Today, and after a couple of digital listening, I received my physical copy of there's a light that enters houses with no other house in sight. It might sound completely old-fashioned, but I feel really attached to the idea of the object in itself, when it was meant by the artist to exist as such, for reasons others than commercial (well, everybody knows that CDs do not sell anymore).
There is the artwork (and I actually did not even order the deluxe edition, with the book containing, presumably, the poems read by Franz Wright on the recording, and "contributions from three renowned photographers assembled by David Sylvian to illustrate the edition”). There is the way of listening, too (you cannot easily choose the moment you want to hear or skip in the track, but have to listen to it from the beginning on). Nothing mystical here, but in a world that tries to re-invent its mediums and the methods of considering art, it kind of makes sense to have the product of this special installation, based on a presence/absence concept, in your hands. Indeed, the recording is partly based on a live performance where the poet, reading his own lines for which the music works as a 64-minutes long soundtrack piece, was not even there physically.
Concerto for tape and silence
David Sylvian is, for me, a singular reference when it comes to pop music. He has tried to take it further, particularly for the last 15 years with his solo albums and a set of collaborations (some of which can be heard on the excellent compilation Sleepwalkers – even if his own efforts can perfectly fit the appellation "collaborative”, featuring amazing and renowned musicians mostly from the free-improvisation scene these days), continuously pushing beyond the format's boundaries while accepting his own music will be listened to in that underrated context. I tend to consider him as a fellow of Mark Hollis, but one who managed not to disappear into silence. there's a light that enters houses with no other house in sight is another step along a path parallel to this trajectory towards nothingness, and it works tremendously well.
It is true, we do no hear Sylvian's instantly recognizable voice anywhere on the record (which led to complaints from a lot of fans). The title comes from "Nude with handgun and rosary”, one of the texts from 2011's Franz Wright's Kindertotenwald, a collection of prose poems. The recording of the author reading some of these served as the basis for this fragmented composition, that was enriched by collective improvisations during the 2013 tour by David Sylvian, Christian Fennesz and Stephan Mathieu (who is not present in the album), under the name The Kilowatt Hour. David Sylvian's vision of Wright's poetry gives a frame to this process, resulting in a temporal slide where elements come and go, echoing each other and leading to slightly different variations. (The spatial metaphor proposed by Dave here of "all happening simultaneously in many different rooms of a large house, and the recording being made while moving through a series of corridors, picking up snatches of elements here, and fragments there” really helped structure my listening). The poems emerge as islands surrounded by the relatively similar music (apart from tiny samples of strings adding beautifully some bits of drama here and there) that accompanies them and continues moving slowly long after they are over. It induces a particular experience, as time is at once granulated and cyclical, with no clear hints to what exactly is going on (even sonically) while you are listening to it, but with a feeling of coherence and continuity when you contemplate it as a whole.
Still music for a high-speed film
With John Tilbury joining (already present on - as far as I am concerned - Sylvian's magnum opus thus far, Manafon and Died in the wool), piano is almost everywhere in the track. Already known for his organic use of digital manipulations and samples (here provided by Otomo Yoshihide and Toshimaru Nakamura – both present in the aforementioned watershed works), David Sylvian has a particular ability to make a collective sound as one (even if it was not recorded live). He dissolves the individuals into a coherent ensemble, and merges technology (blips, crackles, hisses, drones, any kind of designed and treated sound really, to punctuating or lasting effect) with human feeling (which explains his long-time collaboration with Christian Fennesz, whose guitar-processings and laptop "real-time” reactions blur the sources in a similar fashion), to create a strong atmosphere, quiet throughout but still ominous.
Music was long considered to be the only abstract art, in that it was not figurative, and could (when it was not meant to) have no other meaning than itself. Even when Pierre Schaeffer shaped the term "musique concrète” in 1948, he meant music that used concrete noises from the outside to be integrated into the usual abstract organization of sounds in time that we call music. But, obviously, music has its own rules depending on its referential context, and a lot of setups kind of make sense in their own terms (for example music in minor key being related to melancholy in our western world). All popular music is based upon that idea. In that respect, there's a light that enters houses with no other house in sight could be regarded as "abstract”. It is rather atonal, and does not submit to usual standards (even if you can hear a few contemporaneous-classical-music-clichés here or there, for that particular harmonic reason). But, at the same time, it is very evocative music, meant to surround a poetry reading which rather than lyrical effusiveness is a literal and material writing process that deals with, among other things, the solitary nature of the individual and the passing of time, in its own un-pathetic way.
And the musical piece offers a great, seasoned rendering, drowning the alienation in a complete and sensory flow. It is an experiment where you need to forget the obvious methods of consumption in our world, in favour of a spatial construction subject to the poet's words (the only real nodal points here). You must give them a psychological but still sensitive representation, in order to help them resonate through the human undercurrents of our machine-driven world.