Tilt: A voyage into the unknown
by James Paton
It all began on a dark and wintry night...
A deep thunderous roar of strings started build up, and with them, an uneasy feeling of nervous anxiety slowly washed over me like a wave, it was indescribably intense and deeply uncomfortable. I began to become conscious of how quickly my heart was beating, pounding away incessantly and sending ripples throughout my chest-rattling my ribs. And as I tried in vain to compose myself, I realised that I had in fact stopped breathing, though for how long I did not know. A voice as immense as any mountain erupted from out of nowhere to fill the room, and instill my mind with images so startling in their clarity that I felt sure that must have been asleep, dreaming of something that, once awake, I would know deep down to be so incredibly profound, and yet whose meaning would remain frustratingly out of reach to me. Dreaming of a lurid world of light and shadow, a world so fascinating and yet at times completely mundane, filled with kitchen sink dramas and everyday disturbances that belie the world of darkness that exists behind its curtains, and outside of its windows. A world that once entered into, can never be forgotten...
Welcome to the world of Scott Walker.
The album in question, is of course Tilt. The first entry into what would be a trilogy of unconnected albums of dark, disturbing and yet utterly mind blowing material that would cement their composer's place in the annals of history forevermore. Tilt is undeniably a modern masterpiece, an album so far out of its own time that it confirmed what some of us already knew, Noel Scott Engel is a composer of the highest caliber, and an artist of such studious dedication to his work. In 1995, when the album was released, the 30th Century Man gave us our very first 21st century record.
Combining elements of industrial music (most prominently on "The Cockfighter") with minimalist and avant-garde forms, Walker's reverb drenched, other worldly voice takes centre stage-much as it did on his early records-but instead of being backed by lush orchestral arrangements, it hovers precariously over carefully constructed blocks of sound that somehow manage to turn their repetitive nature into a highly positive aspect of the album's nine compositions. Songs that, though generally dark and brooding in nature, assume a dream-like quality that captivates listeners and binds them into a transient state. Moods rise and fall with the most subtle changes in instrumentation, as out of discord and despair, hope arises like a phoenix before plummeting back down into the depths once more. The compositions feel fragile, human, as though the slightest touch could knock them off balance at any moment, but listeners await a disaster that never comes with bated breath. Walker has created something as vicarious as it is beautiful, and it simply must be experienced by any serious music lover.
The lyrics to Tilt are just as incomprehensible as the music would first appear to be, but they will continue to remain that way, at least in my own experience they have. Again though, this a feature that many would construe as a negative aspect of the album, but personally I find that in fact the opposite is true, as it lends each of the nine compositions such an air of mystery that they become almost as enigmatic as the man who created them. The opening track, "Farmer in the City," concerns Italian film maker Pier Paolo Passolini-of course, Walker gives us that one, but beyond that I'm stumped. I could potentially look them up, but I wouldn't want to; partially because I would be afraid that some of the compositions may lose some of their considerable power, but also because I am quite happy to let the music and the words take me away on a voyage. I don't know where I'm going, I don't want to- the destination isn't particularly important anyway, only the journey is. Whilst some older fans may feel disappointed that Walker's lyrics are no longer quite as beautiful and poetic as they once were, they really don't have to be, not only would it not fit with the now dark and foreboding music, but the imagery is still there regardless, and it is as strong as ever. I remember Frank Zappa using the phrase "movie for your ears," and that is exactly what Tilt is; dim the lights, turn up the amp and savour an experience unlike anything you will have heard before.
Incredibly, Tilt is an album whose power never ceases to amaze me, nor does it diminish over time-not even slightly. When I started this piece, I was recollecting the very first time that I heard it, and I remember quite vividly when that first play through came to an end. I had stopped breathing again as the final line was sung, the music giving way to absolute silence and leaving myself staring wild eyed in the direction of where it once was. After taking a few moments to take in what I had heard, I immediately turned off the lights and started the album over once again, the anxiety that had gripped me so fervently the first time was still there but now it was matched in me by an intense excitement, brought on by the realisation that I had just discovered something truly special and that it was invariably going to become my new favourite album.
I was right. Even on more recent listens, I find that as the delicate "Rosary" fades out to conclude the album, I await it with bated breath, along with the now-familiar combination of trepidation and utter joy. There simply is not an experience like it anywhere on Earth for me, nor do I ever foresee that changing. Tilt is at once so frightening, beautiful and electrifying, it is anything and everything that a listener could ever want it to be and the unattainable benchmark by which all others should be judged.
As I write this now, the days are growing ever shorter as the nights become long and cold, I find myself in need of a drink to warm my body, and a voyage into the unknown to pacify my soul. Just like Alice who came before me, seeking adventure, so brazen, so bold, Tilt-my white rabbit- is leading me off down some blackened hole.
Also see our article on Scott Walker's The Drift
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