Day 576 : THE APARTMENTS, Drift (1992) - English version

Publié le par On a Good Day


        Lien vers la version française
        Translation : Frédéric

Drift, or the time of return

Peter Walsh’s life may be as “full of farewells” as of reappearances, but I won’t talk about it … simply about his writing, based itself on the figure of the return.
Take The Goodbye Train : some of us, Walsh says, took it “for a while”. Have they lied to themselves, viewing as transitory what proved to be a final departure ? This could possibly explain - bitter irony - such “for a while”. However, at the end of the song, the sound fades out, is about to disappear … and comes back.
And still, this is the elementary state of returning, identifiable at first listen. It may even only be a resurgence, the kind of what happened in the 60s and 70s, when people focused on notions of “high” and “low”. No, what’s interesting here lies in what the song achieves, once the volume has been reinstated : it gets “further” in the mirroring effect, that is, it comes back physically, getting backwards down its initial path. Like a sail swollen by backwards wind, it is not exactly the same any longer, though it is no other.
All the other tracks undergo the same phenomenon as they’re ending, in a more sustained manner even – until the final one, which has been designed, since its very first second, on reverse mode. With guitars from outer space, a ghostly voice scattering words, What’s Left Of Your Nerve sounds like the reminiscent whiff of a time that has not (yet) existed.

Starting from a second listening to Drift – and then going on, endlessly– the listener enters the time of writing. It is a paradoxical time, which does not actually exist – neither in our reality nor in the author’s, who only knows rewriting.
In such separate, positively artificial time, which has been installed by Drift since the second listening, the figure of the “return” ceases to be a clever means to end songs, and may be revealed at any moment. One example, after 10 seconds in the record, the introduction to Goodbye Train : the sudden falling off of the bass (doubled in unison with the guitar springing up, and slightly coming unstuck from it at the end of the impact) reminds of what is called a “lucky bounce” in football; instead of bursting forward as everyone expects it to do, the ball comes back within the feet of the launched striker.
The replay will show that even before that 10th second, on two occasions at least , the guitar introduces an element of ebb in the flow. Numerous are sound elements in Drift which go back up the virtual stream that one ascribes to a song. That’s why this record is inexhaustible. Our mind perceives in a “positive” way (there was silence, now there is sound) what, in the same way, presents itself as negative. It is reversed, and yet the only place possible.

Drift is the record I have listened to the most in my whole life. However, I have only recently become aware of this idea of the “return” as a musical figure, as I was listening to something else : the Codona trilogy, by Don Cherry, Nana Vasconcelos and Collin Walcott (1978-1982, re-released by ECM in 2008).
“Where does the sound go ?” is what Cherry possibly keeps questioning, streaking the skies with his trumpet, a flute. And the other two set up to bring the music back to port, when Cherry does not deal with it himself, using a Malian instrument in between guitar and harp to turn his compositions inside out.
Where does the sound go when it has been played, does it deserve to die, shall one worry about it ? Most records do not ask such question, probably viewing as something “natural” to sacrifice the note to the moment. While nature, for instance the flight of birds which Cherry refers to when describing his own playing, keeps raising the issue of the return.
Of course, Drift does not speak the same language as the brotherly and universalist project of our three jazz-world musicians. It is, so to say, its philosophical complement, its corollary hypothesis, in which the return would not necessarily be good news. The sense of fright experienced by Walsh, his own Munch’s Scream, does not originate in the sudden awareness of irreparable loss, but in that of a past which remains an open wound, very close at hand, uneasy in the remembrance.
This side of town you had forgotten : one only had to pass by some streets to find back, empty of those who peopled it, this other part of town, intact. The city itself becomes the materialisation of time - Walsh dares the wonderful “…a hundred towns ago”, as if one hundred towns equalled one century. And in the current town, what is heartbreaking are the elements of resemblance with the past, reinforced by the certainty that behind such resemblance, there really is identity (see Verlaine, Après Trois Ans : “nothing has changed, I’ve seen all”).

In this cycle of farewell and reappearance, nothing indicates that Walsh might not have started with not being there. He wouldn’t be the one who leaves to eventually come back, he is the one who already went “there” and from time to time, goes back “there”.  Even when handing over to his accomplice Atkinson on an entire song (Mad Cow), he is the one we still hear, be it him or his echo. One must pay a tribute to Atkinson’s talent as the project manager of a record whose architect would be Walsh ; but one must also say that Drift, a record made by a man operating a reflexive return upon his own existence, is a broken mirror, and that in scattered bits and pieces, the reflections don’t care anymore if they belong to Walsh, Atkinson, you and me. Even the lyrics in the booklet are not reproduced in the same order as the tracks.
The strange manner that Walsh uses to address himself, in the most prominent sentence from the record (“you’re not lost and broken yet”) restores this splitting-up of the individual, shot through with words whispered once to his ear – but he will repeat them to himself on sleepless nights. The word, spelt out once, bounces a thousand times, neither spreading out nor being lessened. Tragedy does not lie in the author’s life, but in the everlasting balance of things
Exterior, inhuman balance. Emptied of man, like this part of town you had forgotten. The cyclic time, expressed through the figure of the return, makes the final outcome only more bitter. The fact that time adopts an helical shape, instead of remaining “in line” according to the traditional western representation, will have the whole structure crumble from a higher point. The time rings of the successive returns will fall down onto one another, as for a 9/11, and it’ll all be over.
Our youthful mistake in 1993 was to believe that Peter Milton Walsh had begotten his oeuvre out of his own sadness, loneliness and ill-luck, through the ill path taken by his life… while what was at stake was the inevitable collapsing of a life onto itself.

In the “interests” section of his Myspace page, Peter Walsh sets among his top ranks what he calls “Paul Delvaux’s sleepwalking blondes”.
Let’s have a look at L’Echo (1943) :


This painting is Drift’s virtual cover. Between Walsh and Delvaux, even more than common sensitivity, there is a similar courage in confronting “the most heartrending nostalgias”  (Paul Fierens, speaking of the Brussels painter in 1944). Above all, in these two oeuvres I deem with equal status, a strange paradox is being achieved : it is the form which is moving. The work is valued through the balance of its proportions, the elements composing it are just there to make a strong emotion exist, one which is almost abstract, working on an empty basis : mute, thoughtless, colourless (or with a colour without a name), occupying the background of the world, which the artist testifies about.
If there is anything hinting at Ancient Times in Drift, it is first and foremost this : beauty is equally circulating, from every point composing it. The constant break-through of biographical details, Walsh’s fits of anger, of disgust, of pity, are inscribed in this fine-knit material, equalising what has to be. As Delvaux achieves it, form and life support each other while opposing each other: the form takes away from life its obscene character ; and life saves the form from the trap of “quality”.
In L’Echo, a part of childhood and apprenticeship remains in the treatment of perspective. The wall on the left almost bears the touching style of an industrious beginner. In Drift, Atkinson’s and Walsh’s guitars have something of a “calligraphic” quality, presenting a regular pattern of down-strokes and up-strokes. They often resort to brief convolution (the guitars are entwined like the syllables of this sentence : Knowing you were loved …). In eastern musics, it is the same brief convolution which, being repeated, enables to stretch out time, to include choruses, to develop some songs.
One must not be mistaken : with Delvaux as well as with Walsh, all the seemingly naïve or clumsy elements, all that is, elsewhere, easy writing, is here to be credited to grandeur. Like stases in their work, surfaces common to all the other men are established. A part of primary expression subsists, so as to better hail the spectator or listener on his own ground.
For all these reasons, Peter Walsh is less of a romantic than he is a surrealist – in Delvaux’s or the Nits’ sense : somebody who builds up his feelings as well as others build up their thoughts. Mirroring the sleepwalking blondes, the powerful romantic feeling only accepts to deliver itself owing to diverse anomalies – in the points of view, in time, in the relationship between oneself and the other – , by sliding into them.

So as not to conclude …

For Peter Walsh, artistic creation is part of the business of living. At least, I think this is what he meant in All The Time In The World, a song from 1995, which was an address to his father, a former travelling salesman who had recently retired. To “such a good man”, who he soon gives up being compared to, the son asks : “what is it that makes of  us who we are ?”.
By accepting to stay alive, he let cyclic time an opportunity to operate, bringing along with it a small batch of songs, an album every now and then, a handful of live appearances. This time has come back : in a few days, Peter Walsh will be among us : of such news we must rejoice.

Peter Walsh will play in Chinon on
November 10th 2009, in Paris on the 11th, and on the 12th in Clermond-Ferrand. This event has been organised by Emmanuel Tellier of 49 Swimming Pools, who will perform as supporting act.

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