MUSIC & … #2 [MUSIC & SURVEILLANCE] Trans Am

The second episode of our [MUSIC & …] series is again devoted to MUSIC & SURVEILLANCE. In his excellent 2008 paper on the subject, ‘Soul Train: The New Surveillance in Popular Music‘, professor Gary T. Marx analysed popular music’s lyrics in search of insights about surveillance. His contribution left nevertheless open the question of what happens when there are no lyrics: Can instrumental music tell something about the subject?

trans am the surveillance coverTrans Am thinks it can. In 1997, as they were recording their third opus not far from Washington DC, the trio felt its music echoed the increasingly oppressive presence of cameras, alarms and surveillance devices, and, generally,  how America was surrendering to feelings of insecurity and paranoia. They named the resulting record  The surveillance‘. Its mixture of noise, prog and krautrock with rudimentary electronics evokes indeed a series of adventurous detours through bumpy roads, like a useless attempt to avoid a Kraftwerk’s autobahn suddenly equipped with automatic plate recognition technology by driving too fast. Song titles such as “Armed response“, “Home security” and “Extreme measures” firmly connect the tracks to the surveillance narrative. Together with “Endgame”, which is (just) a never-ending drone in the vinyl version, they appear as amazingly preemptive for a pre-9/11 record.

Trans Am’s fascination with technology continued to develop in ‘Futureworld (1999). What did the trio actually do after 9/11? They signed an even more critical Liberation(2004), featuring the track ‘Total Information Awareness’ and real police helicopters, but also ‘TA’ (2002), a sort of conceptual record about bad records, in a combination of humour and politics that not everybody followed smoothly.  Text by Gloria González Fuster 

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