WTF?! Wednesdays: Scott Walker, “SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)” (2012)

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If you can make it through all 21 minutes and 43 seconds of Scott Walker’s “SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter),” you might find yourself wondering what you’d just heard. A dystopic oratorio set to music composed while under the influence of a few hits of blotter acid found in the ink well of David Lynch’s desk? The discarded libretto from a Robert Wilson production? A David Foster Wallace radio play with emphasis on even more indirect modes of communication?

You also might find yourself thinking, “Can I please have my 21 minutes and 43 seconds back?”

This track is easily one of the most screwed up pieces of music I have ever heard, putting an extra dose of “Fuck!” in the WTF?! Walker’s spooky voice reminds the ear of both Nick Cave and Antony Hegarty (Anthony & the Johnsons), but with a disturbing, unhinged quality. From what little I’ve read of Walker, he indicates that the music he writes tends to be spawned from the lyrical direction taken, so it seems that he does have a point here, even if it’s opaque to me. All I know is that he manages to employ, quite naturally, everything from Norse mythology (“Nibelung”) to schoolyard taunts (“Does your face hurt?/cuz it’s killing me”). I don’t know what’s going on here, though I’m intrigued in the same way I’m intrigued about works such as Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, and Gravity’s Rainbow.

None of this would work were it not for the music, which splatters the verbal landscape with intermittent bursts of guitar squall, percussion, baritone sax, shrieking & wobbly orchestration, and silence. Right from the creepy introductory moans, it’s a nightmarish and engrossing experience — and definitely worth the listener’s effort…at least for this listener.

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