David Sylvian's MANAFON (2009) appeared as a collection of disciplined art songs that relied on his collaborators to inform not only their textures, but their forms.
Those players - Jan Bang, Evan Parker, John Tilbury, Dai Fujikura, Erik Honoré, Otoma Yoshide, and Christian Fennesz among them - created airy, often gently dissonant structures for Sylvian's lyrics and melodic ideas.
"Died in the Wool" (MANAFON Variations) re-employs these players (with some new ones) in the considerable reworking of five of MANAFON's compositions. There are also six new songs that include unused outtakes, and two poems by Emily Dickinson set to music and sung by Sylvian. The new music here relies heavily on Sylvian's association with Fujikura: he composed, arranged, and conducted chamber strings that are prevalent.
Where MANAFON's "Small Metal Gods" was orchestrated by acoustic guitar, laptop, electronics, bass, and cello, this one employs a string quartet that provides greatly expanded harmonics, which underscore the desolate power in Sylvian's lyrics.
On "Snow White in Appalachia", strings shift the tune's original sonic gears into diffused, vaporous sonorities.
On the title track, Fujikura uses a composed clarinet sample to introduce John Butcher's saxophone, a mixing board, an all-but-unrecognizable guitar, cymbals, and samples to stretch a narrative melody to its ghostly breaking point. Dickinson's poem, "I Should Not Dare", is a standout: its gentle, accessible melody, accompanied by Sylvian's acoustic guitar, is made sharper by Fennesz's electric and samples from Honoré. Parker adds a gorgeous nocturnal saxophone line and Bang provides an unusual string arrangement to create the feeling of deep longing across great distance.
"A Certain Slant of Light", also by Dickinson, is less formal but more moodily cinematic with its layers of samples. A delightfully fragmented redo of "Emily Dickinson" completes the sonic re-creation of her image as this set's Muse.
On "Anomaly at Taw Head", Fujikura's string abstractions - introduced by Parker's bluesy saxophone and Tilbury's minimal piano - add dimension to Sylvian's open field melodic structure.
The underlining poetic is tense, but seductive.
There is a bonus second disc, too, in Sylvian's 18-minute sound installation "When We Return You Won't Recognize Us".
It is a stellar, ambient work featuring Arve Henricksen, Butcher, the Elysian Quartet, Eddie Prevost, Toshimaru Nakamura, and Gunter Muller.
It should be listened to on headphones to grasp all of its intricacies.
"Died in the Wool (MANAFON Variations" showcases Sylvian's restless discipline in expanding his music's parameters, and those of song itself, while offering even greater opportunities for his collaborators to influence its creation. T. JurekManafon