Friday, August 18, 2006

Forbidden Colours

A constant quandary for musicians trying bridge the gap between worldbeat and Western rock is the apparent dichotomy that separates the two forms of musical expression. While the stereotypical temperament of the former often invokes devices like exotic polyrhythmic cadences, tricky or freeform time signatures and ad-libbed song configurations, the latter is customarily portrayed as relying on methods like conventional arrangements, strict note compartmentalisation and consistent 4/4 rhythms.

Given the various structural differences between the two, there have been extremely meagre examples of how a song can encapsulate the idiosyncrasies that exist. However, there is one composition that manages to marry the seemingly disparate elements into a seamless whole.

The song in question is "Forbidden Colours", the 1983 collaboration between the endlessly creative musical Renaissance Man Ryuichi Sakamoto and stalwart art-rocker David Sylvian. Combining Sakamoto's distinctive pentatonic harmonic style and Sylvian's empathic melodic sensibilities, "Forbidden Colours" first appeared in its vocal version on the soundtrack to Nagisa Oshima's existentialist war morality play "Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence" (in which Sakamoto appeared in a secondary starring role), and even made its way into the British Top 20.

However, the most consummate version of "Forbidden Colours" has to be the one found on Sylvian's third album, 1987's elegantly pastoral "Secrets of the Beehive". Instead of the austere, icy synth patterns that dominated the original rendition, this reinterpretation builds its overall figure around an atmospheric, all-enveloping string arrangement and subtle, Satie-esque piano chords by Sakamoto, bolstered by virtuosic percussion work from Steve Jansen and a warm lead vocal by Sylvian, who also weighs in with some minimal synth tones.

Simultaneously evocative and emotional, without conveying any sense of mawkishness, this reading of "Forbidden Colours" is by far the one that most ably fleshes out the inherent spirit of the song, with some of the most brilliant instrumental interplay ever laid down on record.


Blogger sashi said...

Well, looks like someone is spending his leave productively....

4:59 PM  

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