Uncut AUGUST 2018 - by Michael Bonner


David Sylvian recalls his fruitful '80s team-up with Can's Holger Czukay

In early 1986, Holger Czukay invited his friend David Sylvian to visit him at Can Studios, Cologne, to record a vocal for what became Czukay's album Rome Remains Rome. But, as it transpired, a rather different session took place. Aided by a pump organ, orchestral samples, a grand piano and more besides, the pair found themselves improvising an entirely new record - Plight & Premonition.

The sessions, Sylvian recalls, took place at night. The singer moved from instrument to instrument, looking for patterns to compliment the "ethereal sounds" Czukay piped into the room. "Then Holger announced, 'That's enough, David; move onto something else.' It was then I realised that the analogue multitrack was on record.Until that moment I'd no idea this impromptu performance was being documented. Holger cut me short the moment he'd heard me begin to 'compose' a line. He'd only wanted the process, the uncertainty, the ambiguity of the searching out of ideas. And so the night went on."

The comparatively little-known Plight & Premonition represented a critical moment for both musicians. For Czukay, the album's spacey, evolving compositions prefigure the ambient passages of Can's final album, Rite Time, recorded the following year. For Sylvian, the album was a natural next step in his creative evolution. "Improvisation became part of my compositional toolkit," he concurs today. "It has played an increasingly important part in my work as time's gone."

He pursued the approach further on his next project - reunited with his former Japan bandmates under the name Rain Tree Crow - and has continued to move deeper into the avant-garde ever since.

Reissued this month, Plight & Premonition showcases the unique work achieved by the two serial collaborators, Sylvian viewing such creative partnerships as "a question of personal chemistry, shared goals, and suitably compatible aesthetics". But he acknowledges that Plight & Premonition and its follow-up emerged from something arguably more profound: these lambent, beautiful records came from "my friendship with Holger, which had to have been reliant upon love, shared interests, goals, ambitions and mutual respect. We got an immense amount of pleasure sharing in one another's company, so I'm inclined to place the emphasis on the ease of our relationship and where that happened collectively to lead us."

The two men first worked together on Sylvian's solo debut, 1984's Brilliant Trees, with Czukay joining the cast of musicians to appear on Sylvian's early solo albums - Jon Hassell, Danny Thompson, Kenny Wheeler and Sylvian's brother Steve Jansen among them. Plight & Premonition was followed by a second collaboration, 1989's Flux + Mutability, featuring contributions from Jaki Liebezeit and Michael Karoli. Sylvian modestly describes the experience of witnessing most of Can at work in their natural habitat as "a mixture of exhilaration, frustration, dedication and hard work. In other words, a typical day in the life of a musician." He reveals that these collaborations are among a handful of his own works he can objectively enjoy as a listener.

"We spent a good deal of time together in the '80s, prior to my moving to the States," says Sylvian of Czukay, who died in 2017.

"He was an incredible raconteur with an endearing sense of humour. It's virtually impossible to think of Holger without a smile on his face. Holger's was a uniquely inventive mindset, beyond replication."