23 September 2007

William Gibson’s Wonderful Writing on Music

William Gibson’s new book, Spook Country, which is excellent, has perspicuous writing about music (“the most purely atemporal of media”, p. 102). In fact the heroine, Hollis Henry, was the singer in a seminal (fictional) band called The Curfew. Here are some snippets that I just love.
And it hadn’t hurt that Bobby was himself a musician, though not in the old plays-a-physical-instrument-and/or-sings modality. He took things apart, sampled them, mashed them up. This was fine with her, though like General Bosquet watching the charge of the Light Brigade, she was inclined to think it wasn’t war. Inchmale understood it, though, and indeed had championed it, as soon as it was digitally possible pulling guitar lines out of obscure garage chestnuts and stretching them, like a mad jeweler elongating sturdy Victorian tableware into something insectile, post-functionally fragile, and neurologically dangerous.

“In the early 1920s,” Bigend said, “there were still some people in this country who hadn’t yet heard recorded music. Not many, but a few. That’s less than a hundred years ago. Your career as a ‘recording artist’ ” — making the quotes with his hands — “took place toward the end of a technological window that lasted less than a hundred years, a window during which consumers of recorded music lacked the means of producing that which they consumed. They could buy recordings, but they couldn’t reproduce them. The Curfew came in as that monopoly on the means of production was starting to erode. Prior to that monopoly, musicians were paid for performing, published and sold sheet music, or had patrons. The pop star, as we knew her” — and here he bowed slightly, in her direction — “was actually an artifact of preubiquitous media.”

“Of — ?”

“Of a state in which ‘mass’ media existed, if you will, within the world.”

“As opposed to?”

“Comprising it.”

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