Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, the ultimate surveillance image, is the main theme of this new episode of our MUSIC & SURVEILLANCE series. Panopticism is here explored through the aural lens of Paul Baran’s ‘Panoptic’, which combines elegant improvisation with a touch of electronics. 

Paul Baran is a Glasgowian artist operating sometimes alone and sometimes as a member of The Cray Twins. While The Cray Twins seem to devote themselves primarily to inventing unusual electronic instruments, on his own Baran appears especially concerned with linking music and thinking. ‘Panoptic’, Baran’s only solo record for the moment, was published in 2009 by Fang Bomb (a new one is apparently imminent). It is a conceptual album about creativity under surveillance, dedicated to thinkers such as Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek.

The album’s opening track is a slow motion ode to forgetting, being undocumented, and self-erasure. Titled ‘Scotoma Song‘, it hints that Baran’s ‘Panoptic’, just like Bentham’s Panopticon, is as much about what is seen (and heard) as about what is no longer seen (or heard). The record then unfolds slowly and gently, at least at the beginning.

Love Under Surveillance‘, co-authored and performed with Andrea Belfi (percussions) and Werner Dafeldecker (at the double bass) offers a ten minutes promenade through surveillance threats. The mood is melancholic and at the same time spine-chilling, but eventually the record becomes progressively infected with more and more disruptive glitches. During To Protest In Their Silence‘ (again with Belfi, and now also with Gordon Kennedy) electronics go all over the place: it is certainly more about protests than about silence, like a tribute to the art of banging pots, pans, and other utensils in order to express dissent wordlessly.

The human voice reappears in Jackson and Lee’, painfully singing ‘and back, and forth‘, like an unmotivated pendulum. In ‘Pomerol’, it closes ‘Panoptic’s exploration with some apocalyptic mumbling floating on Keith Rowe’s prepared guitar and a sighing calculator. A worthwile conceptual experience. Text by Gloria González Fuster

pic by _marmota (@flickr)

A new Food Think Tank is being launched at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), bringing together researchers interested in food from a wide range of disciplines. The VUB Food Think Tank, currently led by members of the Law, Science, Technology and Society (LSTS) and Social and Cultural Food Studies (FOST), and collaborating with the Institute for European Studies (IES), aims to gather perspectives, and to nurture discussions on issues related to the current and future challenges of food. The Think Tank is organising the ‘EU Food Law: What’s on the Menu? Policy Fora‘, three events that focus on key issues being debated at European level: Novel Food (5 May 2014), Organic Farming (12 May 2014) and Sustainable Food (2 June 2014). All the details can be found here.

Simon Davies

We are delighted to announce that Simon Davies has joined LSTS for a 6-month term as Freelance Researcher. Simon Davies is one of the pioneers of the modern privacy movement. He has more than 25 years’ experience working worldwide with advocates, companies, regulators and government. He is one of the key international experts on identity systems, visual surveillance, privacy-by-design and consumer privacy rights and has established strong global leadership in the field. As founder of the watchdog organisation Privacy International he has worked in more than forty countries and in more than a hundred topic areas and is widely regarded as a key opinion-former in the field.

He has advised a wide range of corporate, government and professional bodies, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, British Medical Association, British Telecom, Microsoft, Facebook, AOL, eBay, the UK Treasury, the UK Department of Work and Pensions and IBM. Simon has worked closely with the London School of Economics since 1997. Currently he is a co-director of LSE’s Policy Engagement Network and also a Fellow with Chartered status of the British Computer Society (FBCS CITP).

PhaedraThe PHAEDRA project has published the first part of the second deliverable, which is titled “A compass  towards best elements for cooperation ¨between data protection authorities”. The report gives an overview of relevant legislation, networks between data protection authorities (DPAs) and agreements between DPAs. The report also distinguishes different aims of cooperation, and best elements for cooperation between DPAs.

The report was produced by Professor Dr. Paul De Hert and Gertjan Boulet, researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel – Research Group on Law, Science, Technology and Society (VUB-LSTS). The report received a contribution from Auke Wilems, researcher from VUB - Research Group Fundamental Rights & Constitutionalism (FRC).

To access the full report, please click here.

Industrial music has always been attracted by dystopian worlds and apocalyptical aesthethics. The new episode of our MUSIC & SURVEILLANCE series explores the work of Skull:Axis, an artist self-described as ‘paranoid, delusional industrial’ that has devoted a whole record to ‘The Transparent Society’.

Skull:Axis is actually Jason B. Bernard, from Brighton, who is also responsible for the record label Peripheral, officially ‘the home of all things Dark’. Bernard plays intricate electronic music combining metalic and synthetic sounds, somewhere between obscure ambient and uncomfortable experimentation.

‘The Transparent Society’ is originally the title of book published in 1998 by David Brin, in which this science-fiction author tried to argue in favour of extreme social transparency. Skull:Axis’ record, also titled ‘The Transparent Society’ and published by Peripheral in 2013, takes a critical approach to transparency by offering eight dark tracks with eerie sounds and threatening voices repeating numbers. The artwork is black and white and retro, but the surveillance practices sketched out are rather contemporary.

The hypnotic ‘Data Retention Directive evokes the EU legal instrument currently imposing the general retention of communications data of all users of telecommunications networks in Europe. ‘SORM-2′ refers to the Russian system for the monitoring of telecommunications and Internet activity. A track named ‘Surveillance I’ is mirrored by a longer piece called ‘Überwachung I. The record wraps up with ‘Hide’, the most peaceful (or empty) track of the lot. The CD is accompanied by a quote by Marc Maron: ‘Surveillance induced morality: relics of cultural retardation’Text by Gloria González Fuster

picture by corum_l (@flickr)

On Monday 10 February Lonneke van der Velden, of the University of Amsterdam (UvA), will give a presentation in the context of VUB’s Law & Criminology Talks. Titled “Forensic devices for activism: on how activists use mobile device tracking for the production of public proof“, the presentation will describe the various ways in which a mobile phone application turns a problem, that of mobile device tracking, into a method for the production of public proof. Lonneke van der Velden is a PhD candidate at the Digital Methods Initiative (DMI) at the UvA. The event will take place between 12h00 and 14h00. More information here (pdf).

picture by rpeschetz (@flickr)

Gary T. Marx, Professor Emeritus of sociology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and currently Visiting Professor at VUB, will present on 17th February 2014 a public lecture entitled ‘Windows of the Soul: Surveillance and Society in an Age of High Technology’.  Professor Marx will illustrate how and why surveillance is neither good nor bad. The emphasis is on a conceptual framework dealing with structures, processes, cultural meanings and experiences that can accommodate and help explain the variation in surveillance tools – such as video, biometry, sensors, RFID chips, GPS, social media and big data sets. Gary T. Marx’ goals are normative, as well as social scientific, as he seeks frameworks for judging and evaluating public policy. Respondent: Prof. Paul De Hert (LSTS). Free entrance, no registration needed. More information: here.