Jesse Jarnow

“metal machine music, part 1″ – lou reed & godel, escher, bach

“Metal Machine Music, part 1″ – Lou Reed (download)
from Metal Machine Music (1975)
released by RCA (buy)

(file expires February 15th)

Being time for the annual, brain-cleansing airing of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, I got to thinking about a passage from Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach:

Achilles: …If any record player — say Record Player X — is sufficiently high-fidelity, then when it attempts to play the song “I Cannot Be Played on Record Player X”, it will create just those vibrations which will cause it to break… So it fails to be Perfect. And yet, the only way to get around that trickery, namely for Record Player X to be of lower fidelity, even more directly ensures that it is not Perfect. It seems that every record player is vulnerable to one or the other of these frailties, and hence all record players are defective.

If there was any piece of music in the universe that might be subtitled “I Cannot Be Played on Record Player X,” it’s Metal Machine Music. In that regard, maybe MMM is less effective now that the easily-disruptable turntable has been supplanted by the quietly humming mp3 box. Certainly, it sounds less scary now, its standing as a piece of music with overtones and melodies and movement a little more obvious.

But its actual musical effect, delirious overload, is no different, and that is because the “Record Player X” in question isn’t a record player at all, but the listener’s brain. MMM still can’t really be played, at least if the listener is trying to do anything else while listening to it — like, say, writing a blog entry. Or probably reading a blog entry, too. This means, of course, that it’s time to turn it up.

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