On Saturday 15th November I was lucky enough to attend a showing of 'Drifting and Tilting: The Songs of Scott Walker', at Barbican, London. Without doubt, this was the most profound experience I've ever had as a member of any audience. I'd waited so very long to see something of Walker's work live. I intend to write something about this in due course; when I can find the right words. Others were there also, of course; some have tried to say how they felt. I've not found much, though, I have to say; and I've been looking. There are a few short bits of crude pirate film on youtube; one or two pretty piecemeal reviews. I've even offered my criticism of one particularly bad one. Here's an example of one which tries to do more than either describe what took place or go into all that Scott Walker recluse rubbish:
Drifting and Tilting - The Songs of Scott Walker
London Barbican Theatre, 13 November 2008
There were rumours, whispers - with Scott there always are. Ghosts and apparitions, of a man who sadly failed to materialise. However, the spectre of the man loomed large, haunting the Barbican like a celestial entity, the collective consciousness of the assembled masses attempting to will him into existence, yet failing to do so. Scott the recluse, Scott the enigma, Scott the myth and Scott the legend. There are so many Scott’s in this world and yet none of them tangible, none of them solidified, all of them dissipating like ectoplasm or liquifying, before turning into ethereal steam. That’s what listening to Scott these days is like, all idiosyncratic emotions, vibrating, and dissonant shards of industrial gothic noise. Emanating from the visionary mind, more than equal to William Blake’s visionary poetry and nightmarish painted visions of heaven and hell. However instead of art and poetry, Scott the audiophonic explorer paints a canvass of heavy industrialised and dissonant shards of sound concrete, sheets of twitchy glitch, and pig carcass percussion.
The recorded voice now neutral, non-histrionic, non-emotive, located and yet dislocated, temporal, captured in one take, no second chances, a once in a lifetime performance, lost amongst the loud and heavy texture of an uneasy sound in perpetual metamorphosis. As Scott says, he turns it up and turn up loud, as he never has any intention of ever listening to his performance again. So tonight is a rare thing indeed, the palpable sense of anticipation hangs heavy in the air, both oppressive and yet strangely intoxicating.
Although tonight’s performance is populated by an all-star, interstellar line-up, Scott is undeniably the satellite they orbit - his intangible presence seemingly sucking them in, like dark matter at the centre of a black hole. This is Scott as curator, his mind an arts-lab, drawing his inspiration from art-house cinema and legendary existentialist directors such as Ingmar Bergman and surrealist visionaries such as Alejandro Jodorowsky. Scott has assembled some of the finest minds from the backgrounds of stage and theatre design, which have enabled him to create a three-dimensional hallucinatory mind-fuck of avant-garde theatrical concrete. Attempting to put the experience into words, they can’t help but fail to do justice to the sheer spectacle of the performance. This was simply a stunning and unprecedented ‘event’, more art installation than pop concert. Although Scott has previously stated that he was looking to create a music that he had never been heard before, by drawing heavily upon material from ‘The Drift’ and ‘Tilt’ albums, tonight he has achieved just that, and so much more. The only signifier of what was to come would be ‘The Electrician’ from ‘Night Flites’, but even then it was only an inkling of what he was to later unleash from the brave new world of his ever-fertile imagination, in fact he has now gone so far out and further and further still, that one wonders if there is now anywhere left for him to go?
It starts with the futuristic stage screens opening to reveal the now bearded figure of Jarvis Cocker casually reading a newspaper as he simultaneously performs ‘Cossacks Are’, and it ends with Damon Albarn at the pulpit, performing ‘Farmer in the City’ as a hellfire sermon. In between these two former brit-pop giants, there are however cameos and guests appearances aplenty, amongst them former Virgin Prune frontman Gavin Friday, extraordinary Irish baritone Owen Gilhooly, Dot Allison, Nigel Richards and Michael Henry, who between them perform stunning versions of ‘Jesse’, ‘Cue’,’ Buzzers’ and many more. However it is Henry who gets closest to the voice of Scott himself, with his rich dynamic baritone now reduced to a neutral blur. This then, is also the most avant-garde of theatrical performances, effortlessly creating a palpable sense of tension, that at times, is just too uncomfortable, far too frightening.
The audience are perpetually shocked, or stunned into silence by the enormity of events, unable to move, and unable to breathe, suffocated by a form of psychic claustrophobia. In turns both fascinated and repelled by what they are witnessing, unsure of whether to clap, therefore acknowledging what they have seen, and frequently it has to be said, as in the case of a boxer punching the carcass of a dead pig, not too sure of what it was that they really did see anyway? Every intake of breath is a ‘what the hell?’ or rather more frequently a ‘what the fuck?’
And yet the simultaneous absence and presence of Scott himself is felt throughout, this after all is his show, and it has to be said what kind of show it actually is, is rather difficult to explain, so one can only begin to wonder how on Earth it was conceived in his imagination. Therefore, it is also important to mention the wonderful, and it has to be said very frightening set designs of Sam Collins, which coupled with Alleta Collins disturbing choreography and Ann-Christin Rommem’s superb stage design have created this incredible event. But ultimately there is only one Scott, ably assisted in the execution of his bizarre ideas by long-term producer Peter Walsh, Scott’s own sonic manipulation of this terrifying avant-industrial form of orchestral-concrete sound production which was both highly disturbing and totally thrilling. This then finally leaves us with the temporal Scott, a postmodern apparition of a past, present and future still yet to be explored.
Posted on 15 November 2008 by Keith Haworth