It's time to keep plugging away at my blog queue...
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that a YouTube member, Gedemondas , had posted the video for David Sylvian's "Steel Cathedrals".
Being a huge David Sylvian fan since the early 1990s (Yes, I know I still need to get around to writing my post about a brief history of Japan. It's forthcoming.), I had heard about this video. The first time I had heard about "Steel Cathedrals", both the video and the song, was in Ira A. Robbins' immortal Trouser Press Guide to New Wave Records back in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the entry for David Sylvian and Japan. Back then, there wasn't anything remotely like YouTube. There was MTV, of course, but MTV USA had basically stopped playing music videos for all intents and purposes in the late 1980s. The only way to really see the video for "Steel Cathedrals" was to peruse the classified advertisements in magazines like Record Collector and Goldmine in the hope of finding someone who was selling a VHS tape (remember those?) that was an expensive import from Japan. Even then if you had found a seller, the video would have cost an arm and a leg.
The song "Steel Cathedrals" was composed by David Sylvian for a short, experimental film that Mr. Sylvian made with Japanese artist Yasayuki Yamaguchi back in 1985. The film, naturally, was titled Steel Cathedrals.
The music for the film is very ambient and experimental in nature. The song was made three years after the dissolution of Japan (alas, alas...). It was also the time when Mr. Sylvian began to turn his back on popular music in favor of being more avant garde and experimental. In a very real way, Mr. Sylvian's experimentation in music began with the instrumental song "The Tenant", the last song off of Japan's second album Obscure Alternatives (1979), continuing on to Japan's last album Tin Drum (1982). As far as influences go, there's quite a few that I can think of: Brian Eno, krautrock legends Can, Tangerine Dream, and probably a few more others as well. From what I've read, it was in the mid-1980s that Mr. Sylvian really began listening to ambient/experimental/electronic music as well as modern jazz music. For a progressive rock fan, this is right up my alley. The song itself is a fascinating listen. The musicians used on the song were a top notch line up that consisted of a virtual who's who of exiles from rock music's mainstream: former Japan band mate Steve Jansen on drums, John Hassell on trumpet, J-rock legend (and frequent collaborator) Ryuichi Sakamoto on piano and keyboards (more about him on a future post), and legendary progressive rock guitarist Robert Fripp. As far as I know, "Steel Cathedrals" was the first collaboration between David Sylvian and Robert Fripp. Mr. Sylvian also plays guitar and keyboards on the song as well.
The voice heard on the song is that of French surrealist Jean Cocteau. Forget about the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast. I highly recommend that you check out Jean Cocteau's version, known as La Belle et le Bete (1946). It's an amazing film to watch.
The song "Steel Cathedrals" was included on the album Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities, which also contained music that was used on a Japanese TV (probably NHK) documentary about David Sylvian that was titled Preparations For a Journey (more about this on a future post). Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities probably isn't the best introduction to the music of David Sylvian for a beginner. I'd recommend listening to either Quiet Life, Gentlemen Take Polaroids, or Tin Drum before tackling Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities. Then again, Alchemy is available on iTunes, so you can listen to the excerpts.
As for the film Steel Cathedrals, it's a fascinating view of industrial sites in and around the Tokyo area. I don't know about you, but I find those kinds of things cool to look at. I've always been a sucker for modern and post-modern architecture ever since I saw Ridley Scott's Blade Runner on videotape way, way back in 1983. It permanently changed (i.e., warped) the way on how I view landscapes. Plus, I always have admired Godfrey Reggio's film Koyaanisqatsi (1984) as well. It's a beautiful film with a kick ass score by Philip Glass. I'm one of those people who thought that Mr. Reggio filmed the industrial and cityscape scenes just as beautifully as the nature scenes. If you haven't seen Koyaanisqatsi, then I highly recommend that you do so. The film Steel Cathedrals is more like something one would see in a modern art museum or studio. It's what's known as an installation. That is, the film is played on a continuous loop during museum hours over and over again. You can either sit there and watch the film in one sitting or you can come and go as you please since there really isn't any kind of story or plot. It's all music and visuals.
You know, it's interesting. One of the major criticisms about South Korean, I mean, Japanese cities (from mostly snobbish, know-it-all travel writers with an English accent [Just read a Lonley Planet travel guide for an example.]) is that they are ugly. This criticism has been around for quite some time. I can understand the criticism and the point of view. On a hot, clear, humid day in July, Seoul or Tokyo aren't the most comfortable places to be in due to all of the concrete, steel, glass, and asphalt. It's rare to find a nice, cool grassy patch of land. I used to play soccer in the parks along the Han River in Seoul, and it was unbearable during the summer months since there was no grass, only dirt to play on. Personally, I find cities like Osaka, Tokyo, and Seoul to be endlessly fascinating. To me, these cities really don't come alive until there's stormy weather or it's nighttime or both. Once either of those two happens, then places like Seoul, Taejeon (been there), and Tokyo really come to life.
One of my favorite things to do when it rained in Seoul (or when I went on vacation to Tokyo), was to get an umbrella and just go out and walk. I'd walk around places like the Yongsan train station area and Ichon-dong, Myeong-dong, Namdaemun, Daehango, Gangnam, and Apgujeong. It was a lot of fun. I noticed that there were a lot of other people, mostly local people, who did the same thing as well. Now that I live in a disgusting place like Sierra Vista, Arizona, I really don't go out at all. American cities, by and large, aren't very pedestrian friendly.