylings of Roxy Music. Their visual image also evolved and the band was tagged with the New Romantic label. Indeed, it could be argued that Japan was at the forefront of the entire New Romantic movement, even though the band never associated itself with it. Japan recorded five studio albums between March 1978 and November 1981. In 1980, the band signed with Virgin Records, where Sylvian remained as a recording artist for the next twenty years.
The band suffered from personal and creative clashes, particularly between Sylvian and Karn. December 1982 with tensions springing from Sylvian's relationship with Yuka Fujii, a photographer, artist and designer, and Karn's former girlfriend. Fujii quickly became an influential figure in Sylvian's life. She was the first person to introduce Sylvian seriously to jazz, which in turn inspired him to follow musical avenues not otherwise open to him. She also encouraged Sylvian to incorporate spiritual discipline into his daily routine. Throughout his solo career, Fujii maintained a large role in the design of artwork for his albums.
1980s-1990s: Solo career
In 1982, Sylvian released his first collaborative effort with Ryuichi Sakamoto, entitled "Bamboo Houses/Bamboo Music." He also worked with Sakamoto on the song "Forbidden Colours" for the 1983 Nagisa Oshima film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.
In 1985, Sylvian released an instrumental mini-album Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities, in collaboration with Jansen, Hassell and Czukay, a recording that, when re-released in 2003, included the addition of Sylvian's Steel Cathedrals, the soundtrack to his video release of the same name.
The next release was the ambitious two-record set Gone to Earth (1986), which further flouted conventional and commercial wisdom by featuring one record of atmospheric vocal tracks and a second record consisting of ambient instrumentals. The album contained significant contributions from noted guitarists Bill Nelson of BeBop Deluxe and Robert Fripp of King Crimson.
Secrets of the Beehive (1987) made greater use of acoustic instruments and was musically oriented towards sombre, emotive ballads laced with shimmering string arrangements by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Brian Gascoigne. The album yielded one of Sylvian's most well-received songs, "Orpheus," and was later supported by his first solo tour, 1988's 'In Praise of Shamans.'
Never one to conform to commercial expectations, Sylvian then collaborated with Holger Czukay. Plight and Premonition, issued in 1988, and Flux and Mutability, recorded and released the following year, also included contributions from Can members Jaki Liebezeit and Michael Karoli.
Virgin decided to close out the Eighties with the release of Weatherbox, an elaborate boxed-set compilation consisting of Sylvian's four previous solo albums.
In 1990, Sylvian collaborated with artists Russell Mills and Ian Walton on the elaborate multi-media installation using sculpture, sound and light titled Ember Glance - The Permanence of Memory. The exhibition was staged at the temporary museum 'Space FGO-Soko' on Tokyo Bay, Shinagawa.
1990s: Rain Tree Crow
Also in 1990, Sylvian reunited with the former members of Japan for a new project. Yet unlike in their past work, Sylvian had decided to utilize methods of improvisation like that which he explored in his work with Czukay.
Ingrid Chavez, an artist signed to Prince's Paisley Park Records, sent Sylvian a copy of her first album. He liked what he heard and thought her voice would fit well with some material that both Ryuichi Sakamoto and he were working on for a new Sakamoto release. Chavez and Sylvian quickly developed a bond and decided to travel together throughout the UK and the USA, where they eventually settled after marrying in 1992.
1993: With Robert Fripp
In the early 1990s, guitarist Robert Fripp invited Sylvian to join a new version of progressive rock stalwarts King Crimson. Sylvian declined the invitation, but he and Fripp recorded the album The First Day released in July 1993. Something of a departure for Sylvian, the album melded Sylvian's philosophical lyrics to funk workouts and aggressive rock stylings very much in the mould of Fripp's King Crimson. To capitalize on the album's success, the musicians went back out on the road in the autumn of 1993. A live recording, called Damage and released in 1994, was culled from the final shows of the tour.
Sylvian and Fripp's final collaboration was the installation Redemption – Approaching Silence. The exhibition was held at the P3 Art and Environment centre in Shinjuku, Tokyo, and ran from 30 August to 18 September 1994. The accompanying music was composed by Sylvian, with text written and recited by Fripp.
In the late summer of 1995, Sylvian undertook a one-man solo tour which he called 'Slow Fire - A Personal Retrospective.'
A period of relative musical inactivity followed, during which Sylvian and Ingrid Chavez moved from Minnesota to the Napa Valley. Chavez had given birth to two daughters, Ameera-Daya (born 1993) and Isabelle (born 1996), and pursued her interest in photography and music.
2000s: Recent Work
In 1999, Sylvian released Dead Bees on a Cake, his first solo album since Secrets of the Beehive twelve years earlier. The disc gathered together the most eclectic influences of all his recordings, ranging from soul music to jazz fusion to blues to Eastern-inflected spiritual chants, and most of the songs' lyrics reflected the now 41-year-old Sylvian's inner peace resulting from his marriage, family, and beliefs. Guest musicians included long-time friend Ryuichi Sakamoto, classically-trained tabla player Talvin Singh, avant-garde guitarist Marc Ribot, jazz trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, and contemporary jazz guitarist Bill Frisell.
Following Dead Bees, Sylvian released a pair of compilation albums through Virgin, a two-disc retrospective, Everything and Nothing, and an instrumental collection, Camphor. Both albums contained previously released material, some remixes, and several new or previously unreleased tracks which Sylvian finished especially for the projects.
Sylvian parted ways with Virgin and launched his own independent label, Samadhi Sound. He released the album Blemish. A fusion of styles, including jazz and electronica, the tour enabled Sylvian to perform music from the Nine Horses project, as well as various selections from his back catalogue.
A new solo album entitled Manafon was released on September 14th, featuring contributions from leading figures in electroacoustic improvisation such as saxophonist Evan Parker, pianist John Tilbury and guitarists Keith Rowe and Christian Fennesz.
- (March 1978) Adolescent Sex
- (October 1978) Obscure Alternatives
- (December 1979) Quiet Life
- (November 1980) Gentlemen Take Polaroids
- (September 1981) Assemblage - compilation
- (November 1981) Tin Drum
- (June 1983) Oil On Canvas - live album
- (July 1984) Exorcising Ghosts - compilation
- (April 1991) Rain Tree Crow - same line-up as Japan
- (2006) The Very Best of Japan - compilation
Solo & Collaborations
- (1984) Brilliant Trees
- (1985) Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities
- (1986) Gone to Earth
- (1987) Secrets of the Beehive
- (1988) Plight and Premonition - with Holger Czukay
- (1989) Flux and Mutability - with Holger Czukay
- (1989) Weatherbox - Limited edition 5CD box set.
- (1991) Ember Glance : The Permanence Of Memory - with Russell Mills
- (1991) Rain Tree Crow - with Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri, & Mick Karn
- (1993) The First Day - with Robert Fripp
- (1994) Damage: Live - with Robert Fripp - Re-released in 2001.
- (1999) Dead Bees on a Cake
- (1999) Approaching Silence
- (2000) Everything and Nothing
- (2002) Camphor
- (2003) Blemish
- (2005) The Good Son vs. The Only Daughter - Blemish remixes.
- (2005) Snow Borne Sorrow by Nine Horses
- (2007) Money For All EP by Nine Horses
- (2007) When Loud Weather Buffeted Naoshima
- (2009) Manafon
- (1982) "Good Night" on Ai Ga Nakucha Ne by Akiko Yano
- (1983) "Forbidden Colours" on Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence soundtrack by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Shinichi Tanaka and Seigen Ono
- (1986) "Some Small Hope" on Hope In A Darkened Heart by Virginia Astley
- (1987) "Buoy" and "When Love Walks In" on Dreams Of Reason Produce Monsters by Mick Karn
- (1991) "Heartbeat (Returning To The Womb)" and "Cloud #9" on Heartbeat by Ryuichi Sakamoto
- (1992) "To A Reason" and "Victim Of Stars" on Sahara Blue by Hector Zazou
- (1995) "Come Morning", "The Golden Way" and "Maya" on Marco Polo by Nicola Alesini & Pier Luigi Andreoni
- (1995) "Ti Ho Aspettato (I Have Waited For You)" on L'Albero Pazzo by Andrea Chimenti
- (1996) "How Safe Is Deep?" on Undark:Strange Familiar by Russell Mills
- (1998) "Salvation" on Discord by Ryuichi Sakamoto
- (1999) "Rooms Of Sixteen Shimmers" on Pearl And Umbra by Russell Mills
- (2000) "Forbidden Colours" on Cinemage by Ryuichi Sakamoto
- (2001) "Zero Landmine" on Zero Landmine by No More Landmine featuring Ryuichi Sakamoto and Various Artists
- (2001) "Sugarfuel" on Bold by Readymade FC
- (2001) "Linoleum" on The Attraction to All Things Uncertain by Tweaker
- (2004) "World Citizen (I Won't Be Disappointed)" on Chasm by Ryuichi Sakamoto
- (2004) "Transit" on Venice by Fennesz
- (2004) "Pure Genius" on 2 a.m. Wakeup Call by Tweaker
- (2004) "Late Night Shopping (remix)" by Fennesz
- (2004) "Messenger" on The Secret Society Of Butterflies by Blonde Redhead
- (2004) "Exit/Delete" on Coieda by Takagi Masakatsu
- (2004) "For The Love Of Life (Ending Theme Full Version)" on "Monster - Original Soundtrack" by ????
- (2005) "The Librarian" on Out In The Sticks by Burnt Friedman & Jaki Liebezeit
- (2005) "A Fire In The Forest" (Remix) on Babilonia by Readymade FC
- (2006) "Angels" on Crime Scenes by Punkt
- (2006) "World Citizen - I Won't Be Disappointed" on Babel soundtrack by Gustavo Santaolalla
- (2007) "Playground Martyrs" and "Ballad Of A Deadman" on Slope by Steve Jansen
- (2008) "Honor My Wishes" and "No Question" on To Survive by Joan As Police Woman
- (2008) "Before And Afterlife" and "Thermal" on Cartography by Arve Henriksen
- (2009) "Jacqueline" on The Believer -The 2009 Music Issue-
- David Sylvian.com - The official David Sylvian website, also the official Samadhi Sound website.
- DavidSylvian.net fansite
- Davidsylvian.itItalian fansite
- David Sylvian Radio Interview With Chris Comer
- David Sylvian Radio Interview on "Blemish" with Chris Comer
- Nine Horses - The Banality of Evil / Hello Neighbour (B-Film remix of Burnt Friedman's remix)
- interview with ascent magazine
Biography from Wikipedia