'Much like the prepubescent boys whose testicles were altered in order to make great art, Baby Grace, possibly one of Ramona’s victims, is dissected, gutted, drained, and then reworked into a grotesque sculpture, about which the liner notes query: ‘It is definitely murder – but was it art?’ (Bowie, 1996: 3). It can be argued that in the story created by Bowie, there is no complete body, only parts, so there is nothing to see – nothing to see that is, except the lack which stands in place of Baby Grace – a delectable absence. There is no more Baby Grace. There is only art, or what might be better expressed as artifice, a surface with no meaning beneath its façade – a statement that is quite similar to one made over the years about Bowie hiimself and, of course, there is the Baroque love for artifice. While it is unlikely that Bowie condones this character’s actions, his allusions to various musical genres, especially those made through the piano, perform a similar symbolic function in the sense that it is piecing together different parts from many different sources into an artistic whole.
It is not the piano alone that stiches together fragments; Bowie designed a computer program called the Verbasizer, which expands upon the cut-up method originate by Burroughs and Gysin, to aid in the creation ofhis non-linear, tumultuous sound by cutting up layers of signification. He input newspaper and magzine hadlines into the program and they were spat back out; shuffles, merged, and reassembled (Apted, 1997). The program stripped, clipped, cut, and through this cutting, generated new, unrelated meanings. He manufactured with the Verbasizer a porousness, allowing for multivalent readings and associations to arise. If art has a reference (something based in reality or Realism), Bowie seems to suggest that this reference is malleable and that the artist (Bowie) spins it on its head to generate something entirely new that cannot be traced back to its origin. So, rather than coming from within, Bowie takes his cues from outside himself for the text. These cues are random, meaningless, computer-generated words that have come loose from their signifying positions in order to have new meanings inserted tot hem through Bowie’s vocal choices and his placement of them within the sonic space. In addition, producer Eno once again used oblique strategy cards in the studio while recording Outside, reprising their succesful use from his past collaboration with Bowie during the Berlin days. The oblique strategy cards have aphorisms printed on them, which are used as a way to move musicians forward and reignite or draw on a creative source that seems incoherent or out of place. Through these processes, the origin has lost its meaning, yet meaning is reinserted through the musical composition achieved through the suturing that occurs during the album’s production. Through this compositional method Bowie is mimicking the larger conditions the artist is working within, letting things that would not normally converge align with eacht other.
Outside has a mirroring effect, reflecting back Western society’s horrors and anxieties to the audience, only magnified and made more extreme. As the mirroring occurs, reality is called into question suggesting perhaps that “one is not het simulacrum of which the other would be the real: there are only simulacra” (Baudrillard, 2009:55). Both the listeners and the album Outside may inhabit waht Baudrillard called the third order of simulacra, where people are incapable of experiencing anything that could exist outside the codes of simulation, where the boundaries between signification and reality have imploded. Now all we can experience are respresentations of representations (Baudrillard, 2009: 121). However, I would argue that this is precisely what Bowie is toying with, working outside the codes of simulation by using a means of artistci production that is outside the typical framework of music making and thus not tied explicitly or even implicitly to signification to begin with. With this creative process, Bowie is working in transaesthetics on the one hand, but on the other, he brings the signifiers back in by using the piano as a through-line of the album. The piano, istead of being lost in a transaesthetic nightmare, becomes the signifying voice, and it does so because of its history beging (re)presented sonically. By doing this, transaesthetics is debunked and shown as an unreliable concept of reality as there is always something signifying.'
(Tiffany Naiman, 'Art's Filthy Lesson', in: Eoin Devereux, Aileen Dillane and Martin J. Power (eds.), David Bowie: Critical Perspectives, 2015, Routledge)