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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Sound and Vision

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In 'Breaking Glass' we witness something horrible, as Bowie is revealing the darkness that had overtaken his soul. Unable to deal with it directly, he is using metaphors to express it and tells us to "listen" and "see", use our senses to grasp it. This sensual approach is developed further in 'Sound and Vision'.

But here, the mood is different. It is still the synthesized, echoey sound we were introduced to in 'Speed of Life', but the speed is brought down. It is not the dehumanized, claustrophobic sense we get from 'Breaking Glass', 'What in the World' and the opening track, but something more bouncy and breezy, almost cheerful. We are no longer rushing with the speed of life in the modern world - we are withdrawing from it and listening to the sound of our soul, realizing that it is still alive. The vocals come in with some humming and "a-ah"s which give a sense of relief, and Bowie's saxophone, always representing his most soulful moments, comes in and joins the mix. Suddenly, the patented technological synth-guitar sound of Low does not sound like the sound of humanity being torn apart, but like a new harmony between man and his modern world. This goes on for the first half of the record, sending our body dancing and our soul singing, and we wonder what it was that revived Bowie in such a manner. But just when we think it is an instrumental, the lyrics come in.

Don't you wonder sometimes
'Bout sound and vision?

As he did many times in the past, Bowie turns to reflect about the reality he lives in. But here, the reflection is more radical than ever. He actually begins to question the data provided by his senses, his windows to the outside world. Like a 17th century empiricist, he wonders if this is really reality. 'Speed of Life' feels like a sensory overflow, the rush of the modern world that smites our thoughts and carries them helplessly along. Bowie is now trying to dissociate himself from it, and look at it as just a blend of sounds and visions.

Blue, blue, electric blue
That's the color of my room
Where I will live
Blue, blue
Pale blinds drawn all day
Nothing to do, nothing to say
Blue, blue
I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of sound and vision
And I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision
Drifting into my solitude, over my head
Don't you wonder sometimes about sound and vision?

Bowie draws into himself. Like the Who's Tommy, he shuts out the sounds and visions of the outside world and listens to his own inner music. And when he looks at his inner world he finds that it is a sad, blue world. But in the blues, as we know, there is also soul. The feel-good vibe of the music tells us that this disengagement from the outside world does Bowie some good, that he is beginning to heal. Listening to his inner song, he re-engages with his own humanity.

But that is not enough. Bowie is not saying that he intends to stay in this cocooned state forever. He is "waiting for the gift of sound and vision", waiting for his senses to develop a new kind of sensibility, one that perceives the world differently and enjoys it once again. But until that day comes, he just lets all the sounds and visions around him go over his head, and drifts into solitude.

'Sound and Vision' is one of Bowie's most beloved tunes. In 1990, when he embarked on a worldwide greatest hits tour, it was called "The Sound + Vision tour".

Always a favorite, here is a lovely performance from 2002.

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