THE BUDDHA OF SUBURBIA – Album Sleeve Notes

by David Bowie

15th September 1993

This collection of music bears little resemblance to the small instrumentation of the BBC play of “Buddha”. That project was manoeuvred and focused primarily by Roger Mitchell the Director, who guided me around the usual pitfalls of over arranging against small ensemble theatre.

However, left to my own devices these same pieces just took on a life of their own in the studio, the narrative and 70’s memories providing a textural backdrop in my imagination that manifested as a truly exciting work situation. In short, I took the TV play motifs and restructured them completely except, that is, for the theme song.

Overall the pace of work was frenetic, taking only six days to write and record ‘though a full fifteen days to mix, owing in part to some technical breakdowns – nothing serious but enough to put our team out by five or six days.

I’ll tell a little of the working methods: I took each theme or motif from the play and initially stretched or lengthened it to a five or six minute duration. By means of time-code I experimented with various rhythmic elements, drums, percussion, temple blocks, et al until I found a sense of companionship to the primary motif. Then, having noted which musical key I was in and having counted the number of bars, I would often pull down the faders leaving just the percussive element with no harmonic informations to refer to. Working in layers I would then build up reinforcements in the key of the composition totally blind so to speak. When all faders were pushed up again a number of clashes would make themselves evident. The more dangerous or attractive ones would then be isolated and repeated at varying intervals so giving the impression of forethought.

On two pieces, “The Mysteries” and “Ian Fish”, the original tape was slowed down, opening up the thick texture dramatically and then Erdal would play the thematic information against it.

On my favourite piece, “South Horizon”, all elements, from lead instrumentation to texture, were played both forwards and backwards. The resulting extracts were then intercut arbitrarily giving Mike Garson a splendidly eccentric backdrop upon which to improvise. I personally think Mike gives one of his best-ever performances on this piece and it thrills on every listening, confirming to me at least, that he is still one of the most extraordinary pianists playing today.

My personal brief for this collection was to marry my present way of writing and playing with the stockpile of residue from the 1970’s.

Here is a partial list:

Free association lyrics
Pink Floyd
Harry Partch
Costume
Blues clubs
Unter den Linden
Brücke Museum
Pet Sounds
Friends of the Krays
Roxy Music
T. Rex
The Casserole
Neu
Kraftwerk
Bromley
Croydon
Eno
Prostitutes & Soho
Ronnie Scott’s club
Travels thru Russia
Loneliness
O’Jays
Philip Glass in
New York clubs
Die Mauer
Drugs

The list is actually endless but the above initially springs to mind.

Fifty percent of the lyrical content is used merely semiotically, the rest either with implied abstruse connotation or just because I like the sound of the word.

There has always been a hazy rootlessness to my writing. I put it down to an overwhelming sense of transience, or is it a case of imagination being memory rearranged? This leads me often to re-complicate much of my composition writing, something I’m working earnestly away from.

I should make it clear that many of my working forms are taken in whole or in part from my collaborations with Brian Eno, who in my humble opinion occupies the position in late 20th century popular music that Clement Greenberg had to art in the 40’s or Richard Hamilton in the 60’s.

In general, Brian’s perceptions on form or purpose within culture leave most critics tap-dancing on the edge of the abyss spouting virtually nothing but fashionable blathering.

With a little coercion they will happily swan-dive into the vortex of their own making.

However, Brian ‘he singe lik a litul gerl ha ha all mixd down and dubul-trak’ so I’m one up on him there.

A major chief obstacle to the evolution of music has been the almost redundant narrative form. To rely upon this old war-horse can only continue the spiral into the British constraint of insularity. Maybe we could finally relegate the straightforward narrative to the past.

On the other hand, modern circumstances having had a dysfunctioning capacity upon pure chronological perspective, my writing has often relied too arbitrarily on violence and chaos as a soft option to acknowledging spiritual and emotional starvation. I know I’m not alone with his dilemma.

On yet another hand, chaos itself has been expressed intelligently, contextually, virulently and in vital ways by Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Fall, Glen Branca, Television, Suicide, to name but a few. Now this chaos, chthonic and Apollonian mush, harnessed and ordered, can work for us. It could be reordered within a formal harmony to recreate focus and, to some degree, rebalance the often loutish nadir into which we have blundered.

Our prodigious British talent is more than able to reveal the real gems submerged under this swaggering, violent and ignorant millennium.

We have been parading a numbed, self-degrading affair over this last decade, requiring of our art no more than, to quote Paul Valéry, “the sensation without the boredom of the conveyance.”

I am constantly bewitched by the actualization of form, to use rhythmic element as an armature of sorts, placing, rather like decorations on a Christmas tree, blobs or arcane information.

The real discipline is then to pare down all superfluous elements, in a reductive fashion, leaving as near as possible a deconstructed or so called ‘significant form’, to use a 30’s terminology. The irony, of course, is which is the most captivating – psychologically provocative form or mere aridity?

Having said that, I am completely guilty of loading in great dollops of pastiche and quasi-narrative into this present work at every opportunity.

By virtue of its subject matter this collection is in danger of being regionalist even parochial, a criticism levelled at nearly all British work this century.

Maybe because of our inherent love of the narrative form we anchor ourselves a little too firmly to our arcadian self-image. It seems to me a deeper evaluation of the international position of British artists (I include all the arts here) is currently gathering momentum as we approach the year 2000. A jolly good thing too.

It isn’t all Pollack, Springsteen, Warhol and Nirvana. As with most craft to which we turn our hand we are extraordinarily inventive, ‘though quirky, raising the stakes, but, alas, incapable of following through in pure hard sell. As of writing there are but five British artists in the US Top fifty, and a demoralizing TWO British albums in London’s Virgin Megastores’ “50 Essential Albums” rack.

This is not as it should be, and could be rectified by our insistent proselytizing that what we accomplish is as important internationally as it so obviously is nationally. We have so much un-nurtured talent in this country that it borders on criminal.

No other country, least of all the States, has been able to smoothly incorporate unpatronizingly so many diverse cultural elements into a cohesive and socially stable music form as we have on this isle.

In America modern popular music has never been more divisive, both racially and socially. The great danger over the next few years is the further escalation of the Great American Cultural Blanket. From within its homogenous threat emanates the mock adoption of grievance against a short-lived and out-moded emphasis on productivity and material success over and above any speculative interest in the deeper mysteries of our beingness.

As they say, a generation with no sense or interest in its past will surely eat itself.

Rarely now do we artists tell us much of ourselves. We are without history, interest or spiritual life. Our thoughts are often scattered and banal. Those occasional strands that have some merit are often stunted if not still-born.

Although I get the sense that all art is somewhat autobiographical it seems increasingly hard for the artist to relinquish his solipsistic subjectivity.

My own personal ambition is to create a music form that captures a mixture of sadness and grandeur on the one hand, expectancy and the organization of chaos on the other. A music that relinquishes its hold upon the 20th century yet searches-out that which was stimulating and productive as a basis from which to work in the 21st century.

This collection has brought me immense pleasure as a project and I cannot thank Hanif Kureishi and Alan Yentob enough for asking for my participation in such a dynamic and irreverent drama.

Also thanks to Kevin Loader and Roger Mitchell for their good sense and guidance to my approach to my first attempt at soundtrack.

David Richards, a ‘silent’ producer for far too long, along with multi-instrumentalist and longtime friend Erdal Kizilcay, make their mark as more than inventive in their individual capacities.

Hip-Hip Harangue.
Happy Xmas and Manifesto returns to you all.

 

David Bowie – September 15th ’93

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