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This report is taken from PN Review 83, Volume 18 Number 3, January - February 1992.

Where Words End Brian Moreton

Music is the most sophisticated software package we've so far devised. It processes reality (which of course includes language) very much faster than navel-gazing language can, and because of that music - particularly that contains words - is both normative and dangerously subversive. In his confidently sloganizing Noise, the French theoretician Jacques Attali suggests that the musician is always both a reproducer and a prophet, simultaneously subservient to and ahead of the social and economic nexus, less articulate than but also slightly ahead of language's ability to organize and quantify.

It is no accident that it is usually singers who fix and identify moments of maximum social concentration and change. In recent times, where the phenomenon has been considerably transformed and reinforced by mechanical reproduction, one thinks of Presley, of Bob Dylan, of Roger Daltrey's voice with The Who, and, as the autumn arts media have been insisting, of a red-haired spindle of a youth with a white face and green teeth called Johnny Rotten. A general amnesty has been declared on the phenomenon known as punk. Jon Savage's England's Dreaming (Faber, £17.50) tells us slightly more than we might ever need to know about the Sex Pistols, but it also introduces - sometimes by the back door - a whole range of perceptions about why the singer, who traditionally belongs at the bottom of the social heap, simultaneously occupies such a pivotal position in society.

Savage, who has read Attali (somewhat selectively), suggests that ...


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