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