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PREVIEW: Bish Bosch: Ambisymphonic
Joe Kennedy , March 22nd, 2013 05:33

We get a first taste of Scott Walker's new multi-channel sonic experience ahead of its premiere in Australia later this year

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Many who heard Scott Walker’s variously unnerving, abrasive, side-splitting and poetically dense Bish Bosch around the time of its release in December last year are still in the process of wrapping their heads around the album’s unique challenge. Nevertheless, British mixed-media artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, in collaboration with long-term Walker co-producer Peter Walsh and engineering consultants Arup, have already started to explore new ways of encountering the record.

Slated for a world premiere in the Sydney Opera House at this year’s Vivid Sydney festival (May 24 – June 2), Forsyth and Pollard’s piece uses special spatialised mixes of four of Bish Bosch’s tracks – ‘Tar’, ‘Pilgrim’, ‘Epizootics’ and ‘Pimple’ – to produce an intimidatingly immersive listening experience. For the final version of the installation, Arup will construct a geodesic dome of multidirectional speakers, but the sound lab beneath their London headquarters has allowed for Walsh’s new mixes to be premiered.

Although roughly five times smaller than the space which the final version will occupy, the sound lab nevertheless gives substantial insight into what visitors to Sydney can expect. After a short video link-up with programmer Terence Caulkins in New York, the lights go out and the screeches and metal scrapings of ‘Tar’ come at the small audience from various directions. After the immediate disconcertion, the overwhelming impression is that it sounds absolutely brilliant, with the subtleties of Walker’s famous baritone being particularly well-served by the set-up.

I’ve been told by Pollard that I can lift my feet from the rest on the high stool I’ve been allocated to experience a sense of weightlessness during some of the less angular, drone-based passages of the compositions. As ever, I feel a little sceptical of these claims at first, which means that, as ever, I’m taken completely by surprise when they turn out to be true. Even at the reduced volumes necessitated by the scaled-down space (the bass in particular will have a far greater presence in Sydney), Bish Bosch: Ambisymphonic produces powerful somatic effects.

However, these are not (as those who know the original album itself might expect) uncomfortable. Especially during the contorted bop riffs of ‘Epizootics’, perhaps Bish Bosch’s most rhythmically claustrophobic piece, immersion in this absurdist sound-world is invigorating rather than overwhelming or disturbing. Getting the chance to poke about in the niches and recesses of Walker and Walsh’s arrangements, however nightmarish they might at times seem, turns out ultimately to be bizarrely uplifting.

It’s unclear as to whether or not the piece will find its way back to the UK after Sydney, but one would certainly hope so. As it stands, Australian readers and anyone else who finds themselves in New South Wales at the beginning of the summer would be well-advised to go along to this.

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zadeh
Mar 22, 2013 11:21am

"As it stands, Australian readers and anyone else who finds themselves in New South Wales at the beginning of the summer would be well-advised to go along to this."

Actually, that's the beginning of the winter down here...

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Joe K
Mar 22, 2013 12:22pm

That's a very good point, Zadeh, and sorry for the seasonal mix-up. Having never left Europe (it's a flying, and stinginess, thing) I tend to forget hemispheric inversions...

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DROMADA
Mar 22, 2013 2:13pm

Petulant point #2:

There is no song called 'Pimple' on the record. There is a song called 'Dimple', however.

YOU'RE FUCKING WELCOME MATE

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Joe K
Mar 22, 2013 2:52pm

Quite right. I know this, because I wrote a review of the album four months ago. However, sometimes when you're writing something up at six in the morning, in a brief window between several other jobs, you make a mistake. Still, it's good that there are people around to spot these lapses. It makes me feel safe.

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Jeff
Mar 22, 2013 5:40pm

Kinda wish I lived over there.

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