April 21, 2004


1. If you were writing the first sentence of a piece about Paul Morley's writing in the spirit of Paul Morley's writing, your first sentence would have to be about what it would be like to write a first sentence about Paul Morley in the spirit of his writing. Because that's what Morley's fascinated by; generating whole universes out of the most minuscule of differences between something and nothing. Reflexivity. Art generated out of a description of the process of its own construction. Words as music.

2. So it is that Morley's Words and Music begins with a disquisition on, a fantasmatic encounter with, a memory - or perhaps a false, certainly enhanced - memory of listening to Alvin Lucier's I am sitting in a Room. I am sitting in a Room finds Lucier reading an account of what he is doing - sitting in a room, recording onto tape - onto tape. He then records the recording, records the re-recording, until multiple new texts are generated. As if from nothing...

3. Words and Music is a history of Pop Music from P to M, from prehistory to mp3, from post to modern, from pleasure to memory.

4. It's a map of Pop in the shape of a man.

5. Morley P, (or MPthreeO as he will be called in the glittering city of Pop he projects as the telos towards which Words and Music) moves, is the missing link between Raymond Roussel and Tom Ewing.

6. Morley's key kase studies are often k's. Kraftwerk are pivotal: the point at which minimalism and experimentalism (Art!) bleed into Pop. In Morley's lab, Kraftwerk beget (by entirely artificial means of course) Kylie, Morley's Virgil, his guide-driver through the virtual Pop paradiso of Words and Music.

7. It's a very 2001 work. No-one would have (de)centred a Pop (anti-meta)narrative around the (bl)android Kylie in 1997, nor in 2004. It was only in 2001, in the slipstream of 'Can't Get You Out of My Head' that anyone (apart from maybe Angus) would have dreamt of elevating Kylie to quite so elevated a role. Kylie converges with another k, Kubrick, as reality converges with SF. She is the missing link between Barbarella and 2001: A Space Oddysey. You can imagine, Morley says, and as you read this, you will imagine it, HAL singing, as its mind starts to go, 'Can't Get You Out of My Head' instead of 'Daisy, Daisy'.

9. Can Kylie bear the weight of fantasy required to sustain such a role? She's too much the Popborg that Morley conjures; a glittering screen for all his fantasies, a blank canvas on which anything can be projected. There's very little remainder or surplus. She's the driven, not the driver.

10. k-punk beams with pleasure to note that John Foxx gets at least three mentions. (Both Metamatic and one of its tracks, 'He's a Liquid', feature in one of Morley's many best-of lists.)

11. Words and Music is much less than Nothing. Nothing was not-not an autobiography, not-not a novel, not-not a Pop book... Words and Music doesn't succeed in reinventing the possibilities of what a book can be in the way that Nothing did. Partly because it's more the sort of book you would expect Morley to write; there is none of the painful revelation, the insight into the relationship between embarrassment and pop dreams. Some of the prose seems, dare I say it, listless, almost bored. So much of it seems like Morley on autopilot, turning out his (albeit elegant) riffs in a somewhat offhand way.

Posted by mark at April 21, 2004 08:49 PM | TrackBack

Actually Mark, I'm not sure even I would ask Kylie to bear that much rhetorical weight!

Posted by: Angus at April 22, 2004 02:17 PM

i think i'd give it a bash. possibly comfortably so, in fact.

Posted by: scott at April 22, 2004 05:35 PM