On the Periphery: David Sylvian — A Biography, a new biography of David Sylvian, once known as Japan’s head aesthete but with a prolific solo career capable of overshadowing any band’s work, has hit the shelves. The book, written by Christopher E. Young, covers the 1982-2013 period, focusing exclusively on the English composer’s solo years. It provides a look into Sylvian’s solo career, numerous collaborations, and creative pursuits, as well as offering a window into his personal evolution. Sylvian was not directly involved in the writing process at all, though; Young worked from pre-existing interviews, media clippings, and his own research.
The biography opens when Japan, the proto-New Romantic group Sylvian lead from 1974 to 1982, were breaking up, and charts the journey that took Sylvian to the elegant, idiosyncratic music he’s been creating ever since. A big draw has to be the extraordinary array of musicians Sylvian has collaborated with along the years. Perhaps his longest-lasting alliance is the one he’s kept with Ryuichi Sakamoto, a kindred spirit who also moved from synth pop (YMO) into textural, abstract solo work; they were already starting to play together during the Japan years. Anyhow, Sylvian’s highest-profile collaborator ought to be Robert Fripp, with whom he has recorded several acclaimed albums. That said, a shortlist with some of Sylvian’s collaborators is a thing to behold: John Hasell, Holger Czukay, Derek Bailey, Fennesz, Evan Parker, John Tilbury, Otomo Yoshihide, Rusell Mills, Hector Zazou, Blonde Readhead, etc. If anything characterizes Sylvian’s work, through these collaborations and beyond, it’s the enigmatic yet welcoming landscapes his music evokes, crafting a jazzy, complex albeit warm sound which prefigured the British strand of post-rock that later blossomed in groups like Dif Juz, Talk Talk, or Bark Psychosis.
The book is divided into three parts: the first going from 1982 to 1987, the second comprising 1988 to 2002, and the last one devoted to Sylvian’s activities from 2003 on. Some excerpts are available on the book’s website, as well as its Facebook page. The latter doubles as a David Sylvian appreciation community, where Young and fellow fans share all things related to the musician. The book can be ordered here.