on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2013 5 Okt

The Copycat Discussion (Eno vs. Sylvian)

von: Manafonistas Filed under: Blog | TB | Tags: , Comments off

When I talked to Brian Eno in 1993 mentioning the name of David Sylvian I got a response that definitely showed no sign of amusement. Had Sylvian been stealing ideas and artists, a copycat in action? Sensitive matter! Facts: Brian played with Robert Fripp creating classics like NO PUSSYFOOTING or EVENING STAR (side one), later David invited Robert to play with him, for example, on GONE TO EARTH.

Brian collaborated with Jon Hassell creating some desert island discs (POSSIBLE MUSICS, DREAM THEORY IN MALAY), and then, well, David contacted Jon for some collaborative efforts that resulted in some decent work.

Though David’s ambient works were underrated in their era (PLIGHT AND PREMONITION), they never came close to the classics Brian Eno had produced in the 70s, and later on. DISCREET MUSIC, MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS, MUSIC FOR FILMS, ON LAND, APOLLO, THE SHUTOV ASSEMBLY … Holger Czukay crossed their ways, too. So sorry, Brian was, again, the first. This may produce raised eyebrows. Or is it only a question of age? And today? Brian Eno was always fond of spoken word pieces, and recently, well, both artists published (or contributed to) albums with spoken words. But a milestone of spoken word deliveries had been, without doubt, created by Eno & Byrne, a long time ago, MY LIFE IN THE BUSH OF GHOSTS.

Now, how to judge this? Both artists profit from collaborations, both artists released brillant song albums in the 70’s (Brian, ANOTHER GREEN WORLD, for example) and the 80’s (David, BRILLIANT TREES). I think there was inspiration in the air, and David transported areas of Brian’s music in his own territory. With good taste and a certain amount of cleverness. Was there a special competitive climate between artists in England? Sylvian had to get rid of the restrictions the early albums of Japan have shown. At least TIN DRUM offered some exits. And Eno was probably a role model for Sylvian in the way one could reconcile the avantgarde and the pop world without sacrificing visions. Eno was the one who opened the ambient landscapes, and Sylvian followed on his tracks.

Change of the scenery. Twentyfirst century. NINE HORSES in parts, and BLEMISH and MANAFON and MANAFON VARIATIONS for sure were fucking great albums by Mr. Sylvian. They rank among his best works ever. No Eno inflluence could be detected. And no ECM connection either. David had always loved to have ECM artists being part of his songs, from Kenny Wheeler to Steve Tibbetts. Even Terje Rypdal was asked. That has stopped, too. In recent times, and because of different reasons, David even stopped singing. His hard core fans are not amused. It is always a good sign when hard core fans are not amused. See Scott Walker. See Talk Talk. Nostalgia is a trap. And inspiration is fair enough, no copycats in action. Though Sylvian learned his Eno-lessons, no doubt about that. Brian, by the way, studied Steve Reich’s early works en detail, and drew exciting conclusions! (ME)


I always wondered why DS never mentioned Brian Eno in interviews, but …

From my point of view there is a fundamental difference, not only in the songwriting, but also in the experimental/ambient music of those two artists, that could in a way be compared to the difference between Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane: it’s a difference in spirit.

There are secular coolness, cheerful playfullness and easy-going humour in Enos music. David Sylvian however used electronics to point out a certain auratic/traumatic drama in “the difficulty of being” (J. Cocteau) and in personal, spiritual searching.

Does Eno like Sylvian’s songwriting? I do. (JS)


I don’t think that Eno likes Sylvian’s songwriting, especially the early solo-albums. On one side, we have the atheist Eno, on the other the „spiritual searcher“ Sylvian. (Though his masterpiece MANAFON was released in the aftermath of doubts and disbelief.) The lyrics of „classic Sylvian“ (Brilliant Trees, Gone to Earth, Secrets of the Beehive), too, belong to this category of artists searching for self-recognition and wisdom, a totally different approach. In fact, they have far less common ground than the line of artistic „soul mates“ they’ve invited to their albums might suggest.

And the singing? Two worlds, too. Here, on Eno’s part, the sharpness and dark wit, the undermining of wrong romanticism, and – simultaneously – again and again a yearning quality (listen to the song „SPINNING AWAY“). There, on Sylvian’s paths, a melodramatic attitude, a certain amount of pathos (never easy to handle), mythical sub-texts, religious metaphors. But, all of that changed since BLEMISH. So, maybe, Eno would possibly like this new late turn in Sylvian’s career. Because of the courage to attack the old formulas. (ME)


Blemish, then Manafon, Wandermüde (name is program) and actually the Kilowatt-Hour declare an intention to walk on that path between music and anti-music. Walking this fine line between the neither and the nor means: filtering or making music that includes a contra-pole, something different than music. There has to be an exit.

This is, how i interpretate Sylvians work in recent years: music as an antidot for outworn harmonies, sweet melodies and obsolete clishes. These are swan songs, it’s farewell-music – with a slight destructive touch. But something remains from the Brilliant Trees and Gone to Earth albums up to the present works: an atmosphere of subtil desire; romanticism, mystizism and (scuse me) … narcissism – even though in a homeopathic dose.

David Sylvian uses electronic effects to create more or less „mystic“ moods, as he ever did. To compare it with Eno again: one drives the screw in, the other one drives it out. Here stays the introverted and depressive subject: Orpheus with the blues. And on the other hand it is the objective, more relaxing sound: drifting through time & space … spinning away. (JS)


This entry was posted on Samstag, 5. Oktober 2013 and is filed under "Blog". You can follow any responses to this entry with RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Manafonistas | Impressum | Kontakt | Datenschutz