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Artistic, Political and Philosphical References in OK Computer

“aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaambition makes you look [pretty] ugly”: Mass consumption and computer-generated art in Radiohead’s OK Computer

« aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaambition makes you look [pretty] ugly » : la consommation de masse et l’art assisté par ordinateur dans OK Computer de Radiohead
François Hugonnier

Résumés

OK Computer marque un virage important dans la carrière de Radiohead. Cet album interroge les conditions de sa création en renversant les cadres de représentation. Le paradoxe y est employé afin d’assimiler la consommation de masse et le progrès technologique qui sont à la fois haïs et incarnés. Dans un paysage urbain peuplé de robots de consommation apathiques, le groupe embrasse l’ère numérique en fusionnant ses chansons pop-rock avec une distorsion électronique. Une relation homme-machine est développée en tant que métaphore socio-politique et rapport factuel, incluant l’utilisation de l’outil informatique dans la confection de l’œuvre. En dépit de son ironie enjouée, l’album OK Computer ne saurait échapper aux mutations technologiques et commerciales analysées en son sein. Ainsi, l’aveu du triomphe de l’ordinateur sur la musique et l’envergure du groupe y sont formulés de manière performative. Puisqu’OK Computer est une œuvre pleinement trans-média, tous les éléments (musicaux, linguistiques et visuels) liés à sa sortie en 1997 sont pris en compte dans cet article qui étudie la dénonciation paradoxale de la consommation de masse, se livre à un décodage cryptique, et envisage ce disque comme la première étape d’une adaptation innovante, d’un point de vue musical et commercial, aux nouvelles technologies.

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  • 1 Expression borrowed from Don DeLillo, “In the Ruins of the Future”, Harper’s Magazine, Decem (...)

1OK Computer marks the beginning of a major shift in Radiohead’s career. This record questions the conditions of its making by subverting representative frames, be they musical, linguistic or artistic. It uses paradox in order to assimilate the mass consumption and technological progress it both abhors and embodies – digests, as it were. The context dictates a new direction: in a landscape of sedated “consumer-robots”,1 the band embraces the digital era and fuses pop-rock songs with electronic distortion. A man-machine relationship is developed as both a socio-political metaphor and a straightforward report, including the use of computers in the crafting of their art. Their artistic vision is deployed with ironic playfulness in the artworks, lyrics, booklets, credits and music videos accompanying the album’s release. In spite of its irony, OK Computer will not escape the commercial and technological mutations it scrutinizes: it is therefore acknowledging, as the title suggests in a performative way, the computer’s win over the band’s scope and music. Conversely, the acknowledgment of digitalization paves the way for its subversion.

2Notwithstanding its specific, pragmatic political messages, OK Computer explores new means of artistic expression at the dawn of the “analogue and digital age” (OK Computer, credits). By forewarning digital addiction and alienation, the lyrics, sounds and pictures address socio-political and technological mutations as well as artistic ones. Remaining true and groundbreaking when selling millions of records entails a rethinking of the medium: the musical composition and the use of languages, signs, guitar effects, microphone and track saturation, new recording and marketing techniques are to be assessed in order to fully comprehend Radiohead’s revolutionary approach to music-making. After analyzing the paradox of mass-consumption denunciation, we will move on to an experiment in encoding and decoding, as Radiohead’s computer-generated art forestalls the upcoming transformations of the digital age. Finally, OK Computer will be envisioned as the first step in the band’s innovative adjustments to new technologies, be they musical or commercial.

The paradox of mass-consumption denunciation

3The paradox of mass consumption and its correlated crave for wealth and comfort is found in the crucial line “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaambition makes you look very ugly” (“Paranoid Android”). In the recorded version, in the actual song, the shift from “very” to “pretty” is to be noted – the adverb marking a paradoxical oxymoron (“pretty ugly”) that seems to establish a meta-commentary on the band’s own ambition and career.

4At any rate, one of the major themes that keep coming up in the lyrics is a general sense of alienation resulting from excessive comfort, at times obvious, straightforward and pragmatic as in “Fitter, Happier”, or else metaphorical, subterranean and otherworldly in “Paranoid Android” and “Homesick Alien”. The latter, by taking an outsider’s point of view on the absurdity of socio-economic mutations and materialism in developed countries, sees its narrator looking at the world from the outside, hovering above the Earth and wondering at the logic of trees trapped in the pavement. In the same vein, the artist Doug John Miller, upon creating a work of art inspired by the song “Let Down” for OK Computer’s twentieth anniversary, made the following comment:

As a commentary on globalization and the eerie loneliness of modern life, “Let Down” has a particularly spatial feel to it, so I chose to explore the ethereal but mundane cityscapes that I find fascinating. I illustrated the song through the lens of an “architectural lobotomy,” a thematic term coined by architect Rem Koolhaas.

5In OK Computer, the “eerie loneliness of modern life” as well as a sense of “architectural”, social, commercial and technological “lobotomy”, are indeed to be found in most of the songs and the artwork. This vision of the world, which is shared by most post-modernist artists and writers, is inherited musically as well. Somehow it echoes Pink Floyd’s famous hit “Wish You Were Here”, which metaphorically spoke of Syd Barrett’s breakdown and of the band’s disappointment with the music industry. Thom Yorke and Sparklehorse recorded a cover of this song (1997) which features similar views on the loss of meaningful nature in favor of mind-numbing consumption and consumerism:

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from hell
Blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?

6In one of the most straight-forward songs of OK Computer, “Fitter Happier”, the main character of what reads like a short story is called “a pig in a cage / on antibiotics”. This universal archetype of a contemporary nobody epitomizes the overriding logic of mass consumption and productivity with a bittersweet irony close to Pink Floyd’s tribute to former member Syd Barrett, who increasingly lost grip with the real as he withdrew into drug-related mental disorder. In Radiohead’s “Fitter, Happier”, the entrapment is similar, but the angle is slightly different: the addictive, slavish routine of capitalist societies is represented through the repetition of the words “fitter, happier, more productive, comfortable”. This sickening comfort, both attractive and repulsive, is also apparent in the artwork, where the band’s name, album and track titles are framed in emotionless, pharmacological contours and packaging. The pale blues and blinding whites add to this eye-catching yet nauseating feeling. As illustrated by the inner and outer ghosts of OK Computer, Radiohead’s artistic vision is thoroughly transmedia. In other words, all elements, musical, linguistic and visual, must be taken into account.

  • 2 Tim Footman, Radiohead: Welcome to the Machine – OK Computer and the Death of the Classic (...)

7OK Computer’s artwork conveys a sense of sedated consumption and addictive commercial control. The cold title font, symbols and information on the front and back covers look like medical prescriptions on a box of pills. In addition, the information on the back cover is a mise en abyme of a consumer good’s formatting and manufacturing: the framed track-numbers and titles and the fake serial number in red (“18576397”) mimic the actual bar code, serial number and commercial data found in a smaller frame in the upper right-hand corner (“place of manufacture as stated on the label”, “Manufactured and Distributed by XL Recordings Ltd.”, “Printed in E.U.”). Moreover, this sickening vision of mass consumption is disclosed by other Radiohead pieces made with the same graphic codes, namely a series of works surrounding OK Computer’s release, published between 1998 and 2003, now all available in the OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017 box set reissue. Like OK Computer’s, the artwork of Meeting people is easy. A film by grant gee about radiohead (1998) was made by Stanley Donwood (“real name Daniel Rickwood”) and Thom Yorke (aka “Doctor Tchock”, “the white chocolate arm” and “chocolate”).2 The cover contains an underlined subtitle, in bold capital letters: “YOU ARE A TARGET MARKET”. As outspoken about its own target market, the EP Airbag / How am I Driving? (1998), subtitled “THIS MINI ALBUM IS AIMED AT THE USA”, reinforces this extremely bare and factual presentation of information. Accordingly, the piece ironically self-proclaims its own status as consumer goods: “PACKAGED BY DONWOOD AND CHOCOLATE” (back cover). The music is “packaged” and manufactured with a commercial “aim”: the band’s name is followed by the record’s title and a fake serial number (“1426148550”), all of which are inscribed in basic, bold, black font. The serial number, which is usually added discreetly on a record’s edge and/or somewhere near the bar code on the back cover, is here parodied and made prominent, inseparable from the title on the front cover. In other words, the market value of the record, symbolized by this gigantic, fake serial number, is put on the same plane as its artistic value. All the logo-less information given on the cover is framed in dull, thick black lines not unlike those found, many years later, on the “Smoking kills” warnings printed on cigarette packs. The information is unadorned, as if deprived of identity and singularity, symbolizing the rejection of a marketed Radiohead brand.

8Deliberately, there is no telling where the artwork ends and the legal commercial data begin. In both OK Computer and Meeting people is easy, the use of the color red, linking the title to warning symbols, enhances a notion of danger and threat (the plane crash / oxygen emergency sign in OK Computer; the “15” age-rating in Meeting). Airbag’s booklet even parodies commercial surveys in which the customer is asked to tick nonsensical boxes: “Thank you for choosing this quality product from RADIOHEAD. Please help us to help you by filling in this questionnaire” (Airbag). This long booklet, featuring two short stories (“Chip Shop” and “New Job”) and several graphics, denounces socio-economic and political manipulation: “The results of this intrusion into your life will be used ‘responsibly’ in ways you cannot even begin to imagine. Of course, the innocent have nothing to fear from the rapidly expanding data industry” (Airbag). The expansion of the data industry is parodied to such an extent that it permeates every aspect of Radiohead’s works at the time. The song “Airbag” and the album OK Computer of which it is the overture, are composed according to the logic of this dissemination of data, as if they were the produce of an overreaching data industry.

9In order to understand Radiohead’s ambiguous relationship to consumerism in the music industry, it is important to underline their self-reflexive sociological comments on the notion of control and stardom. In a 1997 interview from Meeting people is easy, Thom Yorke stated that “the industry starts moving again. This time bigger, more terrifying, and it just keeps going basically outside of my control” (4’35). Later on in the movie, upon documenting their OK Computer US tour, he claims that “celebrities in America live on a higher plane, they are untouchable. This is fucking mad. It’s really insane” (14’50). Complementary ideas are articulated by way of intertextuality in Airbag. Paradoxically participating in the “star system”, Radiohead reject media-created leadership. This idea is expressed in a long quotation by Noam Chomsky concluding Airbag’s booklet:

…people would like to think there’s somebody up there who knows what he’s doing. since we don’t participate, we don’t control and we don’t even think about the questions of crucial importance. [sic] we hope somebody is paying attention who has some competence. let’s hope the ship has a captain, in other words, since we’re not taking in deciding what’s going on…

  • 3 Noam Chomsky, The Chomsky Reader, New York: Pantheon Book, 1987, 42, quoted and syntactica (...)

it is an important feature of the ideological system to impose on people the feeling that they are incompetent to deal with these complex and important issues; they’d better leave it to the captain. one device is to develop a star system, an array of figures who are often media creations or creations of the academic propaganda establishment, whose deep insights we are supposed to admire and to whom we must happily and confidently assign the right to control our lives and to [sic] control international affairs…3

  • 4 See also the sentence “the following data was lost” on Airbag’s back cover and the explici (...)

10As illustrated by the systematic suppression of capital letters in this quote, Radiohead is debunking hierarchy and their hypothetical position as members of the ruling elite, what Chomsky calls a “star system”. The band is indirectly asking the audience to step back and listen to their songs, as to any other media broadcast, with critical distance. Because the band is criticizing a system they inevitably take part in, the songs are themselves to be thought of as consumer goods filling a specific socio-economic function. What is particularly striking in OK Computer and Airbag is the way the lyrics and artworks undermine meaning-making and thwart the illusion of power and higher understanding of the world and its workings. Power and authority seem to escape the ruler’s hands. In Yorke’s own words, his work is “outside of my control” (Meeting people is easy). Contrary to the ruling elite who willingly takes on the posture of a comforting “ship captain” figure, and who supposedly has access to higher truth and knowledge than the ignorant mass, Radiohead created OK Computer obliquely, as if they were both the denouncers and the powerless produce of “the rapidly expanding data industry”.4

11Before moving on to the actual decoding of OK Computer, a final point on “control” should be made. The key motifs of driving (“in a fAAst geRman CAR”, “Airbag”; “a patient better driver / a safer car”, “Fitter happier”), flying (“aircrash”, “Lucky”), and sailing (the “ship captain” in Chomsky’s image, the “ship” in OK Computer’s artwork), as well as their respective security equipment in OK Computer, Airbag and Meeting people is easy’s lyrics, words and artworks metaphorically suggest the tension between leadership, freedom and security which defines an individual’s freedom and a government’s area of control. Echoing Chomsky’s “sea captain”, Meeting people is easy’s cover illustration represents two drivers with their security belts on, overlapped by two detached steering wheels and a commercial chart symbolizing, I believe, state and corporate control as opposed to an individual’s illusionary freewill. In line with Chomsky’s socio-linguistic views, in OK Computer, Airbag and Meeting people is easy, the concomitant artworks seem to be pointing to their own semiotic nature (as in the drawing of a ship with the caption “ship” underneath in OK Computer), pushing us towards deciphering signs and doubting linguistic authority. So now, in order to help the audience gain back “control” and try to make sense of Radiohead’s own playful overuse of sign and data encoding, I would like to propose an in-depth decoding of the cryptic artwork and lyrics.

ENCODINGANDDECODING

12Starting with the collages and palimpsests found in the booklet, the general feel we get is that of a piece enacting, as well as being the metaphorical victim of, a multi-layered encoding of data. OK Computer is made of interwoven mediums that call for multiple readings. Visual and linguistic fragments are contained by these layers, melting pictures with drawings, as well as signs with languages. Bits and pieces of English, Esperanto and Greek, the latter printed in reverse, mirror an ongoing semiotic confusion. Other languages are tested, including more abstract or marginal ones, like symbols and logos. From a purely linguistic perspective, the ideograms are particularly interesting as they connect languages and images, questioning universal signification and abstract literacy.

13At an obvious, first-sight level, OK Computer’s semiotic experiment draws our attention to the translation of universal notions, especially related to danger. Many of these words and symbols issue warnings: “DANĜERA”, “Thin Ice”, “Lost Child”, “against demons”, or else the black cross that suggests something harmful (a derivative of the well-known symbol on an orange background, here dyed pale blue). Fear is being aestheticized. The main cover picture of a highway connector blurred by ghostly apparitions, seen as if we were hovering over the scene from a substantial distance, may have to do with the sublime in a post-industrialized context, as it mixes wonder and terror. In Lisa Leblanc’s words, the audience is being warned through the insistent use of iconography:

  • 5 Lisa Leblanc, “Ice Age Coming: Apocalypse, the Sublime, and the Paintings of Stanley Donwo (...)

The iconography is familiar, symbols that we have seen before, comforting elements of a basic visual literacy […]. Donwood relies on the language of wayfinding icons, those we see in subways and malls, guiding us through our lives, showing us the way out, to send us in the proper direction, to steer us from danger […]. Beware what lurks behind the clear and shiny surface, question everything […]. They tell us to proceed with caution, at our own risk, we are being alerted, we are being told to pay attention.5

  • 6 “If you have been rejected many times in your life … Count the positive responses and forg (...)

14The large-sized word “surface” is indeed visible in one of OK Computer’s palimpsests, and real public-transportation symbols are briefly documented through film in Meeting people is easy. To rephrase Lisa Leblanc’s remark, we are expected to search beneath the surface for deeper meaning, to look for signs, and more precisely to decipher and doubt them. One possible reading could be a general warning of human beings’ and societies’ fragile physical and mental health, always on the verge of breaking down, as evidenced by the pastiche of old-fashioned psychological advice that runs through the lyrics and artworks.6 From a socio-political perspective, deciphering and doubting the codes ruling contemporary transit and urbanization might also be a way to better understand and subvert what keeps modern capitalist societies on their feet.

  • 7 See Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein, The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book, Carbondale, IL: (...)

15From a more abstract viewpoint, that of the English language of the lyrics, the process of encoding and decoding is everywhere to be noted. The lyrics form an asyntactical flow of unstable letters that paradoxically cannot quite resist formatting. Visually, the layout of the songs suggests a computer’s lines of code. Moreover, the fragmented lyrics seem to draw, or be drawn as, computer-generated figures. From a distance, the clusters of typed words form humanoid shapes. The visual and material quality of the lyrics make them read like digital calligrams, as they are reminiscent of both Apollinaire’s hand-written picture poems, relying on words and ideograms, and the more recent L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, exploring the sheer materiality of the signifier.7 Crucially, the images formed by the lyrics’ layout are not evident (as they are in Apollinaire’s calligrams for instance), thus putting emphasis on an emerging encoding process generated by the machine, as well as on the doubtful act of decoding. “Paranoid Android”, “Climbing up the Walls” and “Lucky” each make up a distinct robotic, pixelated character, while “electioneering”’s perpendicular lyrics materialize a tight-lipped, emaciated face blinking. Other combinations, including “Airbag” / “Let Down” / “Climbing up the Walls” and above all “Paranoid Android” / “Karma Police” create robot faces. Even if this reading of signs might sound trivial or arguable like apparitions in the clouds, the lyrics’ layout significantly echoes Donwood’s and Yorke’s overall computer-generated artwork and the Macintosh voice on “Fitter Happier” (processed by Apple’s SimpleText application).

16On the record, the inflectionless digital voice enhances the dystopian routine of contemporary Western societies depicted by the lyrics themselves. While the nameless main character portrayed in the song is described as a slavish, sedated pig, the cold, even voice merely does the job in a robotic style. (Etymology helps making sense of OK Computer’s vision, as the words robot, slave and orphan have common roots.)8 The emotionless synthetic voice depicts the crushing meaninglessness of an every(wo)man’s daily routine; a random, uneventful life story, as if all lives were driven by a set of social, ethical and economic norms. The “powerless” anti-hero of the song is devoid of identity: It has no name, no gender, no voice. The absence of personal pronouns makes this utter alienation grammatical as well. While the computer is given a voice on the record, and generates pixelated characters in the artwork, the lyrics’ main character, the narrative voice and the language itself are deprived of personality. The every(wo)man of the song looks like a serial robot, a close parent to the humanoid robots portrayed by the lyrics’s lay out. These robotic humans and humanoid robots are alluded to in one of the song’s title, “Paranoid Android”, which was borrowed from a character’s name in Douglas Adams’s multimedia piece (and 1979 novel) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Marvin, the Paranoid Android, is a robot who suffers from depression because of his enhanced intelligence. The outcome of Radiohead’s rewriting of the Paranoid Android in OK Computer is the liminality and similarity of human beings and robots, who increasingly share similar traits and activities.

  • 9 Tim Footman, Radiohead: Welcome to the Machine, op. cit., 129.
  • 10 Ibid., 127.

17The overall sense of alienation and the denunciation of the absurdity of norms are also found in the artwork, whose use of symbols defies rational reading, and stages the irreducible distance at work in any attempt at communication. The red alien-like, big-headed figures shaking hands, one of whom is holding a suitcase (in OK Computer’s and Meeting people is easy’s artworks), symbolize both an agreement, a business arrangement between two humanoid creatures, and paradoxically the alienation of the said creatures in the same breath. Although it is reminiscent of Wish You Were Here’s cover picture,9 Radiohead’s drawing does not portray human beings, but faceless, fleeting figures. While it certainly represents the “modern world”’s leaders, such as “the president and the vice-presidents mak[ing] the rounds, going to all the tables and shaking hands” (OK Computer, artwork), it is also a representation of the excesses and limitations of communication. The overlapping palimpsest includes the Esperanto words “INJEKTILO” (syringe) and “SIMBOLO/SYMBOL” near the characters’ heads, underlining the impossible universality of language. The words “syringe” and “symbol”, placed side by side, are reminiscent of Derrida’s reflections on Plato’s pharmakon, defining the ambivalence of language’s dual nature, as it is both a remedy and a poison.10 In Meeting people is easy, the huge drawing of the characters shaking hands is turned into a small front-cover logo: Radiohead might be putting forth the similar drawbacks of monetary and linguistic exchanges, notably their excessive and addictive use.

  • 11 Naomi Klein’s influential No Logo (2000) developed the core theory that multinational (...)

18Contrary to ideograms, which are supposed to prompt immediate, unambiguous meaning, the computer-processed images are paradoxically all blurred by countless layers of collages repeating and fragmenting themselves in the various pages of the artwork. If the proliferation of signs alludes to the most intuitive and globally acknowledged semiotic codes by comprising the internationally-known boy/girl and airplane emergency symbols, this patchwork features striking yet ambiguous symbols, words and pieces of words, such as “Lost Child”. Some of these confusing elements, found again and again in the artworks and websites of the band, function as anti-logos. The audience (clients) find themselves hooked but misled, as lost as the lost characters, contrary to the computer that seems to impose a new order. Moreover, OK Computer’s subtitle “Lost Child” and its correlated symbol prefigure the next album, Kid A (2000), an allusion to cloning originally entitled No Logo (with reference to Naomi Klein’s book on consumer capitalism, which coincided with OK Computer’s imagery and epochal vision).11 Musically, Kid A is arguably the first truly electronic album by Radiohead, following the hybrid “Lost Child” of OK Computer that seemed to enact, in a performative way, the beginning of a new computer-generated era for the band.

  • 12 Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues II, New York: Columbia UP, 2007, 4.
  • 13 Later on, the song “Dollars and Cents”, taken from Amnesiac (2001) made this personificati (...)

19As far as the typed lyrics of OK Computer are concerned, the unstable letters, syllables, word-clusters and blanks, the symbols, numbers and typing signs call for a deeper poetic assessment of this intermedia piece. One notices the repetitions, the stammer (that Gilles Deleuze recognizes as true literary style)12 and the fragmentation that defy syntactical rules and create new associations. Starting with words curiously but rightfully composed of repeated consonants (“jackknifed juggernaut” in “Airbag”), the lyric’s following adjectives, “deep deep”, repetitive and almost symmetrical, spark off unsolicited clusters of consonants. Operating a consonant shift (from “d” to “sl”), the very next word, “sssleep”, emphasizes the inner rhyme and rhythm of these alliterations and assonances. Yet the three unwanted “s”’s break the binary pattern in /ee/ /d p/ /kk/ /gg/ and later /nn/ (in “inno$ent”). The machine seems to be taking over at that point, interfering by bugging and blurring man-made symmetry. In the next song, “Paranoid Android”, the number of “a”s in the word “ambition”, taken from the sentence “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaambition makes you look very ugly”, is 26. 26 “a”s out of 26 possible letters. Ambition’s all a’s. The use of such symbols as the dollar sign in “inno$ent” calls for alternative readings as well – here denouncing the inescapable monetary transactions and venality of so-called innocent human beings with a pun on “cent” (the “innocent”, those who half-knowingly contribute to the capitalist system, are explicitly targeted in Airbag’s satirical commercial survey).13

  • 14 Tim Footman, Radiohead: Welcome to the Machine, op. cit., 131.

20More telling, perhaps, is the use of numbers and letters immediately before and after the track titles. In addition to the serial numbers of the manufactured albums of the band on the surface of the products (as evidenced by the covers and back covers of Airbag and OK Computer), the inner numerical encoding of OK Computer’s lyrics brings up further implications. For instance, “1421421**airbag” and “ocmcoccmcocmk**no surprises” make the songs’ titles emerge from a coded and logical pattern (com/mock/cock), while “karma police**??id6890” alludes both to a random idea for a song among countless others, as well as to a serial identity (or ID) numbered in the thousands. What is more, as Tim Footman notices, “the first ‘word’ alongside the title of ‘Electioneering’ is “yyyyhngbgyhntthy”, which can be constructed from a cluster of six adjacent keys in the centre of a standard keyboard”.14 According to me, this random construction could be interpreted as mocking encoding and decoding. But then again, it might also represent the machine’s overarching control, its random impulses and threatening distortions.

  • 15 Thom Yorke’s The Eraser (XL Recordings, 2006) uses digital erasure, including the (...)
  • 16 Stanley Donwood in Lucy Jones, “Stanley Donwood on the Stories behind his Radiohead Album (...)
  • 17 An interesting paradox animated Donwood and Yorke’s method, as the erasure, or “bleach[ing (...)

21The use of specific typing signs (the arrow “>” in “Airbag”; the square “■” in “Paranoid Android”) puts to the fore the computerization of language and text, which tends to deprive the lyrics of authorship. The square, or dos underscore, is almost seen oscillating on the page, a transient mark calling for instantaneous erasure and rephrasing by the machine.15 Thus the fragile sense of control and meaning-making is further evaporated from the song. Two key sentences from “Paranoid Android” are followed by these computer signs marking a data-driven encoding: “‘why wont he reme mber my name?■’ ‘I guess he does_■’”. The name is not remembered, and the word “rem ember” is graphically dis-membered. Similarly, in “Climbing up the walls”, the small letters “i am” are set apart and tightly enclosed by typing signs and punctuation; left wondering and suffocating, as if at a loss for meaning and identity: “>>>>>?i am)”. Alternatively, this passage could be understood as symbolizing the fact that reflecting on one’s identity triggers a repression, an erasure orchestrated by an alienating system. The whole artwork of OK Computer was made following a similar pattern, as a digital eraser was processed “with a tablet and a light pen”.16 Stanley Donwood used these digital tools in order to bleach, blur and distort every single picture.17

22In addition to the proliferation of numbers representing the serial namelessness of contemporary identity, some of the language is randomly generated and altered by the machine, as if the produce of the system itself. In OK Computer’s lyrics, the recasting of small and capital letters is radical. Radiohead’s anti-capitalization matches their anti-capitalism. The subject’s capital “I” is reduced to a small “i” (“i am born again” in the first song “Airbag”), while other letters, now and then, are capitalized and repeated, possibly representing a bug in the system, some sort of breakdown of both the human being and the machine (“sKKKKKKull” and “sHHHHHHHhut” in “Climbing up the Walls”). In OK Computer’s credits, real people’s names (cast and crew) are printed in small letters, making no distinction between pragmatic words and the family or given names of human beings, many of whom being pseudos. When reading the lyrics and credits, it seems that there is no hierarchy between the words and names. The same goes for all the titles in these series: either all small, or all capital letters each time (see Meeting people is easy in the bibliography). While credits usually testify to the authorship and contribution of the staff, here they are submitted to the same alienating yet paradoxically democratizing process as any other linguistic element in the artwork, in one way or the other denouncing or countering the de-humanizing effects of mass consumption. The radical recasting of linguistic capitalization epitomizes Radiohead’s rejection of normative precepts, prefiguring their upcoming anti-capitalist action in the music business.

23Finally, as with most entries in the credits, the “permission” to print the lyrics is claimed with irony and contempt towards the music industry. The last words of OK Computer’s credits read: “all songs are published by warner chappell ltd. lyrics used by kind permission even though we wrote them. […] we hope you are ok. thankyou for listening.” As revealed by the later developments of Radiohead’s carrier in the digital age, coping with the commercial success of the self-proclaimed “performing monkeys” and moving from abstract denunciation to concrete action in the industry have called for the invention of new, technology-driven ways of producing and selling music.

From OK to NOTOK: Radiohead and the digital revolution

  • 18 Ok Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017, special edition box set (3 vinyl records, notebook, sketchb (...)
  • 19 Computer-Aided/Assisted Music.

24If the title OK Computer sounds like the words of nameless human beings talking to a computer (as in the current “OK Google” or “Hey Siri” launcher apps), or else speaking of their well- or ill-being to the all-encompassing digital machine (“we hope you are ok”; “OKNOTOK”),18 it is also to be understood as a formal agreement with, and disapproval of the digital age. Since Radiohead released OK Computer in 1997, the digital has not only been used in the composition and recording of the songs, it has been accepted as a new commercial tool as well. While OK Computer and Airbag’s credits ironically introduced their new website (“Why visit www.radiohead.com when you can go for a stroll in the sunshine instead?”, Airbag), and heralded a growing interest in electronic music and new recording technologies, the transformation was truly completed with the following albums Kid A and Amnesiac. This double album, split in two subsequent LPs released in 2000 and 2001, provided more room for electronic music and psychedelic experimentations, especially in Kid A’s electro-oriented songs “Everything in its Right Place”, “Kid A”, “Idioteque”, “Morning Bell” and Amnesiac’s overture “Packt like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box”. Similarly, Donwood increasingly used computers and Photoshop, which went hand-in-hand with Yorke’s and Greenwood’s CAM19 explorations (laptops, plug-ins and loops including the stuttering Kaoss Pad on “Everything in its Right Place”) and digital recording software like Pro Tools. The consumer society’s “Lost Child” (the lost child in a mall or station in OK Computer) is heard moaning again in Kid A’s electronic soundscapes. Curtis White makes a decisive comment on the central motif of what he calls Radiohead’s “Robot Child’s Lament”, orchestrated by half human, half robotic, searing background voices in both OK Computer and Kid A:

  • 20 Curtis White, “Kid Adorno”, in Joseph Tate (ed.), The Music and Art of Radiohead, (...)

In a cut called “Exit Music” on OK Computer, the angelic but synthetic background chorus makes it seem as if Radiohead wishes to inspire even the androids to claim humanity. And there is a weird pathos in the computer-processed speaking voice on “Fitter Happier” and the lead vocal on “Kid A”, a song that could be called “The robot Child’s Lament”.20

25The “Robot Child’s Lament” (also featuring in Amnesiac’s particularly electronic “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors”) echoes Marvin, the Paranoid Android’s sadness derived from his excessive human attributes, his extraordinary, enhanced intelligence. The mix of technology-driven lament and consumer society rebuttal is ongoing in Amnesiac too. Quite tellingly, the back cover features a unique, large-sized bar code in which all the information is packed (or “Packt”). The track titles (among them “Dollars and Cents”) are inserted alongside manufacture details and tongue-in-cheek statements (“Place of manufacture as stated on label / Marketed and Distributed by EMI”; “Store away from direct sunlight; preferably in a dark corner with your secrets. See inside for details”), thus pushing further the mise en abyme (“underground bunkers”) and denunciation of the particulars of musical consumption operated on OK Computer’s back cover a few years before.

26Yet, the digital and commercial revolution was not truly enacted before In Rainbows (2007). Mastering an ethics and aesthetics of paradox, this album, which stands out as one of Radiohead’s most analogue and organic albums to date, as if a break from their previous electronic undertakings, was nonetheless their first LP to be released digitally before it was released physically. Turning the witty denunciation of the previous records into concrete activism, the revolutionary aspect of the release was the band’s decision, upon ending their contract with EMI, to let their audience choose the price they intended to pay for a digital copy of the album. As soon as December 2007, that is to say two months after the digital release, Wired Magazine’s Eliot Van Buskirk spoke of “Radiohead’s already legendary In Rainbows release”. This operation was a huge commercial success for the band (who collected almost $3 million), as Thom Yorke told David Byrne during the Wired interview: “In terms of digital income, we’ve made more money out of this record than out of all the other Radiohead albums put together, forever – in terms of anything on the Net.”

  • 21 Thom Yorke and David Byrne, “David Byrne and Thom Yorke on the Real Value of Music (...)

27Echoing OK Computer, Airbag or Amnesiac’s denunciation of a record’s market value (see the phrase “Supply and demand” in Amnesiac’s booklet), In Rainbows went a step further by letting the audience choose the market value of the product. In the Wired interview, Yorke claims that they wanted to preempt the album’s leaking, but I also take this move to be a backlash at the downgrading of the value of musical art, and paradoxically at the excessive prices of records in the 1990s and early 2000s benefiting, above all, the major(s), namely EMI which did not pay them download money.21 Radiohead sensed the downfall of the physical market (CD sales had already started plummeting in 2007) and invented a new way for well-established bands to fend for themselves outside of the traditional distribution networks. This move was not unlike the now widely-used crowd-funding websites. It enabled them to practice a harmless strand of globalization and gain back control of their musical productions as any indie band would, and therefore manage to have their “artistic freedom in the market place maintained” as the band had put it in OK Computer’s credits back in 1997.

  • 22 Idem.

28However, as Yorke himself puts it, this operation was successful because of their prior successes within the traditional networks of the music industry: “the only reason we could even get away with this, the only reason anyone even gives a shit, is the fact that we’ve gone through the wholemill of the business in the first place”.22 Two years later, during an interview for The Guardian, the significant New York artist and DIY musician Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth, Free Kitten) criticized Radiohead’s clever decision as, according to her, it broadcast a DIY illusion that discredited lesser-known acts’ efforts at making a living out of record sales:

The band [Sonic Youth] could, of course, have put out the album themselves, but chose not to because, as Gordon says, “there’s a whole machinery you have to build up.” Radiohead did it, though, with In Rainbows, initially released online for whatever fans wanted to pay. “I don’t really think they did it by themselves,” Gordon counters. “They did a marketing ploy by themselves and then got someone else to put it out. It seemed really community-oriented, but it wasn’t catered towards their musician brothers and sisters, who don’t sell as many records as them. It makes everyone else look bad for not offering their music for whatever.”23

  • 24 See for instance Victor Sarafian and Rosie Findlay (eds.), The State of the Music (...)
  • 25 Thom Yorke and David Byrne, “David Byrne and Thom Yorke on the Real Value of Music”, op. c (...)

29Whatever the pros and cons, and in spite of Thom Yorke’s humble position (“It’s not supposed to be a model for anything else. It was simply a response to a situation.”), over the last decade, numerous books and articles have mentioned In Rainbow’s download as a landmark for the music industry’s mutation.24 But as far as Radiohead’s own carrier is concerned, this visionary idea, which was in fact coined by manager Chris Hufford,25 is one manifestation among others of Radiohead’s long-established anti-capitalist position.

  • 26 Brandon W. Forbes and George A. Reisch (eds.), Radiohead and Philosophy: Fitter, H (...)
  • 27 Joseph Tate, “We (Capitalists) Suck Young Blood”, in Brandon W. Forbes and George A. Reisc (...)
  • 28 Ibid., 120.

30In their introduction to the collection Radiohead and Philosophy, Brandon Forbes and George Reisch speak of “Marx’s take on the ‘pay-what-you-want’ model of distribution”26 used on the occasion of In Rainbow’s digital release. In his article from the same collection, entitled “We (Capitalists) suck young Blood”, Joseph Tate ponders that “In Rainbows gave the music business a different economic model where there’s no capitalist in the middle stringing Radiohead up by the wrists”,27 and underlines an important paradox: “Capitalism gave Radiohead a platform from which to help remove exploitation from the capitalist equation.”28 This paradox is in line with the ones that nurtured the making of OK Computer. Radiohead’s repeated questioning and method since OK Computer could be summed up as follows: how to use the machine, be it in terms of economy, aesthetics or technology, in order to better subvert it? Indeed, before ending their contract with EMI and releasing In Rainbows, Radiohead had issued a DVD comprising seven of their best-known TV clips from The Bends and OK Computer. Once again, the artwork was made by Donwood and Yorke (based on the drawings and techniques of the OK Computer sessions output), and the title was an overt anti-capitalist message thriving on paradox: 7 Television Commercials. The message was clear: music should not be reduced to consumer goods and advertising, it has artistic value.

31Twenty years have now elapsed since the release of OK Computer, time for a special twenty-year reissue. Available in different formats, Radiohead’s OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017 enables the band to affirm one step further their artistic and economic views. The special edition box set features all the drawings and lyrics in a notebook and a scrapbook, along with the original songs, outtakes and demos on three vinyl records and a cassette. All the original artworks are gathered (the seminal texts and drawings, visible outside of the fragmentary palimpsests of the 1997 release), including the covers and artworks for Airbag, Meeting people is easy and 7 Television Commercials.

  • 29 “OKNOTOK” is intentionally misspelled “OKNOTKO”. The second “K” is reversed and offers a n (...)
  • 30 Noam Chomsky, The Chomsky Reader, op. cit., 42.

32On July 11, 2017, Radiohead published on Twitter a 57-second teaser announcing the release of the box set. The uncanny, recurring character Chieftan Mews, whose name is a mix between a chief, a captain, a news anchor monster and a paradoxical muse, says: “Hello. My name is Chieftan Mews. I’m unboxing” (Twitter, 11 July 2017). The word “unboxing” is followed by a title screen (“RADIOHEAD OK COMPUTER OKNOTKO 1997 2017”) whose letters are elongated so as to form a huge, dripping bar code.29 The band’s own marketing strategy is instantly self-denounced, all the more paradoxically as the media monster Chieftan Mews appears on the social-networking giant Twitter. The next frame pictures Mews again, concluding: “I am rigid with excitement.” The distance and the irony towards the music industry are once again aestheticized, using advertisement not in order to enhance beauty and create myth (as multinational brands do in Klein’s view), but rather to scare the audience and deface Radiohead’s image. In the following shots, the package is being opened by black-nailed hands which, in addition to Mews’s alien, deformed head and the unsettling guitar feedback, reinforce a sense of fear and manipulation. Radiohead suddenly takes the “vampire” position of the capitalist major, to use Joseph Tate’s image. Or else, to rephrase Chomsky’s metaphor, the “media creation” Chieftan Mews is a “ship[wreck] captain” sabotaging the “star system”.30 In this reassertion of Radiohead’s aesthetics of the sublime, the themes of danger and accident are reinstated by the black box, contrasting with the original white and pale-blue cover. Looking closer, one notices OK Computer’s cover veiled in black hews and partially burnt, evoking, at least to my eyes, the black box disclosed after a plane crash, holding unheard recordings.

  • 31 “This is the Radiohead website. [from about 1997] I don’t care about a website that goes a (...)

33Using one of the most popular social networks with ironical distance and playfulness, Radiohead seem to be rehashing its devouring paradox in a video that looks like some fictional anti-capitalist terrorist attack (do not expect a 1997 photoshopped picture of the band or an excerpt from “Karma Police” here). As with their website www.radiohead.com, the marketing strategy is bare and straightforward, and one senses a tinge of sarcasm and revulsion towards an audience’s expectation and a band’s monetary need in the music market, a monetary exchange that is, like Derrida’s pharmakon – vital yet poisonous.31

CODA

34Following a short passage from the song “Climbing up the Walls”, the OKNOTOK box set video’s brand new electronic music accelerates as the content of the box is being revealed. As in turns out, the melody, which is taken from the end of the box’s mixtape, is generated by lines of code from a 1982 ZX Spectrum computer. Soon after the release of the box set, the hidden, encoded content was decoded by geek fans. As Sam Machkovech first reported on July 12, 2017:

  • 32 Sam Machkovech, “Radiohead Releases a Surprise ZX Spectrum Program for OK Computer anniver (...)

the cassette, packed full of rare demos and odd audio experiments, ends with roughly two minutes of computer tones. At least one keen fan loaded this into a ZX Spectrum emulator (after processing the audio with a 3.5kHz low-pass filter). And the result is roughly 30 lines of code, with its functioning parts printing out a basic text greeting that lists the band members’ names alongside a note: “19th December 1996, with all our love.” The greeting is followed by a minutes-long blast of randomly generated colors and beeps. The code’s first 10 or so lines are commented out with a hidden message that reads, “congratulations....you’ve found the secret message syd lives hmmmm. We should get out more.”32

  • 33 “The Spectrum was already an old computer when Radiohead were recording OK Computer; sound (...)

35Upon discovering this last-minute turn of events, it seems that the original assumptions of the present article on OK Computer’s data-encoding have been confirmed. However, to nuance this report from Arts Technica, I would not call the final series of sounds and colors a mere “blast of randomly generated colors and beeps”. The most striking aspect of the piece is not so much the sign-posting content of its “secret message” per se, but rather its aesthetics and artistic scope. The musically-encoded message is a transmedia tour de force. Except for the eventful and eerie time-capsule feel of the date and the band members’ signature, the decoded, black-and-white messages are plain and spare, contrary to the final moments of the “blast[ing]” lines of code themselves, as they fill the screen with stroboscopic and sonic intensity. In my opinion, the final multimedia minutes revealed by the old ZX spectrum computer, whose obsolete sound had in fact already been used on OK Computer’s “Let Down”,33 are a computer-generated masterpiece, enacted twenty years later with celebratory, digital fireworks. The lines of code themselves are worth watching, graphically. Echoing the lyrics’ layout in OK Computer, the letters, gradually forming words, are actually seen oscillating on the page as they are being typed out by the machine. In this ultimate piece of computer-generated visual, sonic and written art, the words “CODE” and “POINT”, the icon “£” and the word-icon “SCREEN$”, framed and repeated in various bright colors, associated with “SIN”, bring to mind the artwork of Hail to the Thief (2003), whose cover painting by Stanley Donwood contained, in a similar multicolor and transmedia experiment, the words “VIDEO”, “TV” and “SCREEN”, as well as “Security”, “Media”, “$” and “¢”.

36OKNOTOK’s coded mixtape reveals an unclassifiable piece of work reminiscent of the most radical trends of Modernism, especially concrete poetry. Radiohead came up with a moving piece of art defying grammar, rhythm and syntax, a musical piece that needs to be decoded by a computer, and decoded again by the viewer’s eyes, a piece that speaks about the past from the future as well as to the future from the past, that randomly and not so randomly makes a musical, visual and linguistic coda; a composition whose antiquated font, colors, symbols and words fill the computer screen of the viewer’s post-millennial present, as if finally disclosing OK Computer’s core secret – its paradoxical aesthetization of consumerism and data-encoding.

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Bibliographie

ADAMS Douglas, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, London: Macmillan, 2009 [1979].

ANDREWS Bruce and BERNSTEIN Charles, The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1984.

BAUDRILLARD Jean, Symbolic Exchange and Death, Iain H. Grant (trans.), London: Sage, 1993.

CHOMSKY Noam, The Chomsky Reader, New York: Pantheon Book, 1987.

DELEUZE Gilles and PARNET Claire, Dialogues II, New York: Columbia UP, 2007.

DERRIDA Jacques, Dissemination, Barbara Johnson (trans.), Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

FOOTMAN Tim, Radiohead: Welcome to the Machine – OK Computer and the Death of the Classic Album, New Malden, Surrey: Chrome Dreams, 2007.

FORBES Brandon W. and REISCH George A. (eds.), Radiohead and Philosophy: Fitter, Happier, More Deductive, Peru, Il: Open Court, 2009.

GEE Grant, Meeting people is easy. A film by grant gee about radiohead (YOU ARE A TARGET MARKET), package artwork by stanley donwood and doctor tchock/the white chocolate farm, Parlophone / EMI Records Ltd., 1998. DVD

JONES Lucy, “Stanley Donwood on the Stories behind his Radiohead Album Covers”, NME, 27 September 2013. <http://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-blogs/stanley-donwood-on-the-stories-behind-his-radiohead-album-covers-766325>, accessed on September 25, 2019.

KLEIN Naomi, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, Toronto: Knop Canada / New York: Picador, 2000.

LEBLANC Lisa, “Ice Age Coming: Apocalypse, the Sublime, and the Paintings of Stanley Donwood”, in Joseph TATE (ed.), The Music and Art of Radiohead, Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2005, 85-102.

MACHKOVECH Sam, “Radiohead Releases a Surprise ZX Spectrum Program for OK Computer anniversary”, Arts Technica, 12 July 2017: <https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2017/07/radiohead-releases-a-surprise-zx-spectrum-program-for-ok-computer-anniversary/>, accessed on September 25, 2019.

MILLER Doug John, “Let Down” (“Twelve Visual Artists Interpret the 12 Songs on Radiohead’s OK Computer”), Pitchfork, 22 March 2017: <https://pitchfork.com/features/ok-computer-at-20/10028-twelve-visual-artists-interpret-the-12-songs-on-radioheads-ok-computer/> (retrieved on September 25, 2019).

PESCHECK David, “Youth Movement”, The Guardian, 5 June 2009: <https://www.theguardian.com/music/2009/jun/05/sonic-youth-rock-music>, accessed on September 25, 2019.

PINK FLOYD, Wish You Were Here, EMI, 1975. Vinyl.

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RADIOHEAD, In Rainbows, Album download, 10 October 2007. MP3.

RADIOHEAD, Kid A, Parlophone, 2000. CD.

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RADIOHEAD, OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017, Special Edition Box Set (3 vinyl records, notebook, sketchbook and cassette), XL Recordings, 2017: <http://oknotok.co.uk/>, accessed on September 25, 2019.

RADIOHEAD, The Bends, Parlophone, 1995. CD.

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SARAFIAN Victor and FINDLAY Rosie (eds.), The State of the Music Industry, Toulouse: PU Toulouse 1 Capitole, 2014.

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Notes

1 Expression borrowed from Don DeLillo, “In the Ruins of the Future”, Harper’s Magazine, December 2001 issue (also published in The Guardian, 22 December 2001. <https://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/dec/22/fiction.dondelillo>, accessed on September 18, 2019.

2 Tim Footman, Radiohead: Welcome to the Machine – OK Computer and the Death of the Classic Album, New Malden, Surrey: Chrome Dreams, 2007, 126.

3 Noam Chomsky, The Chomsky Reader, New York: Pantheon Book, 1987, 42, quoted and syntactically recast in Radiohead, Airbag, 1997.

4 See also the sentence “the following data was lost” on Airbag’s back cover and the explicit “NO DATA” logo in OK Computer.

5 Lisa Leblanc, “Ice Age Coming: Apocalypse, the Sublime, and the Paintings of Stanley Donwood”, in Joseph Tate (ed.), The Music and Art of Radiohead, Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2005, 86, quoted in Tim Footman, Radiohead: Welcome to the Machine, op. cit., 133.

6 “If you have been rejected many times in your life … Count the positive responses and forget about the rejections.” (Meeting people is easy, artwork)

7 See Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein, The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book, Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1984.

8 See “Robot”, Online Etymology Dictionary: <http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=robot>, accessed on September 25, 2019.

9 Tim Footman, Radiohead: Welcome to the Machine, op. cit., 129.

10 Ibid., 127.

11 Naomi Klein’s influential No Logo (2000) developed the core theory that multinational companies tend to create brands rather than products. Her vision recalls Jean Baudrillard’s rewriting of Marx: “Production is dead, long live reproduction.” (Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, Iain H. Grant (trans.), London: Sage, 1993, 50) The electronic loops and repeated, digital-drum patterns of Kid A (and OK Computer) can be considered as sound reproductions and digital clones. The original cover of Klein’s No Logo paradoxically uses a red, black and white “No Logo” logo, thus echoing Radiohead’s paradoxical enactment and denunciation of consumer codes in OK Computer.

12 Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues II, New York: Columbia UP, 2007, 4.

13 Later on, the song “Dollars and Cents”, taken from Amnesiac (2001) made this personification of money even more obvious: “We are the dollars and cents and the pounds and pence / And the mark and the yen.”

14 Tim Footman, Radiohead: Welcome to the Machine, op. cit., 131.

15 Thom Yorke’s The Eraser (XL Recordings, 2006) uses digital erasure, including the removal of some frequencies on the mix’s spectrum.

16 Stanley Donwood in Lucy Jones, “Stanley Donwood on the Stories behind his Radiohead Album Covers”, NME, 27 September 2013. <http://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-blogs/stanley-donwood-on-the-stories-behind-his-radiohead-album-covers-766325>, accessed on September 25, 2019.

17 An interesting paradox animated Donwood and Yorke’s method, as the erasure, or “bleach[ing]” generated by the “light pen” could not be erased as they made progress: “Aiming for a colour scheme of ‘bleached bone’, the artist tried out a new technique. ‘We did OK Computer on a computer with a tablet and a light pen. We had this rule when we couldn’t erase anything...’ he says.” (Lucy Jones, “Stanley Donwood on the Stories behind his Radiohead Album Covers”, NME, 27 September 2013. <http://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-blogs/stanley-donwood-on-the-stories-behind-his-radiohead-album-covers-766325>, accessed on September 25, 2019).

18 Ok Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017, special edition box set (3 vinyl records, notebook, sketchbook and cassette), XL Recordings, 2017 (<http://oknotok.co.uk/>, accessed on September 20, 2017).

19 Computer-Aided/Assisted Music.

20 Curtis White, “Kid Adorno”, in Joseph Tate (ed.), The Music and Art of Radiohead, Aldershot, England / Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005, 13.

21 Thom Yorke and David Byrne, “David Byrne and Thom Yorke on the Real Value of Music”, Wired Magazine, 18 December 2007. <https://www.wired.com/2007/12/ff-yorke/>, accessed on September 25, 2019.

22 Idem.

23 David Pescheck, “Youth Movement”, The Guardian, 5 June 2009. <https://www.theguardian.com/music/2009/jun/05/sonic-youth-rock-music>, accessed on September 25, 2019.

24 See for instance Victor Sarafian and Rosie Findlay (eds.), The State of the Music Industry, Toulouse: PU Toulouse 1 Capitole, 2014.

25 Thom Yorke and David Byrne, “David Byrne and Thom Yorke on the Real Value of Music”, op. cit.

26 Brandon W. Forbes and George A. Reisch (eds.), Radiohead and Philosophy: Fitter, Happier, More Deductive, Peru, Il: Open Court, 2009, ix.

27 Joseph Tate, “We (Capitalists) Suck Young Blood”, in Brandon W. Forbes and George A. Reisch (eds.), Radiohead and Philosophy, op. cit., 121.

28 Ibid., 120.

29 “OKNOTOK” is intentionally misspelled “OKNOTKO”. The second “K” is reversed and offers a new pun (as in “NOT KO”) and yet another instance of playful mirroring encoding. The regular title evokes both an ambivalent comment and an excerpt from a logical binary code (in “NOT” and “OK”), as in “NOTOKNOTOKNOTOKNOTOKNOTOK”.

30 Noam Chomsky, The Chomsky Reader, op. cit., 42.

31 “This is the Radiohead website. [from about 1997] I don’t care about a website that goes all over the place in a meaningless series of loops and is filled up with discarded ephemera from the broken hard drives of Donwood and Tchock. I want to buy OKNOTOK. And then I want to watch some TELEVISION.” (<http://www.radiohead.com/rh0001.html>, accessed on September 25, 2019).

32 Sam Machkovech, “Radiohead Releases a Surprise ZX Spectrum Program for OK Computer anniversary”, Arts Technica, 12 July 2017. <https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2017/07/radiohead-releases-a-surprise-zx-spectrum-program-for-ok-computer-anniversary/>, accessed on September 25, 2019.

33 “The Spectrum was already an old computer when Radiohead were recording OK Computer; sounds generated from one such unit can be found on the track ‘Let Down’.” (Noah Yoo, “Radiohead Secretly Hide Archaic Computer Message on OKNOTOK Cassette”, Pitchfork, 13 July 2017. <https://pitchfork.com/news/radiohead-secretly-hide-archaic-computer-message-on-oknotok-cassette/>, accessed on September 25, 2019.

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Référence électronique

François Hugonnier, « “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaambition makes you look [pretty] ugly”: Mass consumption and computer-generated art in Radiohead’s OK Computer », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. XVII-n°1 | 2019, mis en ligne le 12 novembre 2019, consulté le 14 décembre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/10715 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.10715

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Auteur

François Hugonnier

François Hugonnier is an Associate Professor of American Literature at the University of Angers (France). He has published many essays and chapters on American poetry, literature and culture, as well as a book-length study of Don DeLillo’s Falling Man (Presses Universitaires de Paris-Nanterre, 2016). He is the Editorial Assistant of the Journal of the Short Story in English and the co-editor, with I. B. Siegumfeldt, of an international collection of essays entitled New Avenues in Paul Auster’s Work, to be published by the peer-reviewed LISA e-journal. He is also a musician performing in the French rock band Novels. Their latest records include Savior (2010), Mirror Dog (2013) and Humongous (2017).

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