Cognitive dissonance is defined as the feeling of discomfort when holding simultaneous conflicting beliefs. In music, the meaning of dissonance hearkens back to the Latin, whereby a "dissonant" chord is considered "unstable".
The work that Scott Walker has been producing since 1978 is increasingly dissonant, it increasingly contains contradictory elements that are impossible to assimilate in a unified way, and it has become increasingly more terrifying to behold.
Most modern purveyors of fear in musical form attempt to achieve their desired result through intimidation, volume, or the shock value of violent lyrical content. Examples include Marilyn Manson who creates giant spectacles of fascism, Slipknot who dress like they are all meeting at Hellraiser's house later, and a whole gaggle of gangster rap artists who brag and boast about how cold blooded they are.
These are sunny walks in the park compared to Scott Walker.
Now, don't get me wrong. I actually KIND of like Marilyn Manson and I have plenty of gangster rap on my iTunes. Slipknot I have no use for because their aesthetic is so juvenile and stupid and so devoid of humor that the only appropriate response is laughter. I mean, is anyone really frightened by Saw XVIII?
But the brand of terror that the above dole out is inclusive. The result is more a prurient vicarious thrill witnessing someone instilling fear than truly inspiring actual fear. Actual fear is not thrilling. Actual fear is messy and humiliating. True fear results in a reversion to infancy, to a state where you cannot control your bodily functions, to the feeling you get when you know that you have absolutely no control over any aspect of your existence.
This is the kind of response that Walker achieves.
His is a fear born of ideas.
The indie record label 4AD is one of the most influential record labels of all time. Their most famous client is The Pixies. In the mid 1990's they signed an aging former crooner to a record contract. Outside of England no one cared. They have essentially insured that Scott Walker could attempt the masterpieces that were floating around in that terrifying brain of his.
In 2006, 4AD planned a compilation called "Plague Songs" with various artists each writing a song corresponding to one of the ten plagues of Egypt. For whatever reason, Walker drew the Plague of Darkness.
Does Walker use volume and bombast to affect us? Does he use thundering drums? Distorted screaming guitars? Violent imagery? No, there are only three elements used in the song.
A tambourine. A female chorus. And Scott Walker.
Take a listen.