PREVIEW: Bish Bosch: Ambisymphonic

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

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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