subota, 24. studenoga 2012.

Scott Walker - Bish Bosch

Bish Bosch by Scott Walker

Tilt i The Drift bili su genijalni albumi. I ovaj je.

Is it now safe to say that 2012 was a terrible year? Is it now safe to say that it was another terrible year in a string of terrible years? God, did you see what I saw? Running together, shuffled into one consumptive experience, the stories that we have left to tell are terrible things, indeed. Pink slime, drones, Trayvon Martin, Fifty Shades of Grey, Benghazi, Lana Del Rey, #Kony2012, Hurricane Sandy, Jerry Sandusky, McDonald’s’ Flavor Wars, James Holmes, bath salts, and cannibalism. Unity through “Gangnam Style.” Ecce Homo, mangled. The dark day behind us, the dark day ahead… Was there a better year for a new Scott Walker album?
I admit: a part of me sighed after Mr P assigned me Walker’s Bish Bosch. Had we even had time to digest it? (Yes, Ed did, obviously.) Most of us are still farting out words left and right, trying to grant some air of meaning to a work that is bigger, yes, bigger than we are at this moment in time. I’m not suggesting that Bish Bosch is incomprehensible. What I mean is that Walker is a world-builder, and you don’t so much listen to Bish Bosch as much as you wake up into its interpretation and wander around. While most of us haven’t had the time to get to know it well, the first steps have nonetheless been thrilling, enough to warrant its placement here, at the end, even as we are only beginning to understand its importance.
From what I can determine, Bish Bosch is important largely for what it isn’t: more sentimental garbage from another “old master.” Working from the absolute periphery of what can still be called the “folk process,” it’s totally at home in tradition, in passing-down, in relating then to now. Yet, unlike his cohorts, Walker does so without a waft of nostalgia; no, his stories are cyclones picking the past up into the sky, dropping bits and pieces as he goes along his way. What’s left is dumped into the present. Sorted, sort of. Walker is a storyteller at the end of storytelling, and he “spins his yarns” from a broken radio play, broadcast from history’s rubble: a remnant of the decaying oral tradition, howling like the anti-Garrison Keillor at the Cabaret Voltaire, letting disgusting sounds from bodies and instruments slither around words and utterances, letting them articulate their meaning when the words and speakers themselves are losing ground.
Bish Bosch is also important for what it actually is: a reclamation, and transformation, of the meaning of lived history. I remember reading that Joan Didion, after enduring a week in El Salvador in 1983 (eh, eunuch Ron?), had made her see Gabriel Garcia Marquez as a “social realist.” Spend some time in 2012 with Walker, and he too unfurls the surrealism of the real from the real. For Walker, history is a springboard for facts to launch off of, so that they might break apart in the atmosphere until the blunt truth of them remains. Whether or not they orbit or crash down is completely contingent upon the nature of the truth. So yeah, Walker’s factually wrong sometimes. Sure, his stories are fantastical, non-sequential, absurd. But can you listen to “SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)” and tell me that you’ve never turned into a brown dwarf? I know that nearly every day this year I woke up on the verge.
More significant than temporary importance, though, is what vitality Bish Bosch has lying in wait. What will propel Walker’s work forward — what will keep us listening beyond 2012, or 13, or 14 — is its comedic critique of the ruthless comedy that its world, our world, coheres to. The pitifulness of the pitiless. The rot and stench of the body, broken and broken down. History culminating in the questionnaire. The final, quasi-threatening words of wisdom: GTFO! That music is made with anything, everything, especially things that will kill you. That you make it anyway. That the story is finished slap-dash, and that it will nonetheless stand in judgement of a time and place that no longer really believed in judgement at all, but apocalypse. Honestly, I wonder if we’ll ever live to see the day that we’re actually done with Walker’s work.
So, maybe we only had a few weeks with Bish Bosch here at TMT, but for most of us, it only took a short time to discover how it could be possible that even our worst years (centuries, millennia, whatever) could be exposed, drained, re-/dis-figured, and recast/told/sung/farted/assassinated into a towering work of art. Bish bash bosh. The end. #yolo –Nathan Shaffer

Experimental pop godfather and widely acknowledged “godlike genius” Scott Walker is back with only his fourth proper solo album since the Walker Brothers disbanded in 1978, and first in six years. I’m afraid that I’m reviewing this “Norman-style”, which basically means one listen and some hastily concocted first impressions, so I shan’t be able to dissect it as much as I’d like to, but I’ll try my best nonetheless.
It opens with the dinky Suicide-esque repeato drum machine minimalism of ‘See You Don’t Bump His Head’, with distinctive Walker’s vocal theatrics exhorting “While plucking feathers from a swan song/Shit might pretzel Christ’s intestines”, and then we spend the next 60-plus minutes getting sucked into his swirling vortex of sparse songmanship, jazzy flourishes and weird noises (particularly enjoying the knife-sharpening rhythms in ‘Tar’), with bursts of lavishly arranged and more accessible respite of which second track ‘Corps De Blah’ is the most immediately obvious example.
Lyrically he’s still sticking to his trademark cryptic cut-and-paste style, with the album’s 21-minute centrepiece ‘SDSS 1416+13B’ taking up a full eight pages in the booklet! It’s fairly challenging stuff, as you’d expect from Walker, but I’m not finding it as heavy-going as I’d feared and none of it really seems like a chore to listen to although as you would expect it is quite dark and even oppressively claustrophobic at times...although the album does surprisingly close with a quick burst of the melody from ‘Jingle Bells’ on xylophone. -

  • Scott Walker finally releases ‘Bish Bosch’, his long-awaited and first studio album since 2006’s ‘The Drift’.
  • Since the 1960s, Scott Walker has scaled the heights of pop superstardom, produced some of the most revered solo albums of the late Sixties, coasted on his laurels during the Seventies, then metamorphosed into something very different. The music he has been making at his own pace since the early Eighties might be utterly estranged from the songs that made him a household name, but they stem from the privacy he requires to write this complex and hugely inventive music.
  • ‘Bish Bosch’ is the latest in Scott’s discography to pursue the line of enquiry he began back in 1978, with his four devastatingly original songs on the Walker Brothers’ swansong, ‘Nite Flights’, and continuing through ‘Climate Of Hunter’ (1984), ‘Tilt’ (1995), and ‘The Drift’ (2006).
  • He has continued to mature and develop in a late style utterly at odds with the music that made him a superstar a lifetime ago, but instead is totally honest, uncompromising and transcendent.
  • Scott began writing new material around 2009 - whilst also scoring the ROH2’s ‘Duet For One Voice’ ballet - recording it sporadically over the following three years. Aided again by co-producer Peter Walsh and joined by regular core of musicians Ian Thomas (drums), Hugh Burns (guitar), James Stevenson (guitar), Alasdair Malloy (percussion) and John Giblin (bass).
  • Musical director Mark Warman also played a prominent role, both as conductor and keyboardist, while guests include trumpeter Guy Barker and pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole, who worked on three of Scott’s midseventies LPs.
  • For three tracks (‘SDSS1416+13B’, ‘Dimple’ and ‘Corps De Blah’), Scott drafted in an orchestra, recording them in The Hall at Air Studios last November.
  • If ‘The Drift’ was a dark place, full of scorching orchestral textures and ominous rumblings, ‘Bish Bosch’ is a tauter but more colourful experience, with greater emphasis on processed, abrasive guitars, digital keyboards and thick silences.
  • For the cover art, Scott worked closely with painter Ben Farquharson and designer Philip Laslett. -
The sloppiness of Scott Walker’s new album is built into its title. Bish Bosch is bish bosh — a thankless task done in a slapdash way. And, sure, by Scott Walker’s standards, six years is a relatively short time to piece together a new record. But a bish is also slang for bitch, a misbirth, a botched birth, and Hieronymus Bosch is, of course, a painter of botched worlds. And, boy, has Walker really bitched it this time — nine new astounding abominations, nine new non-songs, bastards all, hymns without harmony, sheer discordia, and, lyrically, nothing but beasts, buggeries, and decapitations. But, as we all know, life’s a bish, and to bitch is to gripe. At 69 years old, Walker seems just warming up with this 73-minute old-man’s rant, a long-winded and often incoherent complaint against men, women, kids, politicians, history, time and space, and the moon and the stars. It’s really all just a lot of pish posh. Pish posh, scoffs the gentleman, scoffs Walker the fake Brit, I call you on your bullshit. But, then again, this is no gentleman, just a wino, a wash-up, a fallen (teen) star, with barely a pot to piss in. And pish posh, of course, wears its degenerate etymology proudly, referring nicely to a foreign stew, a polyglot porridge, and so it all comes down to slop again — an album full of wheezes, farts, burps, and brays. “If music were shit,” goes one track, “you’d be a brass band.”
Walker claims that Bish Bosch is the third album in a trilogy that includes Tilt and Drift, but the music itself suggests that the entire edifice has crumbled. With its silly jokes and obscene noises, its cacophony of samba rhythm, stoner rock, and cool jazz, Bish Bosch immediately comes across as more chaotic, more whimsical, even clownish in places. Lyrically, it seems less preoccupied with violence and tyranny than with the themes of rot and decay, the inevitable sloppiness of the aging body, of everyday language, and of history and politics. Instead of tackling his topics slantways, via the skewed, yet driven perspective of the cracked artist-genius, Walker appears here in full slapstick-schizoid mode, each song a decentered slop of rhythm and tone. Instead of the manic wall of sound that marked his earlier efforts, a barrage of noise and rhythm driven toward the same inevitable disaster, Bish Bosch is framed by the groundless ground of its own silence, an overwhelming nothingness out of which any sonic something — a fart, a falsetto, a fascist command — might emerge and dissolve. The songs on Bish Bosch sprawl out in the empty air like Calderesque mobiles composed of bat shit and avian phlegm. They soar high and low at the same time — you might be tuning in to the music of the spheres or you just might be listening the grostulations of an anus.
There’s not a single theme or category by which the album can be fully evaluated and mastered. There’s not a single appeal to high or low, left or right, right or wrong by which a listener could cut a clear path through its cosmic slop. And yet, everywhere, system and pattern persist. Just as, musically, the album suddenly spits up a bit of Gregorian chant or a ukulele ditty, so, too, lyrically, it finds momentary shape in the fall of the Roman empire, astronomy, hipster slang, or microcellular biology. Like, perhaps, Finnegans Wake or Pound’s Cantos, it ceaselessly enacts its own structural construction and collapse, and thereby models the creation and decay of all systems. In fact, despite Walker’s avant-garde pretentions, Bish Bosch demands not much more than a connection to Wikipedia and a microscope. To listen to the album is to leave the romantic realm of high art and enter the base world of gynozootics and epizootics — cross-species miscegenation and ceaseless viral dissemination, organic drift and decay as the precondition of any creative life. Here, finally, the gloom of creative madness gives way to the freewheeling world of science — songs about amino acids, bacteria, germ cells, and multiplying rotifers. “Here’s to a lousy life!” Walker sings at the end of “Corps de Blah,” and he means it literally. The louses will win in the end, and, thankfully, we’re all just louses.

The Decaying Body
Scott Walker is old, and Bish Bosch plays out like an endgame. Even the first track comes across as his last. Backed by a pummeling drumbeat, it opens with the ominous refrain “while plucking feathers from a swan song” and then catalogues all the sweet shame and horror of aging. One by one, the singer plucks his own feathers, so that, in the end, the beautiful swan emerges as a cooked goose, its hideous body exposed like an “incontinent singing Scarpia.” The sacred becomes its own profane double, as “shit might pretzel Christ’s intestines,” and death is exposed at the very core of life, a “tiny laugh” that “dirties everything it touches.” And yet, even in decline, Walker seems as vital as ever. Bish Bosch often sounds like bad prognosis — get ready for indigestion, back problems, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc. — and yet here the body in decline provides a new energetic model for the body of song itself. Take “Corps de Blah,” with all its offensive wheezes and drippings and gastric rumbles. The song begins with an unholy aria to an “old egg” and then shifts to a slow metal dirge followed by, in turn, a cracked waltz of the farts, some migraine-inducing glissandi, a spine-cracking clarion call, and a disorienting stoner rock interlude, each sick mode decaying into the next. Over time, the graceful dance of the “Corps de Ballet” gives way to the corrupt “Corps de Blah,” a “eukaryotic gavotte,” tune without tone, song without organs. Lyrically, Walker sings first to a “Scabby Sachem” and then a “Sagamore wino,” seeing in each fallen chief a sublime image of his own dispossession and mortality. “A sphincter’s tooting our tune,” he whines, “If only ‘I’ could pick you./ Wed slosh, wed slide,/ wed cling.” Again, though, the decline of the “I” is also apparently its own sloppy liberation — physical corruption everywhere suggests artistic creativity. As we’re reminded in a later song, “syrinx” is both a fluid-filled cyst that painfully afflicts the spinal cord and a chaste nymph who, according to legend, had been transformed into the first set of panpipes.
Walker’s attention to the sounds of the dying body (“booty chatter” as body-chatter) no doubt reflects his larger Bukowskian obsession with violence and depravity. Here, though, it signals less the romance of evil than a clear-eyed and even scientific grappling with the posthuman corpus. As Walker explained in a recent interview with The Wire, “I have in the past done a lot with the body because it keeps everything — kind of a bad word — existentially concentrated within an un-human situation.” On Bish Bosh, too, getting old involves getting beyond the human. The perspective of the album shifts between not just the sublime and the lowly, but also the macroscopic and microscopic, gazing wide-eyed on those amoral multicellular systems that everywhere precede and exceed the human corpus. The song “Phrasing,” for example, traces a vast web of chemical agents and compounds, “a protein moon in a protein sky, running protein fields with my protein eye.” Walker, as if copping the pages of A Thousand Plateaus, even intones of “a protein song howling through the protein meat.” The song’s refrain — “Pain is not alone” — gives an ethical spin to its biochemical vision. Misery loves company, sure, but pain here becomes an extra-human interface between bodies, regions, and cultures, turning its sufferer into an object and thus part of a vast network of cosmic cause and effect. In fact, as the song shifts rhythm from verse to verse, Walker marvelously shifts the phrasing of his refrain, so that it also appears as a mutating germ cell (a “riff meme,” to borrow from Frank Gunderson), sporing across space and time via the “protein bods” it sets to dancing.

The Decaying Empire
As goes the body of man, so goes the body of empire. Walker has always flirted with dictators and tyrants, but Bish Bosch is all about degeneracy and decline. It may in fact be his first post-national album, because — as with the fallen sachems and sagamores mentioned above — his focus here is finely tuned to the tattered ends and cross-cultural drift of empire. Walker sets the album’s centerpiece — the 22-minute long “SDSS1416+13B (Zercon, a Flagpole sitter)” — in the court of Attila the Hun, but the song constellates the last days of several famed empires: Greek, Roman, Hun, Gaul, Brit, and American. Here, again, paradox abounds — the height of power is also its eminent decline. “Your Helipolis is a scrapheap,” Walker sings, equating the stretch of empire with the rise of bestiality and buggery. In turn, we meet “Lavinia who goes like gynozoon,” “Grosse Gauls who won’t leave our sheep alone,” and a “Roman who’s proof that Greeks fucked bears.” In Attila’s depraved court, the evening’s entertainment is provided by a Moorish dwarf jester named Zercon (more on him below) who, with his missing nose and deformed feet, mocks his masters for their ugliness and depravity. Zercon mentions Reagan and Gorbachev in his act (as “Eunuch Ron” and “Grostulating-Gorbi”), but the very structure of his song — with its dissonant mood swings and manic rhythmic shifts — mirrors all the confusion and rottenness of the modern world. Walker seems to imply here that only an ugly, bloated song could reflect the ugly bloat of empire.
That’s nothing, though, compared to the diasporic dump described in “Epizootics!” Like some kind of luau in hell, this track — with its sinister tubax riff and dark jumble of percussion — outlines the sloppy postcolonial aftermath. It begins with the colonist’s flight, because “the veins ran out,” and culminates in a rotten orgy of “native bods squealing Bflat, like choirs of pigs.” Versed by Walker, Hawaii appears less the site of natural wonder and primitive smiles than a hothouse of corruption and petty cons. The singer really shows his conservative side here, but even if he has nothing but disgust for the locals, “their eyebrows climbing into greasy black hairlines,” he seems to be having a hoot with their polyglot language. The song’s title refers both to an epidemic in animal life and the groovy scat of the beats. We meet a cool “Adepocere in a zoot” and then a sinister duo, “Scratch and Jesus on the corner,” but this local color is just an excuse for Walker to rip off his best street slang. Words here jostle like knees and elbows in a sweaty swing dance — “Joe below,/ Hincty dicty./ Slipped the pounders./ Fews and two./ Knock me./ Boot me,/ down in the land of darkness.” But, again, the track is rotten from the inside out. With a few finger snaps and beatnik “shhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” it breaks for a quiet moment to contemplate a decapitated head (borrowed from Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia), and then with a set of leering jazz horns, launches back into the groove. Tropical fever never seemed so hip.

The Decaying Language
A babble, for sure. Bish bosh. Ish kabibble. Ickeroo. A dink a dink a doo. Some Swedish: Hej do. Hej do. Some Latin: Contritio/Attritio. Tons of street slang. Hey Buddy! Hey Pal! Da. Da. Da. Lardie, Lardie, Lardie. Dog barks. Cock crows. GTFO! Booty Chatter! And then there are the noises: scrapes, hisses, rolling marbles, swooshes, clangs, and creaks, a bending pole a la Warner Brothers, machetes slashing, chisels chiseling, and, even, once, the sound of a vagina crying out “yonical tears.” No doubt, listening to Bish Bosch demands a raunchy ear. Lyricism gives way everywhere to sonic smut. “BAR! BAR! BAR!/ BAR! BAR!/ BAR! BAR! BAR!/ BAR! BAR!” goes the middle section of “SDSS1416+13B (Zercon, a Flagpole sitter).” The dwarf calls this his “noblest music,” but the liner notes remind us that “The word Barbarian derives from the incomprehensible bar-bar-bar noises of outsiders made in lieu of language — an expression of snobbery and elitism.” As a songwriter, Walker claims he always begins with words (all else is “dressing”), but here his lyrics are aggressively anti-lyrical, everywhere emphasizing sound over substance. Even those words that seem to pin down meaning in a precise way — “bdelloid Rotifers,” “Duma,” “Dorgi,” “Altair, Vega, Drogba,” “Rummy” — do so with such excessiveness that they tend to draw all attention towards their own strange sounding.
In other words, Bish Bosch everywhere slurs away from its own expressivity, from the “I” who speaks, towards the outside, the outsider, the barbarian’s inhuman stammer. Like The Waste Land before it (a poem referenced throughout “Zercon”), it stages the breakdown of culture and history as the breakdown of language yet simultaneously revels in that linguistic disaster. As the album’s first track announces, the “mythic instance of erotic impulse” is “slipping under a surefire sign,” and yet that very slippage signals, as it did for modernist poets in general, the birth of a new art and a new eroticism. So, in “Corps de Blah,” we find not just a decaying body, but a decaying lingo, a play of sound and signification that teeters, pleasurably, on the brink of meaninglessness. Take, for example, the following bit of Dadaist word trash:

Epicanthic knobbler
of ninon,
arch to
Macaronic mahout
in the mascon.

… or …

Cholesteroled mansions
Crowded with sulphured air,
dip to
Kyrie’s lone whistler
in the shadows.

You can find meaning here — tons of meaning — through any online dictionary, but you’ll just as quickly lose it again. The message conveyed by such lines is just as much dissolved as it is established by their forms. Their semantic content (which implies an age-old attraction between purity and squalor) is immediately troubled by their quirky arrangement on the page, their loose structural similarity, their giddy assonance, their faltering rhyme scheme, and, of course, their weirdly moody and slyly syncopated delivery on the recording. But this is just the start. Walker elsewhere pushes this formal play towards fully deconstructive ends, exploiting the easy way in which meaning drifts even within socially established contexts. In “Tar,” for example, he vexes the power of religious authority by mistakenly inverting the terms of religious dogma (i.e., “God creates man and then the animals” and “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree”). On “The Day the Conducator Died,” he undermines the discourse of personal growth and discovery by laconically singing the options on a personality questionnaire (i.e., “I have control over desires/ and temptations … O Not so much/ O Very much.”). In other words, Bish Bosch stages the decay of all systems as sign systems. Walker, though, occupies this decay less as a madman or an ironist or even as a subject of history (as a modernist or a postmodernist, for example). Rather, he occupies it as the problem of language itself, of language in its relation to power, and thus as a problem that must be faced by any serious artist.

The Decaying Star
But where does that leave Scott Walker, the man and the artist? Where does he exist in all this mess? Does he still stand archly within or above his own creation, like a god paring his fingernails, or has he too been dispersed, disseminated, carried away by its sonic spew? We might here refer to backstory — the rise of the charming pop star, the public meltdown, the slow descent into Orphic madness. But Bish Bosch suggests a different portrait of the artist, mainly through “SDSS1416+13B (Zercon, a Flagpole sitter),” a song that Walker himself has referred to as the album’s “anchor.” Zercon, as mentioned, served in the 5th-century court of Attila the Hun, but his song allegorizes the relation of all art to empire. At first, his act consists of nothing but mockery; he insults his masters and finds himself insulted in turn: “Does your face hurt?/ cuz it’s killing me.” … “You’re so fat,/ when you wear a yellow/ raincoat, people scream/ taxi.” … “You’re so boring/ that you can’t even entertain doubt.” Some of these barbs are followed by an uncomfortably long silence, as if the singer (as if Walker himself) has directed them at the listener. Others are set to a dirge-like beat and followed by a set of ominous Roman numerals — “III V IX IX I V I” — as if we’re each being sentenced to some horrible torture. At the same time, though, Zercon, as insult comic, as cheap entertainer, suffers for his art. He himself is the butt of cruel jokes, as each night he must put his own ugliness and impotence on the stage for his enemies. “I’ve severed my reeking gonads for you,” Walker moans, as if referring to his own sordid songs, “fed them to your shrunken face.” Ultimately, though, Zercon, like Walker, retreats for his art. A would-be saint, he tries to rise above the squalid masses, climbs his flagpole, and seeks an isolated enlightenment. This, too, though, figures in the song as a cliché, a form of cheap entertainment (the notes explain that “Flagpole-sitting was a fad in the early 20th century”). The crowd continues to jeer at him, mocking his passion and commitment: “HEY BUDDY!/ GIVE IT UP!/ HEY PAL!/ COME DOWN!/ JOIN THE LIVING!” And so, it seems, neither high nor low, comedy nor tragedy, entertainment nor religion, there’s no position left for the artist in this corrupt world. Rising in the world is only moral falling, while falling signals only its own depravity. “How can you stoop so high?” Zercon asks (perhaps to himself), and, then, with damning judgment, declares, “you groomed yourself too small.” So, finally, in what is perhaps the coldest, darkest moment of the album, Zercon, with the bar-bar-bar of the barbarian crowd beneath him, comes face-to-face with the impotence of all art. A dark, interstellar gloom settles over the track. “OVER, it’s over,” Walker moans, in his lonesomist Gregorian ever, while ice creaks and scrapes around him. Zercon, the dwarf star, becomes SDSS1416+13B, a Brown Dwarf star, “the coolest sub-stellar body ever found outside the solar system.” It’s a devastating moment, one that speaks volumes about Walker’s own reputation and influence (or lack thereof). The whole ensemble just seems to drop into the darkness, taking the artist, his art, and even the listener along with it. (I’ve listened to this song 24 times, and its 22 minutes still seem to fly by. Even with its desolating conclusion, I can’t wait to play it again.)
Ultimately, Scott Walker — the dwarfed star — seems to be everywhere and nowhere in the rotten sprawl called Bish Bosch. His voice, both masterful and miserable, proves no comforting presence, but a constant reminder of his own glorious failure. Really, though, the success of the album rests on the listener, who must work through the entire process of constructing and then destroying its meaning before he or she can truly appreciate it. This is why any review of Bish Bosch must function more like a critical analysis than a crass catalogue of pleasures and disappointments. Otherwise, the reviewer runs the risk of black-boxing the whole affair under a series of vague terms — “visceral,” “disturbing,” “unconventional,” “eerie,” “twisted” — terms that say nothing at all about the album and leave the listener free to do no more than skim its dark surface. In fact, without digging any deeper, I’d say the album comes across much the worse. With its avant-garde fragmentation, its blinkered European scope (obsessively bracketed by the two World Wars), and its grouchy, pessimistic attitude, the album seems like a strangely belated document, one that never expresses much more than disgust and disdain towards contemporary culture and its global dimensions. And, yet, for those courageous enough to lose themselves in its squalor, Bish Bosch reveals a remarkably vital approach to identity, to art, and even to history. As mentioned above, the album ends with a personality-profiling questionnaire. The questions are all grossly leading, but the answers are wonderfully vague. “I am nurturant, compassionate, caring. … O Not so much/ O Very Much.” … “Most of the chaos in my life is caused by … O Internal factors/ O External factors.” In the end, Walker refuses to choose, leaving all options in play, each persisting in its own messy indeterminacy. At first listen, the song seems to contrast this indeterminacy with the incredible determination of the Romanian firing squad that executed the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu on Christmas day in 1989. “And nobody/ waited for/ fire,” goes Walker’s dark refrain. Yet, in the end, the incredible openness of the unanswered questionnaire seems equal to the shooting of dictators and a challenge to the tyranny of everyday life. This very refusal to cohere, to make sense, to play the game of identity and otherness, of harmony and disharmony, makes Bish Bosch this year’s only necessary work of art. Merry Christmas, listeners! Here’s to a lousy life! - Ed Comentale

Bish Bosch starts with 30 seconds of what sounds like a jackhammer and ends with a funereal rendition of "Jingle Bells" for solo xylophone. In-between, there are tense silences, horror-movie strings, and 20-minute songs without verses or choruses. At the center of it all is an old man wailing about cutting off his own balls and feeding them to someone. The man seems to think this is some kind of opera. He is Scott Walker, and he puts the situation to us like this: "I've severed my reeking gonads/ Fed them to your shrunken face."
"Gonads" and "sever" are good indications of the vocabulary and subject matter at work here. Like Walker's last two albums-- 1995's Tilt and 2006's The Drift-- Bish Bosch is austere, high-minded music about a dirty world where people always seem to be getting castrated or mutilated by something or another. It features drums and guitars and other passing references to rock music, but its deepest roots are in the dissonant, turn-of-the century compositions by Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg-- music that divided its early audiences between applause, hissing, and laughter. More than anything Walker's latter-day albums sound like a parody of what people probably think of when they think of "avant-garde." No scene captures them better than video footage taken during the recording of The Drift, in which Walker-- a friendly looking man in a baseball hat-- instructs a percussionist on exactly how he would like him to punch a side of beef.
The story of Walker's career is a strange and amazing one. He grew up in Ohio but spent most of his life in England and Europe. He was cover-boy famous by his early 20s and a has-been by 30. Between 1967 and 1969 he released a series of orchestral pop albums whose stories about Joseph Stalin and childhood prostitution contrasted-- sometimes beautifully, sometimes just cynically-- with their high-gloss arrangements. No man has ever sung the word "gonorrhea" with more poise.
Between the 1970s and 1990s, he effectively disappeared, putting out a few sub-mediocre country albums, a few new songs with his former group the Walker Brothers (including "The Electrician", which is really the starting point for the music he's making now), and 1984's Climate of Hunter. The output of his unexpected second act-- TiltThe Drift, and now Bish Bosch-- have taken 20 years to record. Scarcity creates demand-- this is basic economics. With an artist like Walker, though, long waiting times between albums serve mostly to reinforce the idea that he is careful and deliberate, and in turn, the idea that his music is not just product, but that purest of things which cannot be rushed: Art.
Besides the appropriately exhausting 20-minute sweep of "SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)", the best songs on Bish Bosch-- "'See You Don't Bump His Head'", "Corps De Blah", and "Epizootics!"-- are also the most immediate. Walker's approach here, especially compared to Tilt and The Drift, is almost cartoonish: Big, bouncy saxophones, bright trumpet fanfares and, on "Corps", what sounds like a small dog barking. These songs work for one simple reason: In the midst of all Walker's void-courting experimentation, they give listeners something vaguely familiar to hang on to.
Here and there, the contrast between the brainy and the base is so deliberate it sounds like pandering. When Walker sings “If shit were music, you'd be a brass band!" on "Zercon", for example, he's probably trying to remind people that this is all supposed to be on some level funny, which makes it instantly less funny-- not to mention less tragic-- than the Walker who sang lines like "I've become a giant, I fill every street/ I dwarf the rooftops, I hunchback the moon, stars dance at my feet" in a song about an overworked husband whose only liberation in life comes from whores.
As much as it can sound like it stands alone, Bish Bosch is part of a tradition of music that tried to find new ways to articulate that same old misery. Wagner operas, Mahler symphonies, the brutal cabaret of Jacques Brel (who Walker covered extensively in the 1960s), David Bowie, Diamanda Galás, the aggressive anti-music of no wave, even early Swans: this is music that doesn't sound exactly like Scott Walker but makes Walker's bleakness and theatricality sound that much more familiar. Bish Bosch is difficult music that was intended to sound difficult and be enjoyed primarily by people who enjoy difficult experiences. The irony is that it is difficult in conventional ways.
Walker's career has always been surrounded with the whispery, romantic myth of genius, and we need myths like that-- myths about people who seem to forge their own path into the wilderness of their art, slowly and alone. The danger is to pretend that the music exists somewhere above us, or, like a carnival ride, is something we have to be This Smart to understand.
Like the movie director David Lynch, Walker is an artist that people-- fans and non-fans-- seem bent on "getting," as though there was anything to "get" in the first place. Let's pretend there isn't. Let's pretend that when Walker tells a "you're so fat" joke halfway through "Zercon", it's not a metaphor for anything, but an insult about fat people.
A few minutes later, he breaks down and starts screaming, "Did you ever throw your own mother's food back at her? Did you ever tell her 'Take this junk away'? What kind of an unnatural son would do that to his own mother?" Let's pretend that the moment has nothing to do with 5th-century Moorish history or the astronomy behind brown dwarf stars. Let's pretend it's simpler than that. Behind all its obscure references and theatrics, Bish Bosch is a catalog of basic human cruelty-- a subject no footnote could ever make any easier to understand. - Mike Powell

In an essay written to accompany the release of Scott Walker's new album Bish Bosch, Rob Young claims the former Walker Brother has, over the course of a sequence of records beginning with 1984's Climate of Hunter,  developed "a late style utterly at odds with the music that made him a superstar".
One can see why many – even those as clued-up as Young – might feel this to be true. From certain perspectives, Walker's career hinges on the break of the mid-eighties, before which he was a performer of skewed romantic pop, and after which he became incorrigibly committed to envelope-pushing indebted to the literature (notably Beckett and Paul Celan) and music (particularly György Ligeti and Iannis Xenakis) of postwar European modernism. Indeed, the very idea of 'late style' emerges from the context of that ultra-ascetic avant-garde: the notion was cultivated by Theodor Adorno, late modernism's great theorist, to describe the way that Beethoven's mature work enacted – in Edward Said's helpful paraphrase – "a contradictory, alienated relationship" with his earlier compositions. As Said put it, late style represents "a form of exile" from an oeuvre.
However, the concept of late style is only partially helpful here. For a start, there's the fact that Walker's 'late' period has now lasted twenty-eight years, a span of time greater than that which elapsed between the 1964 formation of The Walker Brothers and Climate of Hunter. Furthermore, as John Doran and David Peschek demonstrate in this feature, the obscurity, abstraction and absurdism which has prevailed since 1984 can be glimpsed even in some Walker Brothers releases. In this case, the radicalism of the break may be overstated, and it is more appropriate to recognise the 'pop' Walker as inhabiting the same aesthetic furrow as the latter-day sonic pioneer.
Below a review I wrote of Kate Bush's 50 Words for Snow this time last year, I was taken to task by a commenter for referring to Walker's previous effort, 2006's The Drift, as 'abstract pop'. In response, I argued that The Drift was "full of pop motifs that get broken, distended, perverted", and that one of its primary strategies was subverting the repertoire of musical effects pop uses to index romantic love. One can best apprehend the relevance of this by considering the historical context in which The Walker Brothers emerged, namely a period in which pop was still figuring out its grammar of feeling. Where now – as one sees in much music which references the younger Walker, such as Richard Hawley or The Last Shadow Puppets – swelling strings and mournful horns are rather a clichéd or kitsch way of expressing romantic angst, the mid-1960s saw pop's relationship with emotion as something yet to be rigidly defined.
Walker's achievement since Climate of Hunter has been less to do with a wholesale rejection of the past in favour of establishing a late style than with using music to locate, and arguably produce, increasingly complex forms of affect. Like its immediate predecessors, Bish Bosch retains a focus on feeling, even if the sensations it sketches aren't processed enough to resemble anything on the conventional palette of emotions. Although the songs are highly-wrought and palpably inorganic – these hints of disciplined conception and manufacture are a good thing, by the way – there's nothing distant or technocratic about the album. In fact, Walker's immersion in the turmoil of what he makes is powerful enough to make this a record which asserts a claim over the complete attention of the listener. It's a claim made so frequently as to sound banal, but in this instance there really is no chance of using the music as background listening. Bish Bosch demands, and rewards, time and deliberation.
This obviously means that any review is going to be governed by certain caveats. Three or four listens over a twenty-four hour period is only really good enough to start noting coordinates for how one might approach the record in the future; its seventy-three minutes contain an astonishing amount to take in, both musically and lyrically. Still, it's possible to give a general sense of what knits the nine tracks together. Sonically, some of the major traits of The Drift reappear – monstrous, clunking lopes interspersed with patches of giddying, squealing glissandi and murderous percussion – but are executed with even more dreadful panache this time around. There are abbatoirial electronics, touches of discomforting gated reverb from the Martin Hannett catalogue, and interjections of balefully clinical guitar, and that's before the bravura dabs of audio absurdism: farts, tuneless Brechtian choruses, and, on the concluding 'The Day the "Conducator" Died' (an 'Xmas Song' commemorating the execution of Nicolae Ceaușescu), the opening bars of 'Jingle Bells'.
Lyrically, there are two persistent themes which are held in tension and never quite reconciled, namely astronomy – most tracks refer to lesser-known stars and constellations – and bodily abjection. Each song provides multiple examples of the latter, but 'SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)' yields the most in terms of grossness: "No more / dragging this wormy anus / 'round on shag piles from / Persia to Thrace / I've severed / my reeking gonads / fed them to your / shrunken face" leapt out at me. Unlike the vast majority of pop lyrics – I'm looking at Bob Dylan here – those on Bish Bosch genuinely stand on their own as poetry, and seem particularly conversant with Celan's nauseated work.
The broadsheet reviewer's trick at this point in a discussion of 'late' Walker is to say something like "One Direction it ain't", and return to well-rehearsed old bromides about the tension between pop and the modernist avant-garde. What's fascinating about everything from Climate of Hunter on, however, is the way in which it resembles the most cynical Cowell-pop in its constructedness. Nothing is out of place but, more importantly, nothing feels spontaneous. This album could not have come about as the result of rockist jamming: conversely, it seems as if everything down to the most inconsequential of tambourine-rattles has been mapped out in advance. The tracks have been plotted meticulously, which makes the journey between their internal rhythmic and tonal microclimates feel like a matter of architectural necessity rather than of rehearsal-room evolution. 'Epizootics!' is a case in point, its bowel-shaking bop opening seguing gradually into a martial, moderately krautrock rhythmic battering, before song structure gives way to an atonal, Xenakis-like soundscape. Perhaps the response one feels to this is akin to revulsion or horror, but it's conjured with the same pop-savvy precision with which Walker once evoked jealousy and loss.
One word which does a lot of work in summing up Bish Bosch is 'unanswerable'. You can't tune out of it, but neither is there a key by which you might ultimately 'understand' what Walker's getting at. From the opening, strangely gabba-like rhythmic monotony of 'See You Don't Bump His Head' to the Ceaușescu number at the end, there's no yield or compromise, no room to slip the music's gaze. Not so much late style as an old practice made stiletto sharp, this is an album of a depth and ambition that should, frankly, set a standard for contemporary art music. - Joe Kennedy


Cracking Up: Scott Walker Interviewed
John Doran

Sometimes, when it seems like the whole world’s going to Hell around you, the healthiest thing to do is laugh. John Doran, writing for The Stool Pigeon and The Quietus, talks to Scott Walker about his devastating new album Bish Bosch. Followed by David Peschek on Scott's career arc

I'm sure everyone reading this knows the sudden jarring sensation of getting half way through a joke or an anecdote before realising what they're saying is completely inappropriate. The ill-judged story at a wedding or wake; the "too soon" pub joke; the "you had to be there" tale from a crashing bore, all leading to the panicky thought: what is this blasted drivel I'm spouting and God help me while I grimly soldier on to the appalling punch line. But more to the point, why did this embarrassing act of verbal hara-kiri have to be my opening gambit to musical legend and hero, Scott Walker?
It's probably sheer nerves but as an ice breaker I find myself describing an imaginary film scene that his new album Bish Bosch made me dream up: "…so you've got an entire orchestra full of zombies all murdering each other with their instruments. And in the end it's just a musical saw-playing zombie hacking away at the conductor."
And my voice fades away to a querulous whisper of self-loathing: "And in the audience there are a load of zombies saying, 'Brahms! Brahms' instead of 'Brains…'"
Then just as I'm about to burst into tears and run off, Scott Walker slaps his hands together and emits a large, warm laugh: "Hey thanks, that's the next album written!"
It turns out that not only is Walker one of the most vital, challenging and engaging figures in 21st Century popular music, but he also has a very sharp and generous sense of humour. He pretends to make a note to himself: "Now I've just got to get Peter [Walsh, his long-standing co-producer] to find some zombies for me…" Scott Walker will slap his hands together delightedly and laugh a lot during our hour long conversation.
Walker, a 69-year-old New Yorker who grew up in California and moved to Europe well over 40 years ago, has ploughed one of the most singular furrows seen in modern music. In the broadest possible terms his career can be divided into quarters. Scott One was a member of extremely popular 1960s group The Walker Brothers, who were so big that they even eclipsed the success of The Beatles in 1966. Scott Two was a solo crooner who released a quartet of peerless self-titled LPs that painted rich vignettes of life in the late 60s; kitchen sink dramas channelled via the spirit of Jacques Brel. Scott Three was a near washed up figure who dampened down his creativity with marathon whisky binges while releasing unsatisfying solo country and western and MOR albums and joining in a cash-motivated Walker Brothers Reunion. Scott Four was and remains a highly misunderstood left field artist with no peers who has recorded four of the most challenging 'rock' records to be released on relatively large labels: Climate Of Hunter (1984), Tilt (1996), The Drift (2006) and now this week Bish Bosch.
However, while there's more than a little truth in this overview, the true picture is a lot more complex. For example, he displayed a knack of introducing the disturbingly counter-intuitive and a sense of the uncanny into his song writing right from the get-go on tracks such as 'The Plague' (1967). And while a lot of his output released during the 1970s and 1980s is hardly what you'd call essential, by the same token, this is when he recorded some of his most beautifully realised material. Belatedly, many music fans have been questioning received wisdom and seeking out his astonishing contributions to the Walker Brothers' swansong Nite Flights (1978) and his wonderfully chilly solo album Climate Of Hunter (1984). But as well as this, even his disparaged MOR career contains such broken-hearted, saloon bar gems as 'No Regrets' and 'Cowboy'. [See David Peschek's notes on Scott Walker Myths below.]
The lesson here is to ignore received wisdom and to discount the urban myths. It's the only way you'll even start to get to grips with Bish Bosch.
I could use up the word count for this entire piece ten times over and still not do this album any justice. On one of many levels this is a monumental study into the boundaries of language; a cartographical study that pinpoints where it breaks down into chaos, gibberish, animal noises and fart sounds (more about this later); while this itself can be read as a metaphor for the perceived collapse of society, art and the self. Books could be written about its dense modernist wordplay which is loosely reminiscent, in several key respects, of that in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Reviewers will tie themselves into knots trying to describe this deadly sonic funnel web of industrial beats, atonal metallic guitar, cosmic lap steel, electronic noise and clash of four-foot-long machete blades (more of this later as well). Puzzle-loving listeners will search frantically for clues to deeper meaning in the lyrics voiced by multiple narrators including a minor saint who spent most of his life sat up a pole, the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and Attila The Hun's disfigured dwarf jester.
Do I like it? I think so. Is it any good? Ask me again in 2015. Is it the most devastating record of the year? Undoubtedly. Two things that are immediately clear is that Scott Walker has produced an impactful piece of utterly unique pre-post modern art and that he remains a visionary in splendid isolation, with the few foolish enough to presume kinship with him easily revealed as clowns, ironists, fuckwits and coat tail riders by comparison.
You've said that you have to wait a long time for lyrics to come to you; that it's a waiting game. How long did it take in the case of Bish Bosch?
Scott Walker: This time I set aside a year, which normally I don't do. I just thought I'm going to try and see if I can speed up the process by not doing anything else. So it took me just over a year to get the lyrics and everything done, which is lightning speed for me. But I really had to wait and wait and wait almost every single day for the words to come.
Earlier this year your manager released a statement saying that Bish Bosch left off where The Drift finished. To what extent is that actually true and does the new album finish a notional trilogy?
SW: Well it feels like that, but I don't think it's literally true; they're not joined together. We have developed a style. And we've been elasticating that style, pushing it to its limits, and that's why I think people can hear this same sound going across three records. It's possible that this is the last time we'll try this particular atmosphere and we'll try something very different next time. But Bish Bosch is also very different. There's a lot of bass on The Drift and Tilt but on this one we've used the bass only here and there. That was because we were trying to get a vertiginous feeling where the bottom drops out from under you, leaving you with nothing to hold onto for a lot of the time. And when the bass comes in [smacks hands together violently] it's a very welcoming thing.
Some of the dark atmospherics on the album made me think of the more ambient end of dubstep. To what extent do you keep up with new music, say for example, on the Hyperdub label?
SW: I know Burial. I know all that stuff. I try and keep up with so much stuff, whether it's Burial or a hit record off the radio.
On first listen, I actually found Bish Bosch more harrowing than most current releases in the fields of black metal, noise, industrial and power electronics, where causing distress or discomfort to the listener is often an integral part of the aesthetic. To what extent do you know these genres, and to what extent are you trying to put your listener through the wringer, as it were?
SW: I'm aware of the sort of music you're talking about, black metal and so on. I'll dip in and listen to that kind of stuff but my music is coming from me - I don't know exactly how, but it is coming from me. Generally with [noise and power electronics etc] everything is going one way. The vocals and the sound are only going one way, and I try to give several layers to keep you interested, more like in a painting perhaps. Maybe there will be an underlying seriousness, maybe there will also be some humour, but there will be a lot of stuff happening at the same time. And I think that's the main difference between what I do and black metal for example.
Where did the album title come from? I believe it has something to do with an idea of a giant female artist…
SW: I knew I'd be playing with language more than I had on any of the previous albums. I wanted the title to introduce you to this kind of idea and reflect the feeling of the album, which was [claps hands briskly] bish bosh. And we know what bish bosh means here in this country – it means job done or sorted. In urban slang bish also [phonetically] means bitch, like "Dis is ma bitch". And then I wrote Bosch like the artist [Heironymous]. I was then thinking in the terms of this giant universal female artist. And this idea continued to play through the record in certain spots.
The architectural critic Jonathan Meades said something interesting to me recently: "Heironymous Bosch may have been warning us against Hell, but he had a hell of a time warning us against it. He really enjoyed himself!" Do you enjoy making these records? Do you have a lot of fun making them?
SW: Oh yeah! Yeah, we really do. But they're difficult too. If things aren't going well then they're difficult to achieve, but it's 50/50, because we have a lot of fun and a lot of laughs as well. [emphatically] You've got to have that. Like I said, it can't just go one way. Good art never goes one way.
I guess propaganda goes one way and art is more multi-directional, more open to interpretation. This brings me to the sense of humour on the album… I probably listened to Bish Bosch about four or five times… reeling… slightly agog… before I heard the jokes on it, but then I realised that there were probably 11 or 12 rib ticklers on it. Would it be fair enough to say that in some respects this is the funniest album you've written?
SW: Most broadly humorous yes. There is humour running through The Drift as well. It's there. You have to look for it… get on our wavelength [laughs] but it is there.
Forgive me for saying so, but I think maybe my first reaction to the album was the more honest, and I have to question how funny a listener could be expected to find these jokes in the context of the harrowing music. Isn't it fair enough to say these jokes are more absurd than funny?
SW: Yeah, they're more absurd.
And absurd humour or absurdity is another feature of existential crisis isn't it?
SW: It's absurd. It's Kafka-esque in its absurdity. Franz Kafka would read his stories to his friends, and when they weren't laughing he would get furious. It occurred to me that maybe it's the same thing with my music. No one thinks of [Anton] Chekhov as a comic writer, but he certainly thought he was. Who knows?

An analogy that I thought of was one regarding some of the films of David Lynch. For example you could watch the film Eraserhead all the way through one day and find it a grim and relentless experience, and watch it another time and find it ridiculously funny…
SW: Yeah, that's exactly it. That's it. Eraserhead is a great example as well because maybe, it's still his best film.
But there is one genuinely laugh out loud moment on Bish Bosch and that's in the way the album ends with 'The Day The Conducator Died (An Xmas Song)', a track ostensibly about the overthrow and then rapid execution of Nicolae Ceaucescau and his wife Elena, which ends with sleigh bells and the first few notes of 'Jingle Bells'. I genuinely LOL'd. What things make you laugh? Any books or comedians?
SW: Gosh… [pause] I'm trying to think… [massive pause] What makes me laugh? [massive pause] We'll have to come back to that… [we never do]
The opening track on the album 'See You Don't Bump His Head' is a line uttered by Montgomery Clift to soldiers putting Frank Sinatra's body in the boot of a car, edited out of the final cut of From Here To Eternity. You looked up to Frank Sinatra as a singer when you were younger. How much did you learn from him in terms of breathing and phrasing, and does any of that still apply now to the newer style of vocals that you do?
SW: Well, very little now. Back then his phrasing was his key ingredient. No one else could do it like him. No one else could tell a story like him. Within the confines of the American standard, you could listen to his breath control and just hear how good he was. A simple thing like singing, "I love you." A lot of singers today will sing, "I..." [gasps for air] "love…" [gasps for air] "you…" [gasps for air] You wouldn't say it like that if you were having a conversation with someone. The words would flow together, "I love you." He would sing words as if he were saying them directly to the listener. He knew that you couldn't just throw this stuff together. But this music is so other to that kind of stuff that the rules don't really apply any more. These songs aren't standards.
Well, no, they're not, but you'd still never, ever, ever hear Scott Walker take a breath on record would you – and that's whether you're singing 'Make It Easy On Yourself' or [Bish Bosch track] 'Epizootics!'
SW: No, you wouldn't, but then you wouldn't hear many singers from that time take a breath. You wouldn't hear John Lee Hooker take a breath either. A few years ago I was watching Tom Jones doing a concert and even though he had the mike right next to his mouth, you still didn't hear him take a single breath… because it wouldn't sound right to him. And that's the difference because today on some records the breaths are as loud as the notes. [groans asthmatically] You can hear people wheezing in and out!
On 'Corps De Blah' you have hyper intelligent and provocative word play which is juxtaposed with these really coarse bodily noises. Fart noises. The sound of excretion basically. It sounds almost like you're having fun at your own expense. Are you trying to deflate the perceived pomposity of your own lyrics?
SW: In a sense it's used to cause a break… Actually it is to cause a deflation of the lyrics, you said it better. It's a break, so you don't end up thinking, 'Oh my God… what's he doing now? He's overdoing it!'
Who stepped up to the mike? Or who backed up to it?
SW: [laughs] We've taken an oath that we're not going to reveal the sources of those noises.
Well that's fair enough, but something doesn't add up here for me. You obviously spend a lot of time creating certain noises on your records and your Foley work is very painstaking and very accuracy focused. I mean, we all know how you built a large wooden box and rested it on breeze blocks and then spent days dropping concrete on it just to represent the sonic idea of a pea under a thimble [on the track 'Cue' from The Drift]. So unless you drafted in Le Pétomane to record the sounds, it just feels a bit lackadaisical to me, and also I dread to think what it would be like in the studio if you had to keep on doing take after take of these terrible noises until you got the fart exactly right.
SW: [laughing] No, no, no! It wasn't that elaborate.
Ok, from one bit of Foley work to another… Where does one get musical machetes from?
SW: Oh, the nightmare machetes? I got them online. I was looking for the heaviest ones I could find. Of course when they arrived everybody panicked, especially when we took them to the studio. Out of everything we've done in the studio, this was the thing that people I've worked with hated the most and they couldn't wait for us to get them out of there. They really panicked. I mean they are monstrous to look at; the blades are about four foot long. I knew I needed a lot of weight otherwise it would sound like kitchen knives. Yeah, I got them online… they're the most dangerous things I've ever used to make music with.
What qualities make Peter Walsh the ideal co-producer for helping you realise this kind of music?
SW: He has a good sense of humour, which is great, and he's a very steadying influence in the studio, so everyone likes him. That's the main thing. He's a great engineer. And together we've created this sound which I would describe as… well, this may sound fanciful but nevertheless this is how I think of it. In its purest sense, ever since we did Tilt, the music we're making is meant to be an aural version of the H.R. Giger drawings for Alien. It always sounds to me like those look.
I met someone who said, 'It took me two years to work out if I thought The Drift was brilliant or just ridiculous; and then another year on top of that to work out if I actually enjoyed listening to it or not.
SW: Yeah, they cause extreme reactions these albums, so I'm never surprised when I hear things like that. I can always tell if a guy's not really willing to go there, I can always tell that, but I'm used to whatever reaction these records provoke.

I know you don't do much singing in between albums, so you're going to be out of practice when it comes round to recording time, but do you still have to put a lot of effort into getting your voice emotionally neutral, or is this a technique that you find it easier to achieve now?
SW: Well, it's changed on this record because most of this record isn't emotionally neutral. Most of these songs are character driven… not that you want to overdo them or risk ending up impersonating people. But on a song like 'Zercon' ['SDSS1416+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)' the 22 minute centre piece of Bish Bosch] you can't do that without some extreme singing and going to some extreme places.
Since the release of The Drift, two folk bogeymen have raised their heads in this country; chavs and hipsters. I'm not sure to what extent either of them actually exist but people in the media are obsessed with these terms. Hipster has become a pejorative, derogatory term, but would I be right in presuming that you connect to this term in a more old fashioned, positive way, with the hipster being the kind of person who hips you to cool art and cool music.
SW: Are you talking about the one song where…
SW: Yes. I'm going back further beyond the beatniks, back to the hipsters, back to the days of Cab Calloway. And they would say, "Epizootics!" And click their fingers. People would naturally presume that I would be talking about the study of plague – which is what the word means literally - but actually I was using it in the same way as the hipsters used it, to mean cool. I wanted to reach back to this idiomatic language they had.
What's funny about that song is the fact that suddenly out of nowhere for one of the first times ever, suddenly there is this massively signposted piece of hot jazz…
SW: There were six of us playing ride cymbals going tshh-ch-ka, tshh-ch-ka, tshh-ch-ka tshh-ch-ka, tshh-ch-ka, tshh-ch-ka.
It makes me laugh because you've spent so long saying, 'I'm not a jazz musician, this is not what I do.' And then there it is.
SW: Yeah, but only briefly, and it's only there to give an example of this idiomatic world that these characters are in, but then it really changes quickly to beats. You know: ba-da ba da-da! ba-da ba da-da!
It's probably worth saying at this point, however, that no matter how complex or forward looking what you do is, that you're not a jazz musician – that's not the tradition you're from, it's pop and rock music you've taken to breaking point.
SW: Yeah, of course. The jazz is only there for a second. It's more for the atmosphere of that world. Because it's over exaggerated for starters. Real jazz wouldn't have six guys playing the ride cymbal.
Does it irritate you when your music enters the general consciousness; like with The Drift ending up being boiled down in the popular narrative to the album with the guy punching the giant slab of beef on it? [On the track 'Clara', Alasdair Malloy is credited with "percussion and meat punching"] Do you worry this will become the album with the farting and the machetes?
SW: No. These kind of people who think of it that way obviously don't want to invest their time, so it's useless worrying about what they think. The people who are going to like it are going to like it and with anyone else I just have to… suck it up!
Are you opposed to the idea of synergy? Do you feel like your art – and by that I mean specifically what you're trying to do with Tilt, The Drift and Bish Bosch – can only be expressed in the form of music released on album?
SW: Well, not necessarily. I think they could probably exist in the theatre as well. A couple of years ago we did this thing at the Barbican [Drifting And Tilting]. It was a mixed bag. Some of it worked quite well, so I can see the work maybe existing as theatre pieces.
The other side of that question deals with the fact that you really seem to have branched out a lot over the last few years. You recorded the Pola X soundtrack, you've written songs for Ute Lemper, you've curated the Meltdown Festival, you've worked in contemporary dance and ballet, you've done Drifting And Tilting. Have you enjoyed the diversification process?
SW: I love doing it. I'd like to do more of it. I've got a couple of things lined up for 2013 and 2014, which are pieces for festivals in Australia, and the people at the National Concert Hall in Dublin have offered me the chance to do something.
Can you say now, at the age of 69, what the two or three great and simple images in the presence of which your heart first opened are; or even if this quote from Albert Camus which was printed on the back of Scott 4 even still pertains to you?
SW: Well, the quote still pertains to me, but I can't remember any more what they were! It was so long ago…
Why are there so many references to Hawaii on the record?
SW: It's only on that one song.
Well, from Here To Eternity is set in Hawaii.
SW: Oh yeah. Ok. I didn't even think of that.
Have I fallen down the rabbit hole into Scott World here? I'm trapped in Scott World and I'm seeing bloody connections that don't even exist everywhere.
SW: There's too many Hawaiians! Too many Hawaiians! [laughs] Yeah, you're in danger of going down the rabbit hole. No, it's really only on 'Epizootics!' that I had this idea about waking up from a Hawaiian nightmare. I wanted to connect it into an entry into this idiomatic world [of hipsters].
You've mentioned the idea of nightmares. I believe you've suffered terribly with nightmares over the course of your life, was there a specific recurring dream you had?
SW: [laughs] This whole album… that's my nightmare! No… thank God… thank God, those nightmares seem to have gone away over the last decade, I no longer have those intense nightmares that I used to have.
Maybe you've finally syphoned them off onto your last few albums.
SW: Yeah! I've got them on record! No, I can't remember what the nightmares were like and I don't want to remember what they were like. Awful.

You've said in the past that you've suffered from depression and Brian Gascoigne [musician on The Drift] said something in an interview which I found very illuminating about your process. He said that you believe that in order to convey strong emotion in a song you feel that you have to be experiencing this emotion. Now to me, this sounds like an unhealthy way to be. Would you agree?
SW: I would agree, except it's not true. I never write autobiographically first of all. Maybe what he was referring to is that a lot of the time when we were mapping things out – I had to go over to his place to use his machine before I got my own machine – to sketch things out on his computer. I just think he read the situation wrong. He assumed something merely because I wanted a certain feeling to happen in the music. I would say: [voice becomes stressed out] "Can't you understand what I'm saying here, it has to be done this way. It has to be done like this." [claps hands together violently] And I think he might have been feeling the strain a bit and interpreted what I was doing as a personal thing, but it isn't.
So you don't even go through these extreme emotions by proxy like a method actor would?
SW: No, not at all. My periods of depression were the worst in the 1970s; I don't really have a lot of that now.
So the fact that you're not particularly prolific has nothing to do with the fact that you find the recording of this material particularly draining or unpleasant?
SW: No, it's just getting the quality of it up. It's just about having the patience to watch the thing unfold and sometimes you just get tired and give up.
So because of the song 'Zercon', I need to clear my computer's browsing history. I was looking up every word or phrase I didn't recognise on Google, including the term "grostulating". I'm still not sure what it means but I had to stop researching as I was in danger of getting sucked into a swirling vortex of male pornography and grot.
SW: Hmmm… [pause] Oh yes! Grostulating! I use this word about Mikael Gorbachev and a summit he had with Ronald Reagan. The idea in the song was about reaching different kinds of heights and those two were having a summit, so that's why I put them together. I'm kind of as fuzzy as you about what it specifically means but I think generally speaking it has something to do with being buggered.
The photos that I saw suggested that if one is grostulating it means that one is fully ready to receive a guest, if you take my meaning. I read a fantastic article by David Toop recently in which he said that he could imagine a world where Big Louise: The West End Show was bigger than Queen: The Musical and that your influence would be felt on the X Factor, where hapless contestants would be made to try and tackle 'Cue'. Does it annoy you or do you find it frustrating that your stock isn't perhaps bigger, that you haven't reached an even wider audience for your most recent work?
SW: Well, I know my stock isn't going to get that big, and I've accepted that fact. Every time I make a record I accumulate a few more people and it's a slow process but I've got enough people now to at least justify the expense. So as long as I can justify the expense of the records I make that's enough, because I don't know what else I should be doing. Well, I don't know what else I could do that would make me as fulfilled.
After conceiving Bish Bosch in your head, which were the most difficult sounds to actualise?
SW: Pretty much through power of description and original imagining, it wasn't a nightmare to try and get those guys to give me the sounds I needed. The smallest thing that took the most time to get right was the little 'squeaker' [a sound similar to a Victorian car horn or squeaky dog toy] on 'Corps De Blah', because each time, it wasn't at the right pitch, it took hours just to get the right pitch… but after that it worked a treat.

You've moved a lot more into the realm of using electronics on this album. Why is that?
SW: On this album it was about 50/50. We've used a lot more electronics than we've ever done before but this time it was about getting the right mix. You can do it for some things but not others. People always ask about big string sections versus big synthesisers. There is nothing… There is nothingnothing that gives you the power or the resonance of strings. A machine cannot do it. It can be loud and everything but it lacks that human touch. And that goes for all of the acoustic or electrically amplified 'traditional' instruments that we use. There are certain times when you have to have that feeling and other times when it's not important.
But there's a big difference between synthesisers and samplers though. I take it you haven't resorted to sampling sounds?
SW: No. If I was going to make a totally electronic record like, for example, one by Burial which you mentioned before, I wouldn't worry about it. I would make a totally electronic record – which I may still do. But for this record I wanted an organic feel which is why I use live musicians.
I know that BJ Cole is famous in his own right and an in demand musician, but I was wondering, do you not get any of your many celebrity musician supporters queuing up to be on your albums? I mean you're very much a musician's musician, among other things.
SW: [laughs] No! I think people would dread it. I cannot imagine why they'd want to put themselves through it.
It's a shame because I have this idea of you doing a version of Bonzo Dog Doodah Band's 'Intro/Outro' with you saying: "And here's Thom Yorke on rhythmical meat. Nice punching there Thom. And here's Jarvis Cocker hitting a large wooden box with a brick. Drop it like it's hot, Jarvis…"
SW: Ha ha ha! That's a funny idea, hmmm, I'll have to give it some thought... Listen, I don't mind calling anyone in, I don't mind calling any instrument in, I don't mind calling in anything if it's in service of the lyric. I will do anything the lyric calls for. If it calls for Mantovani strings I'll have Mantovani strings…
…but so far it's just that the lyrics have called for more abstract things.
SW: Exactly. So far the lyrics haven't called for me to get in touch with Shirley Bassey.
Why are people acting like the concept of flagpole sitting, the central image in 'Zercon', is really arcane? Didn't David Blaine, the popular, idiot's magician of choice perform an act of what was essentially flagpole sitting in Times Square, for a global audience of millions, ten years ago?
SW: David Blaine is the modern equivalent of Saint Simeon Stylites; that is true. Him and the guys who climb up very tall buildings… human fly characters, they are the modern flagpole sitters, you're right.
In the song 'The Day The Conducator Died', the overall vibe I'm getting (from the protagonist Nicolae Ceaușescu) is one of bewilderment from beyond the grave that his people turned on him, one of outrage that he wasn't allowed time to compose himself before he was shot, and one of anger that he was buried on the other side of a path from Elena, not next to her. I'm not trying to tempt you saying something outrageous here, I'm just curious, is there any part of you that feels any empathy for these people like Stalin, Mussolini or Ceaușescu?
SW: [emphatically] Well, no. I kind of felt something for Mussolini's girlfriend Clara because she was just so… I don't know… taken in. But no, I don't feel anything for those guys because they're dangerous clowns. It's hard to feel any sympathy for them. Well, there is one thing you can say about them… a lot of dictators were artists earlier in life but they were artists who went wrong in certain areas. They had one bad night… [thumps palm heavily and laughs] and that was it!
It's weird with Ceaușescu. Do you think he genuinely had no idea how much the people despised him at the end?
SW: Of course, it came as a total surprise to him because he was totally deluded. They all live like that and then the end comes… the brutal end… and they can't believe it. It happens to all of them. "What went wrong?! What did I do wrong?!"
When I told people that I was coming to do this interview, you wouldn't believe the number of men who wanted to come with me, to hold my dictaphone…
SW: [laughs with mock lasciviousness] Did they now…
They wanted to be my 'assistant' or whatever – all of them guys. Do you feel like you've finally, after all these years, swapped one bunch of obsessive fans for another? Screaming teenage girls for angst-ridden middle aged men who read too many books on existentialism?
SW: I don't know. The Barbican thing came as a real surprise to me. When I looked round the audience I didn't see anyone from the 1960s. I mean, the people who were round in the 1960s hate my music! It was a pretty good mix of people but I don't think there was anyone over 50.
Do you still have the key to the Quarr Abbey where you sought refuge with monks at the height of your fame? When was the last time you were tempted to make good on the Abbot's offer of an open door; the offer of sanctuary?
SW: No, I lost the key years ago.
Did you study Gregorian chant there?
SW: Yeah, I did, but I couldn't stay too long unfortunately. We had obsessive fans and they discovered the monastery and they were ringing the bell the whole time. We were plagued. And eventually I had to leave. But I learned a little bit from this guy who was there. It was a phase I was going through, but an interesting one.
Are you still reaching for something that you haven't attained yet… do you have the equivalent of a Finnegans Wake that you're still aiming at?
SW: No. Well, I'm probably not going to attempt these language things again, but I'm always reaching out and waiting for the next thing to occur to me. I don't know what I'm going to do next but I'll start next year in February. I'll sit down and see where it takes me.
Well, if it's like Bish Bosch or if it's a completely electronic album, or whatever it is, I can't wait to hear it.
SW: Thanks very much.
Those wanting to read more on Scott Walker should pick up The WIRE related anthology of essays edited by Rob Young, No Regrets which includes the David Toop essay mentioned above. Read more Scott Walker interviews at Rock's Backpages

From Pop To The Avant Garde? Scott Myths Which Need Debunking, by David Peschek

Another decade, another Scott Walker record – except, for someone widely thought of as a recluse, and whose recording process involves painstaking longeurs – a kind of pensionable Kevin Shields – his work-rate seems to be increasing. Or maybe this is just one of the myths about Scott that's all-too-easy to debunk.
In 2000, preparing for Meltdown, he told me with a wicked glint in his eye that "people might die" waiting for his new album. From Climate of Hunter in 1984 to Tilt in 1995, there was silence, a silence which filled gradually with rumours, conjecture, stillborn collaborations – oh yes, and Scott's Orson Welles moment (well, one of them) – his brief appearance in a mid-80s ad for Britvic orange juice

But since Tilt, there have been his cameo on Nick Cave's soundtrack for To Have And To Hold in 1996, the soundtrack for Leos Carax's Pola X in 1999, the two songs written for Ute Lemper's album Punishing Kiss in 2000, his curation of the Meltdown festival in 2000, We Love Life, the album he produced for Pulp in 2001, his own The Drift in 2006, the ballet score And Who Shall Go To The Ball, And What Shall Go To The Ball? the following year, the concert Drifting And Tilting (in which Scott was involved but didn't perform) in 2008, and now, in 2012, Bish Bosch – its title very possibly an allusion to/joke about – amongst other things – its maker's work rate and perfectionism.
But it isn't just his work rate that needs to be examined...
There's the idea of old Scott – ballad singing Scott, crooner Scott, teen heart-throb Scott – and later Scott. Rubbish. Certainly, the Walker Brothers sold more records than the Beatles in 1966 – sales figures hardly matched by their swansong album Nite Flights (1978) – whose opening quartet of songs (the first Scott had written since being crushed by the commercial failure of Scott 4 and 'Til The Band Comes In) are generally heralded as the lift-off point of Scott's, ahem, avant garde, phase. To be crass, it's like being asked to believe that one of those perfectly nice boys from One Direction turned into a composite of John Zorn, Diamanda Galas, Ligeti and Sunn 0))). I mean, really…
Exhibit A: 'The Plague' (b-side of 'Jacky', 1967) – listen particularly from 2.46 when the strings drop out and mostly it's just percussion and The Voice – this wouldn't be out of place on track 5 of Bish Bosch, 'Epizootics!' (Epizootics [from the Greek]: 'a disease that appears as new cases in a given animal population, during a given period, at a rate that substantially exceeds what is "expected" based on recent experience').
Besides – you could transpose snatches of lyric from anything from 'Archangel' (which dates back to the first Walker Brothers period) to any number of songs from the solo albums ('Angels Of Ashes': "There's no starting or stopping…/ well that's alright for some who can hang the absurd on their wall/ If your blind hands can't grope through these measureless waters you'll fall/ You've been following patterns and fleeting sensations too long/ and the fullness that fills up the pulse of durations is gone…') onto any of the later, 'experimental' albums.
Then we come to the idea that the early Seventies 'MOR' albums are rubbish... Well, yes and no. Arbiters of the far-flung reaches of the experimental do tend to dismiss them – as if that weren't reason enough to go back and listen to them again. Scott himself is also in print as being less than fond of them, although – as with Tom Waits, albeit to a lesser extent – you do have to take what he says about certain things with a pinch of salt. When I prompted him about some of the tracks listed below, he admitted they weren't entirely without merit.
Exhibit B: Scott …Sings Songs from his TV Series (1969) is worth owning on vinyl for the gatefold sleeve alone. On it Scott's pictured wearing the key to his room in Quarr Abbey, a monastery on the Isle of Wight where he retreated from the white noise clusterfuck of teen-pop stardom to study Gregorian Chant – an obvious influence on his 'late' vocal style.
Exhibit C: 'The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti', from The Moviegoer, an album of film themes made by a devoted cineaste – partly for the tension between spare and lush redolent of both the 60s solo records and the late work, but mainly because it's gorgeous:
Exhibit D: Randy Newman's 'Cowboy', sung by Scott on his first album of 1973, Any Day Now (harking back to his version of Newman's 'I Don't Wanna Hear It Anymore' from the Walker Brothers 1965 debut Take It Easy With… and forward from that to the Midnight Cowboyish hustler anti-hero of Scott's own 'Thanks For Chicago Mr James', from 1970's 'Til The Band Comes In).

Exhibit E: 'Someone Who Cared' (from the MOR-countryish Stretch, 1973 – possibly his least loved record), written by Del Newman, who also produced the album - could be an out-take from Scott 3:

15 Essential Scott Walker Songs

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