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Scary Balls

October 1, 2007

I’ve just heard Scott Walker’s new music on The Worried Waltz radio show: a twenty-five minute instrumental suite, scored for dancers and sensibly named And Who Shall Go To The Ball? And What Shall Go To The Ball?.

To me, on first listening, the really remarkable thing is that Scott Walker, having built a career on being a Voice, can now still sound exactly like Scott Walker for twenty-five minutes without once opening his mouth. It’s as if all the previous times when we were hearing Scott sing, we were really just hearing the contents of his brain being set in motion, and the same information can now just as well be expressed through instrumentation alone, through scraping strings and slabs of percussion.

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And yes, I really do think this is the sound of a brain ticking over, although as with The Drift, the music switches unpredictably between brainy and visceral. Which is why, without having seen Rafael Bonachelas’s choreographed piece for which the music was commissioned, I can imagine how these sounds would be suited to dancers. Scott’s already spoken about the pieces that make up the albums Tilt and The Drift as being not so much songs, as compositions made up of blocks of sound — coming from another composer, this could seem like an unnecessarily visual way of thinking about music, but this being Scott Walker, I think of those blocks as being more directly bodily. Having seen and heard the slab of meat used as percussion on The Drift‘s masterpiece, Clara, it’s hard to banish thoughts of flesh, and vile bodiliness. Evelyn Waugh’s use of the term “vile bodies”, for that matter, was to describe masses of dancers at parties, so the question about not just who, but what will go to the ball is a good one.

The other obvious first reaction to And Who Shall Go To The Ball… is that, like The Drift, it’s genuinely scary. Bodiliness is supplied not just by thinking of the music as a dance piece, but by having the horrific potential of those bodies of sound shoved into our ears. The later movements are arrangements of percussive clamour and silences — again, it’s the deliberate arrangement, the control behind the noisy brutality, that is really unnerving. But it’s the opening sputtering electronic sounds — the sound of a telephone signal strangling itself with a telephone chord, perhaps — that really terrify.  Whatever kind of ball this is, I bloody well want to be home by midnight. 

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