David Sylvian there’s a light that enters houses with no other house in sight.

[Samadhisound; 2014]

Styles: poetry reading, time distortion, piano
Others: Fennesz, Franz Wright

David Sylvian is an outlier. Comfortable in both the most minimal, stark avant-garde crevices and the grandiosity of dark pop, his post-Japan work has tended increasingly away from the New Wave Romanticism of his origins and toward the fringes of the experimental. Here, on his newest release, he allows himself to fade completely into the background, to become an environment. Sylvian’s haunted moan is nowhere to be found on there’s a light that enters houses with no other house in sight.; his presence on the album is almost curatorial, though his careful piano gives the piece most of its mood.

There is no songness here. Instead, Sylvian summons a lurching hybrid: part poetry reading, part 20th-century New York School composition, part ghoulish ambient improvisation. The quiet motion of a later Feldman opus might be a good initial point of reference for this piece, but that comparison is soon thwarted by the appearance of Franz Wright, whose voice breaks what feels like an eternal pseudo-silence every 10 minutes or so over the course of the piece’s hour, before again disappearing into Sylvian’s atmospherics. To appreciate the album, a knowledge of Wright’s work (or his variety of late 20th-century poetry) could be helpful, but I’ve found that dissociating from my interest in poetry and taking each little bit of human eccentricity as an isolated event — part of the music, as it were — leads to a feeling more in line with the composition’s odd sense of spacetime.

Wright is a beautiful, creepy reader, and the durations between his poems serve almost as built-in zone-out atmospheres, allowing one to briefly reflect on the contents of each poem. Wright’s work is of that persuasion that seamlessly merges the uncanny, the surreal, the unpleasant with the common language of quotidian experience. Composing around Wright’s words simulates an ultra-slow jazz, an echoey tunnel in which verbal/poetic meaning and musical tone are connected through underground pipes.

Christian Fennesz, a common Sylvian collaborator, guests: humming in and out of the structure, little winks or belches of distortion playing around Sylvian’s piano or under Wright’s coy recitation. His contribution is noticeable and tasteful, but perhaps not entirely correspondent with there’s a light’s loneliness. In other words: while there is much to like about Fennesz’s presence here, it may be unnecessary or extraneous, even distracting.

Moments of deep feeling are sprinkled throughout this work, both in Wright’s poetry and in Sylvian’s music. Most successful of all, though, are those little instances during which the distinction between Wright and Sylvian fall away, and we are left wondering where we are — in what sort of house with what sort of light shining.

Links: David Sylvian - Samadhisound

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