At best a minor musical work in the string of flooring, near-perfect releases that Walker crafted in his last few decades.
One of a number of instrumental scores that Walker made late in his life, And Who Shall Go to the Ball? And What Shall Go to the Ball? was originally written for Candoco, a London-based dance company that features dancers of varying body abilities. Along with choreographer Rafael Bonachela, Walker intended this piece to be a mediation on how bodies, and their relation to “normalcy,” drastically affect our daily existences.
While any footage of the performance has seemingly vanished from the mainstream web, Walker’s score received an extremely limited vinyl run on 4AD and is now readily available on streaming services. The compositions are more or less typical ’00s Walker fare: extremely dissonant, often microtonal string writing and comically off-center rhythms with occasional electronic flourishes. The first (and best) movement is an exercise in sparsity. The track is driven by one low-end beat frequency with sporadic interjections of gremlin-squeal static. Halfway through, a solo cello line enters, lazily soaring over the simple backdrop. It’s a moment of disarming restraint and stillness, a measured feeling that vanishes for the remainder of the brief album.
The remaining three movements feature extreme representations of the cacophonous, carnivalesque chaos that defines Walker’s classical experiments on records like Drift and, especially, the yet-to-come Bish Bosch. The second movement is a waltz from hell, with the boom-chick of the string basses and a single tambourine laying the foundation for the track’s screeching melody. Its high-register saxophones and oboes emit an extremely hellish vibe, purposefully sounding like a group of young musicians attempting a piece just outside of their current skill set.
The third movement returns to eerier and more spacious territory, once again highlighting a solo cello line for a moment of strange, passionate bliss. This small bit of respite from atonal distress is welcome during what is admittedly a taxing listen. Even by Walker’s standards—as well as the midcentury modernist music he’s drawing from—these are dissonant and horrific sounds. The suite’s fourth movement, in particular, verges on unlistenability for its own sake. The siren-like wails, string blasts and clamorous bell chimes create a dizzying mess of sound, something of a perfectly horrendous conclusion to the grim and daunting music that precedes it.
Without the visual aid of the dancers, Walker’s music is left to fend for itself in an attempt to sell this weighty, complicated message. Perhaps, along with the supposedly extremist movements of the dancers, these harsh sounds are less of a listening chore and more of a powerful counterpart to the work’s still-timely exploration of ableism in contemporary society. Walker’s lyrics, particularly those from his 21st-century albums, ravage the innerworkings and annihilations of the body to such an exhaustive extent that it’s easy to imagine how these clunking, awkward orchestral pieces could serve as a purely aural counterpart to such a thematic exploration.
While And Who Shall Go to the Ball? might’ve been a wildly successful dance piece in its time, and the album is by no means a complete musical failure, it’s just not that fun to listen to. Until a full video of Candoco’s work is again made available, And Who Shall Go to the Ball? And What Shall Go to the Ball? is at best a minor musical work in the string of flooring, near-perfect releases that Walker crafted in his last few decades.