Decoding dissonant language in Bish Bosch
Revisiting Scott Walker’s fourteenth and final solo album
For us still more than willing listeners we bared witness to an even more intentional and extreme dropping out of the spotlight into the gutter of the dissonant avant-garde.
Bish Bosch is epic and weird, wonderful and frightening — the zenith of the metamorphosis of fallen star
A pinnacle of rot, conducted and deconstructed as a pigswill opera of offal and wheezing orifices, cryptic and explicit words, and meticulously constructed ugly tableaus.
It’s still its own world within a world, fed by the lingering shadows of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg.
It’s about the ageing body.
It was about his body. Our bodies.
Scum and the streets.
Castrations and mutilations.
The voice is still undeniably his, but even lower and more stretched and twisted than what came before it.
Drums and guitars and other rock music identifiers exist — it’s true — but the decaying roots of the city is the dissonance of the turn-of-the century compositions by Stravinsky et al — the catalyst for audiences to applaud, hiss and laugh at. Or perhaps all three?
Walker’s trilogy of Tilt (1995), Drift (2006) and Bish Bosch (2012) charted his progression into a black hole surrounded by deep, dank waters previously traversed and tasted by a tradition of music that tried to find different ways to articulate the same old misery of the world.
Wagner operas, Mahler symphonies, the brutal cabaret of Jacques Brel, several sides of David Bowie, the vocal terror of Diamanda Galás, the aggressive anti-music of no wave, all honing in and submerged and bathing within the hideously bleak underbelly of a society trying to survive.
Like David Lynch, Walker was an artist that people wanted to ‘get’. Beyond the web of references and hyperlinks to texts of the past, both from far away and the not so far, Bish Bosch is spectacular on the surface without needing to have a clue about what is going on or what is being sung.
Beyond the existential despair, the politics of Nicolae Ceaus, fascination with illness, and general disgust at the human body, in between the layers of nods to notable literature lynchpins — particularly Beckett and in his fascination with the passing of time — and Paul Celan’s Death Fugue, as well as the music of post-war European modernism such as György Ligeti and Iannis Xenakis, beneath the stars and constellations, deep down within the rot and decay and ageing bodies of dictators and jesters and paupers and pop stars, there is also a desire to emote humour and to be humorous.
This dark music can — still — be very funny. We are allowed to laugh, I think. I’m sure Walker would have welcomed it.
Yet, at the same time, the world of Bish Bosch, like Finnegan’s Wake or Pound’s Cantos before it, continuously creates itself to the point of perceptual collapse, and thereby implores or forces us as listeners to trip and fall numerous times over its lengthy runtime.
But we should embrace these difficulties, too. And from whatever vantage we find ourselves looking from (most likely from below with the mice and rats) we should hail and admire and likely be a little repulsed by the black emperor and the twisted and twisting decaying language, while being both blinded and slowly bled out (think Kafka’s In the Penal Colony) by the eternal orbiting star.
See you don’t bump your head while plucking feathers from a swan song.
Blip, boost, bust, brother.
It’s dense, tense.
Pain is not alone.
Don’t let the room of mice bite
Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch was released by 4AD in 2012.