Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard’s highly-stylized trailer for the upcoming—and long-awaited by fans—Scott Walker album, Bish Bosch is a fascinating glimpse at the album’s unorthodox creation in the recording studio and Walker at work. It was a big deal for Walker to let cameras capture his creative process like this.
Watching the short film, the thought that came to my mind is that it’s a pity Scott Walker and Samuel Beckett never had a chance to collaborate on something… The creative terrain Walker’s music occupies has much in common with that of the author of Waiting for Godot, Krapp’s Last Tape and Endgame, but the eerie “internal monologue” nature of the vocal performance seals the deal for me.
“I was thinking about making the title refer to a mythological, all-encompassing, giant woman artist.” Scott Walker
A Hieronymous Bosch painting can’t be apprehended in a single blink of an eye. The Garden of Earthly Delights is made up of panels in parallel, with scores of tiny actions and allegorical representations teeming in every square inch of canvas. The painting is big enough to encompass heaven and hell.
Perhaps we should listen to Scott’s music in the same way we’d approach a Bosch canvas. You probably won’t understand it after one viewing, but you can become obsessed with one corner detail another until you eventually come to some understanding of how the different parts fit together and complement each other.
“It’s moving on a bit each time we go. Hopefully it’s getting nearer and nearer the kind of thing that’s in our heads. Little things are improving, a bit more focused. The style is improving.”
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), 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 which is totally honest, uncompromising and transcendent.
Scott began writing his new material around 2009, and recorded it sporadically over the following three years, while he was also involved in composing a work for the ROH2 ballet Duet for One Voice, chorographed by Aletta Collins. Unsurprisingly for a long-term exile from his native America, Bish Bosch is a great melting pot of clamouring voices and languages, swift scene-changes (the album’s geographic reach covers Denmark, the Alps, Hawaii, the ancient landscapes of Scythia, Greece and Rome, and Romania), time-travelling jump-cuts, and metaphors from medical science and molecular biology that seize you by the throat.
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. Scott’s regular co-producer Peter Walsh, and his regular core of musicians, Ian Thomas (drums), Hugh Burns and James Stevenson (guitars), Alasdair Malloy (percussion) and John Giblin (bass). Guests include trumpeter Guy Barker and pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole, who worked on three of Scott’s mid-seventies LPs. Musical director Mark Warman plays a prominent role, both as conductor and keyboardist. “If I use the big orchestra I’m using it for noises or textures, or big pillars of sound, rather than arrangements,” Walker explains, adding that the sonic richness was achieved by means of a novel recording technique. “What we did was record the drums, bass, percussion, strings and vocals in digital and analogue simultaneously. Because we knew there were a lot of silences in it, especially in something like ‘Zercon’. And in the endings – the ending of ‘Tar’, where you don’t know what’s going on. So in those spots we just cut off the analogue, and where we had the silences we just used the digital. And then we turned on the analogue again when everyone was playing together. Everything was recorded that way, so it’s about eighty per cent analogue.”
Bish Bosch will be in stores on December 3rd from 4AD .
The above painting titled “Happy Little Cthulhu” is just one of the many pieces for an upcoming (actually it starts today:September 27th - October 21st) Bob Ross-themed show at Portland’s Screaming Sky Gallery.