WALTER & SABRINA – Two Tales

Danny Dark

Just in case you weren’t attentive, Walter Cardew and Stephen “Sabrina” Moore parted ways last year. The email exchanges subsequent to the decision – apparently due to Cardew’s will – constitute an essential part of the libretto that comes with this edition, comprising the Two Tales CD and a book called Amalgam, Gotta Get A Shag. We are also introduced to the script to an unrealized short movie, Cor Blimey, You’ll Never Get Rid Of That. Add to this the thorniest music you’re likely to hear in half a decade and realize why the duo was first dignified, then abruptly thrown amidst the pariahs by the erstwhile “specialized” avant-garde press. As Cardew wrote in the accompanying letter, “there’s plenty here to get your teeth into, I hope”. Provided that one doesn’t break them, of course.

The poetry of human dissipation that has characterized the story of WandS is exalted at the maximum degree. The graphic description of sleazy sexual acts and the overall aura of grimy desperation surrounding the wretched lives of the persons involved in the “plots” is set in a typically perplexing literary style that lets the listener confused in between warped glimpses and nightmarish flashes, similarly to the by-products of the mind of a drunkard fallen asleep in front of a C-level hard-core flick. Everything is fragments, snippets, indistinct details, lewd memories, obliteration of eroticism, sanctification of the most absolute immorality. And yet we’re listening and reading assiduously while thinking what’s wrong with us, still interested in analyzing the reasons of a stimulus that, in its purest form, should cause a levitation towards the highest levels of communion and instead is very often the origin of trouble and, at worst, of psychic degeneration that occasionally leads to excessive gestures. Fascinating issues that Cardew and Moore are, as usual, unafraid to toss in our face without ointments.

The sonic substance is typified by a choice of conspicuous aspects, beginning with a severe fragmentariness. The obstinate permanence of the voices in the extreme registers of soprano (both female and male performers are utilized in that sense) defines the whole program. Some of them are processed with distortion, if in selected tiny parts; a complicatedness which is exhausting only to imagine during the realization process. One can envision poor Celia Lu’s strained vocal cords after many hours of session to execute what sounds like Schoenberg’s Sprechstimme squeezed with a sponge imbued with acid. The non-superficial ear realizes that solemn counterpoints are applied to these Pindaric flights through depravation. The arrangement of “Tale Two” is splendidly enriched by Chris Edwards’ oboe and Kati Lawrence’s bassoon – not to mention Androniki Lioukura’s exceptional performance on piano. Written pieces and improvisations are practically indistinguishable; when the engine gets going, radically remarkable stuff arises. A comparison to Crass – yes, the punk group – found on another write-up had me smiling in resignation. Do these individuals really listen to the records they’re sent? There are more intricacies in these scores than in the entire careers of certain geniuses. Have a taste of the absurdly jumbled “Untitled” – the album’s lone instrumental – to drown alone in cerebral disintegration.

A sheer summary cannot say that much, and it’s too late anyway. The couple is broken up, the final chapter of their life containing the kind of art that equals rare commodity these days. Music that gives the finger to the shallow-minded unfortunates who can’t read between the lines, that is excessively complex for the average critic to assimilate, and that causes people who didn’t understand it, but are afraid to appear dumb, to review it with discouraging superficiality. Heaven knows if Walter & Sabrina were truly aware that this couldn’t go far, artistically speaking, in today’s world. What I’m sure of is that their attempt won my utmost respect, besides causing the re-evaluation of all those horrific pseudo-erotic movies watched lots of years ago, forgotten masterpieces of supreme mediocrity that nevertheless possess the great merit of showing the reality of things. The type of ascension that starts from the slimy waters of filth. The holiness of squalor – now that’s a title.

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