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17

The number 17, yesterday.

I’ve recently been reading The 17, the new book by ex-KLF man and conceptual artist Bill Drummond, in which he argues that, devalued by ease of access and sheer range of choice, the age of recorded music is over, and documents how he takes his entire CD collection to the charity shop and attempts to create a new type of music for an unrecorded future.  He comes up with the idea of the 17, a choir made up of any seventeen people who perform a basic score without an audience, the singers being the only witnesses of the music they create together.

Drummond’s position is so extreme it’s hard to agree with it entirely (my dad died recently, and I was very glad to have recorded music on hand to help frame my thoughts, and not have to round up sixteen other people to make some spontaneously with), and even he pretty much demolishes his own thesis before the book ends.  It’s a deliberate provocation, of course, a device to get you thinking (which is what people used to say about Baudrillard, back in the days when people were still saying things about Baudrillard).  Nevertheless, I do share his sense that it all seems to matter a little less than it used to.  His epiphany came in a high street music shop, overwhelmed by the amount and range of music he had to choose from, to the point there was no obvious reason to select one thing over another.  For me, acquiring an Ipod Shuffle and hearing my favourite tracks ripped out of context and bounced against each other was to hear them devalued in a similar way, shorn of all meaning except that accidentally generated by the random juxtapositions of the shuffle function.  This is something I explored further in a short story, which you can read here.  Or maybe we’re both getting old, and blaming developments in technology for our own inevitable internal weariness.

Anyway, 17 is one of the most stimulating books on music to come out in some time.  It’s often frustrating, and could do with a good edit, but it’s never lazy.  It will push you to think hard about the role that music plays in your life, not always a comfortable experience, but a worthwhile one.  And along the way, it makes a reasonable argument for Pete Waterman being a genius.  Which is something we instinctively knew all along, of course.  What, just me and Bill again on this one?  Oh well.

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