Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography


David Sylvian

Crossover Prog

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

David Sylvian Alchemy - An Index Of Possibilities album cover
3.25 | 57 ratings | 5 reviews | 11% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

Write a review

from partners
Studio Album, released in 1985

Songs / Tracks Listing

- Words With The Shaman :
1. Pt. 1: Ancient Evening (5:15)
2. Pt. 2: Incantation (3:29)
3. Pt. 3: Awakening (5:18)
4. Preparations For A Journey (3:40)
5. Steel Cathedrals (18:58)

Total time 36:40

Bonus tracks on 2003 remaster:
6. The Stigma Of Chilhood (8:30)
7. A Brief Conversation Ending In Divorce (3:31)

Line-up / Musicians

- David Sylvian / guitar, keyboards, digital percussion (5), synth & programming (7), tapes, co-producer

- Robert Fripp / guitar (5)
- Masami Tsuchiya / guitar (5)
- Ryuichi Sakamoto / piano & strings (5)
- John Taylor / piano (7)
- Stuart Bruce / programming (7)
- Jon Hassell / trumpet (1-4)
- Kenny Wheeler / flugelhorn (5)
- Percy Jones / fretless bass (1-4)
- Steve Jansen / drums & keyboards (1-4), percussion
- Holger Czukay / radio (1-4), dictaphone (5)

Releases information

Artwork: Amanda Faulkner

MC Virgin ‎- SYL 1 (1985, UK)

CD Virgin ‎- VJCP-23079 (1991, Japan)
CD Virgin ‎- CDVX 23 (2003, UK) Remastered by Tony Cousins with 2 bonus tracks

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
Edit this entry

Buy DAVID SYLVIAN Alchemy - An Index Of Possibilities Music

DAVID SYLVIAN Alchemy - An Index Of Possibilities ratings distribution

(57 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(11%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(35%)
Good, but non-essential (33%)
Collectors/fans only (19%)
Poor. Only for completionists (2%)

DAVID SYLVIAN Alchemy - An Index Of Possibilities reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by arcer
3 stars A mini album, originally only released on cassette, between Brilliant Trees and Gone to Earth, the material collected here was recorded for a number or different projects, inlcuding, in the case of steel cathedrals, for an art installation. It is largely instrumental, with some chants and incantatory vocals liberally splashed across the long arrangements, some of which are extraordinarilt pretty. Words with the Shaman is the stand-out track as far as I'm concerned, being set up with some tribal-sounding drums and then being fleshed out with the chanting vocals, the arabic/north african sounds and a lulling progression. It's superb chill-out music. The music is definitely akin to the second side (wailing wall etc) of Brilliant Trees but is more ambient in texture. It should be noted that the sound quality on a lot of the pieces is not of the highest quality as the tapes on which they were recorded were not in the best of order by the time they were committed to this min-album. While it's not essentual Sylvian it rises above the collectors only category usually reserved for mini-albums, collections of rarities and off-cuts. The music is beguiling, stimulating, atmospheric, evocative and at times very beautiful. Recommended with the caveat of it being poorly recorded in parts and sparse musically in places,. But with a stellar cast around him, in particular the work of Fripp and trumpet player Hassell are noteworthy, this is definitely worth a listen, though overpriced on its recent remaster. The unremastered version included on a special edition pack alongside Brilliant Trees may sonically less improved but is better value.
Review by Seyo
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This is good collection of ambient instrumentals recorded with the band that took part in "Brilliant Trees", Sylvian's phenomenal debut. A notable addition to this release is Robert Fripp and his Frippertronics, who would contribute on later Sylvian's albums as well. This is nice and atmospheric ambient music, sometimes containing tribal percussions and chants as in "Words With Shaman", sometimes presenting David's version od electronic "space music" as in "Steel Cathedrals". Fripp's signature guitar effects and Hassell's trumpet add some jazzy feel. Since probaly the best part of "Alchemy", the tri-partite "Words With Shaman" is included on some remastered versions of "Brilliant Trees", this album may be redundant if you are not a particular fan of David's. If you like Frippertronics or Peter Gabriel solo albums "4th", "Birdy" or "Passion", you are well advised to listen to this release. Although basically a collector's edition, due to nice, spontaneous and ambitionless (in a positive meaning!) performance I would rate it ***.
Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars "Alchemy - An Index of Possibilities" is a compilation album by UK artist David Sylvian. The album was released through Virgin Records in December 1985. It bridges the gap between Sylvian´s debut- and sophomore full-length studio albums "Brillant Trees" (June 1984) and "Gone to Earth" (September 1986).

"Alchemy - An Index of Possibilities" compiles material from two different recording projects. The four tracks on Side A were written for and appeared in a Japanese autobiographical film and the 18:55 minutes long "Steel Cathedrals", which was commisioned by a tv-company. All tracks are ambient/experimental new age/world music, which is solely instrumental. There are a couple of vocal samples/chants/spoken word samples, but we are not graced by the warm melancholic vocals of David Sylvian.

It´s not exactly what you´d have expected from Sylvian at this early point in his solo career, and I have to give it to him, that he is an extremely bold man, who does only exactly what he wants to do, at any given time. The most interesting thing about that statement is that it´s actually not true for this particular project, as Sylvian was not initially interested in the project, but as he was offered money and needed them at the time, he agreed to deliver the music for the film. Virgin Records picked up on the new music, and chose to release "Alchemy - An Index of Possibilities".

While the music is certainly both well performed and well produced, the ambient repetitive nature of the music, make the tracks hard to tell apart, and to my ears "Alchemy - An Index of Possibilities" soon becomes pleasant background music. A 2.5 star (50%) rating is warranted.

Review by octopus-4
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
4 stars With this second solo album, the experience of Japan can be considered close for David Sylvian. From my point of view this is a good thing as I've never been a fan of 80s glam-pop- dark-new wave stuff.

Alchemy is an athmospheric album with a strong ethnic/oriental flavour but with many relations with Krautrock, too. The mini-suit "Words with the Shaman", maybe because of the effort of the former CAN Holger Czukay has a strong connection with it, specially in the first part. The second part is more lectronic and sounds very 80s (fairlight(?) and electronic drumming). It makes me think to Richard Wright's "ZEE - Identity" because of the sounds and their darkness, but the ethnic element is still in evidence. The third part is very ambient, instead, even if the sound continues to be dated to the 80s. Not all the 80s were bad, of course, and this album represents a good moment in a bad period for music. The whole suite is probably more "newage" than progressive, but it's really good. The trumpet (flugelhorn?) of the third part reminds to Mark Isham.

A chord reminiscent of a Sitar opens "The Stigma Of Childhood". It's a musical mantra. Imagine a Tibetan temple on the Himalayan heights. The mystic calm that emanates from this track is great. Meditative. Between Mark Isham(Tibet) and Tangerine Dream(Zeit).

"A Brief Conversation Ending In" is contemporary classic, instead. The disharmonic sounds, mainly by keyboards and piano, are from a different level of reality. Stockhausen meets the Tangerine Dream.

Finally "Steel Cathedral" is the album's epic. A keyboard chord grows very slowly from silence. Little variations remind again to the early Tangerine Dream. No more newage. This is space rock and the reference is again Zeit. Background voices like in Vangelis "Mare Tranquillitatis" bring the listener to the outer space. Percussive accents join after 5 minutes, then the flugelhorn (or the trumpet?) enhances the experience. It's the sound of "Blade Runner Blues", but also of Mark Isham's Tibet. Since now the track developes with piano, guitar, percussions, without losing the original mood. Variation after variation we are now in a jazzy suite. The French voice that appears here and there is very appropriate while piano and guitar fill the blanks.

Let's add to the above that the lineup includes people like Robert Fripp and Ryuichi Sakamoto.

I'm sometimes too meditative and I pay a tribute to the fact that I've been addicted to newage for a period of my life, but I think that this is an excellent album that deserves a place in every prog discography.

4 stars

Review by Dobermensch
4 stars A delightful instrumental album which must have confused many Sylvian fans back in '85.

Without doubt it's the most overlooked of his recordings. This one trickles with Indonesian sweat as he continues directly from the last track on 'Brilliant Trees' from the previous year. Jon Hassell's flugelhorn sounds inspired, wrapping itself around Eastern vocals along with Steve Jansen's ethnic drum thumping.

For those who wished they could have heard a continuation of 'Brilliant Trees' - this is the one. It almost sounds like it should have been part of a double album.

'Steel Cathedrals' - the big 18min side two track is basically a forerunner to his work with Holger Czakay in '87. Only here it sounds far more Eastern and minimal. An Excellent but sadly overlooked recording.

Latest members reviews

No review or rating for the moment | Submit a review

Post a review of DAVID SYLVIAN "Alchemy - An Index Of Possibilities"

You must be a forum member to post a review, please register here if you are not.


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives

Donate monthly and keep PA fast-loading and ad-free forever.