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Scott Walker: My SXSW 2007 Legacy

On March 13th my world became a little bit weirder and a little bit richer as I watched Scott Walker: 30 Century Man. It tells the story of an American boy named Noel BrelEngel, who heads to Los Angeles and joins a trio called The Walker Brothers. The Walkers have minor success in the early Sunset strip scene, but then head to Jolly Old England where their success is of a much larger and much more lucrative variety.

There they seem to tap into a post-war ennui psychology that ties the bourgeois-making-tea-staring- out-the-tenement-development that defined Britain. Listening to the music you hear the heavy reverb, the Phil Spector influence overwhelming the headphones. Unmissable is the driving bassline and Scott’s present, urging baritone.

Now, to this point in the film, I was intrigued that I had never heard of this band.

The Break Up

Eventually the Walker Brothers ( neither Walker, nor brothers, discuss ) break up and Scott starts releasing edgy matrial. English translations of the chansons of Jacques Brel about the seedy side ( a decade ahead of Lou Reed ) of life and, somehow, his core audience sticks with him.

Yet it was clear that is not thinking of this being the limit, Wikipedia notes Walker studying Gregorian chant, dissonances, and other elements that made his work completely indescribable.

Scott proceeds to do a “Doors on Ed Sullivan” and continues to be booked as a pop singer, but performs his exploratory and, occasionally shocking material. His emotional state and distaste for fame push him into being a near recluse, separating his albums by intervals of whole decades.

The film chronicles Scott’s unworldly use of vibrato and analyzes his harmony content as being a counterpoint between dissonance and implied resolution. It’s eerie, it’s creepy, it’s disconcerting and the lyrical content, swimming in vibrato hints of tortured nightmares of a hellish landscape.

In short, music to play Silent Hill to.

Lyrics like:

And I used to be a citizen I never felt the pressure I knew nothing of the horses nothing of the thresher.

Or

Do you swear that the breastbone was bare? I saw it, and made my escape. Do you remember what happened to most of the children? You were in charge of the rolling stock.

Or

“I’m the only one left alive…aaahhh….live. I’m the only one left alive.”

Make you know that this person is doing something dramatically different to the thing that you call “song”. He’s somewhere beyond “song”.

The film footage shows vivid scenes of a percussionist beating pork loin in a syncopated beat with his bear hands. This providing core background to Scott’s vocals.

The impressionistic feel of horror and modernity and convenience and horror really work together in the track “30 Century Man”.

See the dwarves and see the giants Which one would you choose to be? And if you can’t get that together Here’s the answer, here’s the key You can freeze like a 30 Century Man Like a 30 Century Man I’ll save my bread and take it with me ‘Til a hundred years or so Shame you won’t be there to see me Shakin’ hands with Charles De Gaulle Play it cool and Saranwrap all you can Be a 30 Century Man You can freeze like a 30 Century Man Like a 30 Century Man Like a 30 Century Man

Through all of this Lauren and I have started to laugh a bit about the Walker dramatics. It’s a good laugh to drum arhythmically and recite the grocery list with Walkerian vibrato:

Tiiiiilllll a slap moooook slap Cereal Cereal cereallllll Salad Dressing!

But as I think about the miages and scapes I know that this man is doing Art and it disturbs and jars me, and that is rather rare.

Scott and Popular Music

I think under Walker’s presence I can understand the baritone over-vibrato’d stylings of Andrew Eldritch of the Sisters of Mercy or Ian Curtis of Joy Division. Their idol was this man, this man out of phase with the pop music which bore him into a fame he didn’t really seem to care for.

Video Game

I definitely hear Walker’s influence in Japanese video games of the late 90’s and even today. Silent Hill has got to be the most Walkerian soundtrack ever. Walker used rusty wheels as an instrument, their metal grinding metal. I hear it in the palette of Silent Hill. I hear it in the ambient mood shifts as the Silent Hill characters emerge from the other world, where neutral, but not hospitable], long tones re-calibrate but do not release.

It was an accident that we walked into that movie, it happened to be on when we left SXSWi, but I believe that Lauren and I both feel that our sonic palette is now ever so much more wide.

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