Sylvian and Czukay-Plight and Premonition and Flux and Mutability.

Label: Grönland Records.

By early 1986, former Can bassist Holger Czukay was now a successful solo artist, and was working on his fourth solo album was eventually released in 1988 as Rome Remains Rome. It was being recorded at Can Studio, in Cologne, and Holger Czukay was joined by drummer Jaki Liebezeit and guitarist Michael Karoli who had both been members of Can. They were joined by a new generation of musicians of who had been influenced by Can’s music, including Jah Wobble and former Japan frontman David Sylvian who flew in to Cologne to record the vocal to Music In The Air.

After leaving Cologne airport, David Sylvian was driven to the Can Studio in on of the city’s many taxis. However, that day, he never saw the best of Cologne. The leaves had long fallen from the trees, and pavements were covered in snow and it was cold, bitterly cold. Cologne looked like the backdrop to a Cold War movie, but that didn’t matter to David Sylvian who was about to work with Holger Czukay, who was a pioneering musician who had been pushing musical boundaries to their limits and beyond for three decades. Eventually, the taxi arrived and David Sylvian made his way into the Can Studio.

David Sylvian’s destination had once been a cinema in a former life, but had been converted into a  recording studio by Can. The Can Studio was where the group had recorded many of their albums, and was where Holger Czukay recorded his previous album Der Osten Ist Rot. 

After meeting Holger Czukay, David Sylvian was introduced to the rest of the musicians who were working on Rome Remains Rome and looked around the famous Can Studio. He noticed that there were  mattresses were scattered on floor, but what he was pleased to see was a pump organ in the studio. Twenty-eight year old David Sylvian hoped that he would get the opportunity to  play the pump organ during his stay in Rome.

Plight and Premonition,

Little did David Sylvian know that when he got the opportunity to play the pump organ against a soundtrack of orchestral samples provided by Holger Czukay. Meanwhile,  Holger Czukay who was watching from the control room had the tapes running and was recording the former Japan frontman’s performance. He was in a trancelike state and was enjoying playing the pump organ. Music flowed through and out of him, and it was as if it was being channeled through David Sylvian. In the control room, Holger Czukay watched and listened, realising that something special was unfolding.

After David Sylvian stopped playing the pump organ, he stood up and moved across to the piano and sat down. As airy, ethereal sounds filled the Can Studio soon, music was flowing through David Sylvian  as he continued to improvise. However, after just ten or fifteen minutes, Holger Czukay told David Sylvian via the talkback system to move on to something new, a different concept. 

This was the pattern for the remainder of the remainder of the evening, with Holger Czukay coaxing and cajoling a series of performances out of David Sylvian. Later, as they listened back to the performances, the ambient, avant-garde music was atmospheric and spartan and seemed to reflect winter in Cologne in early 1986. However, although both musicians were happy with what they had recorded, they realised that although they had the basis for an album, they knew that there was still a lot of work to be done. 

The music that David Sylvian and Holger Czukay had recorded that night, formed the basis for their first collaboration Plight and Premonition,  which was recently reissued alongside Flux and Mutability by Grönland Records as a two CD set. This is a welcome reissue of two collaborations between two musical pioneers that began by chance.

After reviewing the recordings made during the all-night session at Can Studio, David Sylvian and Holger Czukay continued to work on their first collaboration. Holger Czukay who had collaborated on several albums took charge of production on what later became Plight and Premonition.

Holger Czukay wasn’t just the producer, and was soon playing an important part in the recording process. One of his earliest and most important contributions was  the piano motif he added to Plight. After that, Holger Czukay added flute samples. Elsewhere, he used orchestral and piano samples, environmental treatment and deployed his trusty short wave radio. However, his musical partner took a different approach to making music.

Meanwhile, David Sylvian who was a talented multi-instrumentalist played piano, harmonium, vibraphone synths and guitar. They were recorded and manipulated by producer Holger Czukay. 

He was joined by his old friend and former Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit who added infra-sound effects. His drums weren’t necessary for the recording of Plight and Premonition which was a beat free zone.

When David Sylvian and Holger Czukay completed recording and Plight and Premonition, they mixed their first collaboration in 1987. It featured two lengthy tracks Plight (The Spiralling Of Winter Ghosts) featured on the first side, with Premonition (Giant Empty Iron Vessel) featuring on the second side of this what was an ambient classic in waiting.

With Plight and Premonition completed, David Sylvian and Holger Czukay began looking for a record company who were willing to release their first collaboration. Record companies were reluctant to release such an ambitious and innovative album. The problem was it wasn’t commercial album, and Plight and Premonition would likely only appear to connoisseurs of ambient, avant-garde and leftfield music, and maybe, fans of Can and Japan.  

Eventually, Plight and Premonition was released to critical acclaim by Virgin Records in March 1988. Ironically, both David Sylvian and Holger Czukay were signed to as solo artists to Virgin Records. Somewhat belatedly, David Sylvian and Holger Czukay’s first collaboration Plight and Premonition was released and sold well enough to reach seventy-one in the UK album charts. 

David Sylvian and Holger Czukay had combined elements of ambient, avant-garde, experimental and musique concrète on Plight and Premonition. The music was variously atmospheric, beautiful, elegiac, ethereal, futuristic, haunting and otherworldly. However, much of the music that David Sylvian and Holger Czukay recorded was cinematic.

Plight and Premonition’s cinematic sound transports the listener back to the bitterly cold Cologne winter in early 1986. Other times, it’s like listening to excerpts from a lost sci-fi soundtrack as a myriad of otherworldly sounds chatter as found sounds and samples interject during the two lengthy soundscapes.  For much of Plight and Premonition, the music sets the listener’s imagination racing. 

Sometimes, though, when David Sylvian plays the piano, beautiful music seems to flow through and out of him. However, other times the multilayered soundscapes meander along and seem almost reluctant to reveal their secrets which is the result of the first collaboration between two musical pioneers. 

Buoyed by the success of Plight and Premonition, David Sylvian and Holger Czukay’s thoughts turned to a second collaboration. This eventually became Flux and Mutability.

Flux and Mutability.

After David Sylvian returned from his 1988 solo tour, which was neither the most successful nor memorable of his career, he returned to Can Studio, in Cologne in 1989, to record a new album with his friend Holger Czukay. When David Sylvian arrived at Can Studio, he realised that the old studio had received a makeover.

David Sylvian noticed that a new mixing console had been installed in the Can Studio since his last visit. There was even new lighting and a new recording engineer in the Can Studio which seemed brighter and more modern. This would make recording David Sylvian and Holger Czukay’s new album much easier, which they made with a little help from their friends. 

Just like their first collaboration at the Can Studio, David Sylvian and Holger Czukay played many of the instruments themselves. David Sylvian played guitar and keyboards, while Holger Czukay played bass, guitar and added vocals. He also took charge of electronics and used a Dictaphone as a makeshift instrument. Meanwhile, former can guitarist Michael Karoli and Jaki Liebezeit who played flute and a high-pitched hand-held drum played on Flux and Mutability. Other guest artists included vocalist Michi and Markus Stockhausen who played flugelhorn. For Holger Czukay this seemed fitting as he had had studied under Marcus’ father Karlheinz Stockhausen who was one of the most important and influential composers of the ‘20th’ and early ‘21st’ centuries. 

Again, David Sylvian and Holger Czukay recorded two lengthy ambient soundscapes Flux (A Big, Bright, Colourful World) and Mutability (“A New Beginning Is In The Offing”). Both were written and produced by David Sylvian and Holger Czukay. Later, they mixed Flux and Mutability, which  delivered to Virgin Records.

Flux and Mutability which was the much-anticipated followup to Plight and Premonition, was released later in 1989. Just like their first collaboration, Flux and Mutability was released to widespread critical acclaim. Critics heaped praise upon the two lengthy and carefully crafted soundscapes.

Just like on Plight and Premonition, the soundscapes on Flux and Mutability are atmospheric and cinematic. Flux which is cinematic and benefitted from a widescreen sound, where David Sylvian and Holger Czukay were keen to portray a brave new world where everything was “big, bright and colourful.” That was the case as the listener basked in Flux’s feelgood sound as the multi-layered arrangement meanders melodically along with weeping guitars and Eastern sounds playing leading roles in this seventeen minute opus. 

Although sonically and stylistically Mutability had much in common Flux, David Sylvian and Holger Czukay took a different approach to recording this soundscapes. It’s akin to a musical tapestry which is woven by the two sound designers. Rather then thread, they weave using weeping guitars, electronics, samples and found sounds, and also deploy all sorts of effects and processing and result is impressive.

Together, David Sylvian and Holger Czukay create anther beautiful,  cinematic ambient soundscape. It’s a case of less is more as it once again, the soundscape meanders melodically along, as the listener basks in the beauty that is omnipresent during this musical tour de force.

After the release of Flux and Mutability, David Sylvian and Holger Czukay never recorded another album together. Flux and Mutability wasn’t as successful as Plight and Premonition, which had only released seventy-one in the UK charts. That was the end of what could’ve been a long and fruitful partnership from two musical pioneers. 

Despite that, David Sylvian and Holger Czukay went on to enjoy long and successful careers. Sadly, Holger Czukay passed away on the ‘5th’ of September 2017, seventy-nine. Holger Czukay was one of music important, influential and innovative German musicians of his generation. He recorded and released several classic albums with  Can, and then went on to enjoy a successful solo career and collaborated on several albums. They’re all part all part of Holger Czukay’s rich musical legacy.

While Can’s albums haven been reissued several times, and many of Holger Czukay’s solo albums have been reissued recently, some of his collaborations have yet to be reissued. The two albums that David Sylvian and Holger Czukay released, were only reissued in Japan in 1993. For the next twenty-five years,  Plight and Premonition and Flux and Mutability were out of print. That was until Berlin-based Grönland Records reissued Plight and Premonition and Flux and Mutability as a two CD set. This is a welcome reissue, and one that will be welcomed by Holger Czukay’s legion of fans.

At last, they’re able to rediscover the delights David Sylvian and Holger Czukay’s two ambient classics, Plight and Premonition and Flux and Mutability, which featured beautiful, atmospheric and cinematic music that make the world seem a better place.

Sylvian and Czukay-Plight and Premonition and Flux and Mutability.

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