| || |
With the news that Scott Walker has passed away, I have been surprised by the division of fans of and writers on Scott Walker's early and later solo work. For me, they are intrinsically linked. You can see the development of the solo artist through his albums Scott (1967) to Bish Bosch (2012), with the album of Jacques Brel covers (1981) being an a kind of fulcrum. This was someone who was exploring the power of their voice and its presence via the microphone, the significance of arrangement and orchestration, the importance of pace, the power of collaboration [with Wally Stott, SunnO))))] and interpretation [Brel], and the overarching trajectory of lyrics in relation to sound and form. From dark, personal emotional journeys to detached political abstraction, Scott Walker understood the relationship of sound and words, making him a songwriter of the most innovative and explorative kind. His soundtracks explore the image/music nexus, but he didn't seem to find a similar power in those projects. Words like 'enigmatic' underestimate the intelligence of the man and his commitment to his art.
My journey began with my friend Kim Williams giving me a tape of the Julian Cope compilation 'Fire Escape in the Sky - The God Like Genius of Scott Walker' in the mid 1990s. As I listened to the tape on a loop driving around Sicily in my friend Giovanni Ferarrio's Peugeot, my opinion of it changed from an early assessment of 'classic crooner with great orchestration' to transformative musical journeys. It is hard to describe the impact of this music on me then, a difficult personal time where my sensitivity was off the score, but there was a link for me that was hard to explain. Perhaps it was my classical background mixed with the songwriting I was doing at that time, but i went on a mission to find all the albums I could. Then 'Tilt' was released and the journey began again, as it has with every solo album that came out after that.
Rather than describing all my favourite tracks (that would be a book), covers he did, covers others did of him, and finding him in the music of others, I have decided to make a personal note.
I was so intrigued with the string arrangements in the Scott series of albums, I experimented with sampling them to use in my "Lux Mammoth'' project around 2002, with sections of 'Such a Small Love' appearing on the album Herz Circus and in numerous live gigs. Listening now, those microtonal arrangements, even the glissandi's in tracks like 'The Amorous Humphrey Plugg' seemed to somehow make their way into some o my works. Arranging 'Clara' (from The Drift, 2006) for my new music ensemble Decibel's concert Pretty Things in 2011 was another turning point for me with his music. In collaboration with ensemble member Stuart James, who so carefully transcribed this piece from the recording as best he could, I arranged it for solo bass clarinet and ensemble, realising the voice was simply not replaceable, but acknowledging the risk of removing the crux of the work, the lyrics. I decided to make our version about the music and it's nuance, choosing bass clarinet to perform his voice. We lovingly recreated the tape effects and meat punching in the performance space, and reciting the spoken words at the end of that performance was a very intense moment for me, where my love of this music and having a brief moment in it created a new level of understanding and appreciation that enabled me to fall in love with this music all over again.
Scott Walker was my central inspiration for sonic colour, form, songwriting and the use of the voice. He demonstrated to me how music can address politics in the most poetic of ways. It's only now he has gone and I am listening to his albums one after the other, as we do in moments like this, just like going though photos of a loved one after they have passed away, I realise how deeply they have threaded into my own work, perhaps most cumulatively in my only just premiered opera, Speechless - making his death even more poignant to me personally at this time.
May many more continue to discover this incredible artist, because the greatest art just becomes more amazing with time.
[small update made 27 March 2019]
These are Cat Hope's news pages, updated as activities occur.