In late 2006, Scott Walker was commissioned by London's South Bank centre to write music for a contemporary dance piece. (Two albums in as many years! Is Scott now the hardest workingman in Showbiz?) Anyone familiar with the Maestro's last two albums, 'Tilt' and 'The Drift' could bet that the results would not be encroaching on Michael Flatley’s 'Riverdance' territory. In this regard, 'And who shall go to the ball?' doesn't disappoint. The concept itself is Burroughs via Philip K Dick.
Scott: "...the music is full of edgy and staccato shapes or cuts, reflecting how we cut up the world around us as a consequence of the shape of our bodies. How much of a body does an intelligence need to be potentially socialised in an age of overdeveloping A1'? Perhaps this is something the Kowalski brothers could ponder on whilst considering the next Matrix movie. Or to quote (English comedian) Eric Morecombe: "There's no answer to that".
The actual music is, for a dance piece, appropriately kinetic. But it’s an often harsh and brutal dynamic suggesting an aggressive, complex movement. Perhaps perversely, for a dance piece what percussion there is is used sparsely and figuratively. There are no beats or explicitly stated percussive rhythms. Instruments usually associated with melody and sweetness -strings - are used to pulsing, hammer like effect. This music sounds inverted, upside down, inside out. No coincidence then that the dance group working with this commission are untypical. Choreographed by Rafael Bonchela for the 'Candoco' dance company, their ranks include both able bodied and disabled dancers.
One wonders if Scott's musical future lies purely within the metaphysical instrumental. There is a sense on his last two solo albums that the ideas and emotions he wishes to convey are somehow beyond verbal language.
Paradoxically, for an artist who has seemed to eschew obvious melody in his recent vocal work, some of his most tuneful and ‘pretty’ music of late has been exclusively instrumental. His score for Pola X came closest to recalling in places the sumptuous melodic luxury of his late 60's solo albums.
"And who shall...'is an instrumental work in four parts, (and like much of 1984's 'Climate of Hunter' the pieces are untitled). These 30 minutes of music recall many of Scott's usual references - Bartok, the musique concrete of Stockhausen and Cage and the opening piece, 'A slow movement given over to solitude' with its clicks and pops and loud silences, recalls later period Toru Takemitsu. But there is nothing 'ambient' about this score. It bears no relation at all to Eno's sulphuric noodles. 'Who shall...' is full of dirt, blood, oil, cum and dark electricity. Cellos seem to gouge and tear alongside what sounds like Hard drives puking up pea green MP4 files.
Scott, of late seems to have the patent on transcribing nightmares into music.
In developing a style as recognizable as say, Bernard Hermann or Danny Elfman there is a familiar and omnipresent strain of horror and terror in Scott's latest work...on this and ‘The Drift’ in particular, there is a sense of something very horrible and nasty banging on the door wanting to be let in and worse. The sudden sonic shift from near to far, from somnolent to panic, from quiet to very very loud has been a signature since ‘Tilt’. It's arguable that the voice Scott walker was most beloved for - that noirish, effortless Sinatraesque croon - is a voice he outgrew and lost decades ago. And it seems to me that its only in the last decade that he's started to find a new voice - albeit a disembodied one and given life in particular by his unique abuse of Cello's, silence and percussion.
This work is the sound of an artist continuing to flower well into late middle age, someone for whom even the option of 'selling out' no longer exists. In some regards, Scott’s artistic life now reminds me more of a painter than a musician. If sometimes his themes seem incomprehensible its amusing to remember that the first ever Walker brothers single – from February 1965 and several lifetimes ago - was also a dance number. (The Scott penned 'Do the Jerk'). So in some sense, there is a tangible musical link between the Scott of then and now, no matter how tenacious. The man is still making music after all. Yet there are hordes of Scott fans today that couldn't get past 1976's 'Lines' album. How they wish their Scott would refrain from this perplexing and alienating path and in effect return to the ...uh...Ball. But its precisely because of the way the Scott of then was moving toward the Scott of now that allowed us 'Boychild', 'Angel of Ashes' 'Orpheus' and all the rest. This latest work maybe a figment compared to the totality of the previous albums, but its still the proof of a pioneer. At his best, from 'Mrs Murphy' up to 'Clara' Scott was always out there, reporting from something beyond the mere boundaries of his own personal frontline.
To those who refuse to listen any longer, I quote the Philosopher Schopenhauer: 'A man of talent is like a marksman who hits a target others cannot hit, but the man of genius is like a marksman who hits a target others cannot see.'