For the past few months i've been working on two different iterations of a new series of works captured by the broader banner of Snowden. The complete program note is included below, suffice to say that the works engage with the issues of surveillance brought to public attention by Edward Snowden in 2013.
- Snowden, for electric guitar and electronics, will be performed by Chris Kotchie at The Bakery on 19 August, 2014 as part of Club Zho
- Snowden (Eyes In The Sky), for bass clarinet and electronics, will be performed by Dr Lindsay Vickery at Školská 28, Prague on 20 July, 2014 as part of 'Improvising Across Borders' 2014
Like many people I struggled to understand the real-world implications of the revelations made by Edward Snowden during his initial leaks of the data mining activities of the NSA. After all, surveillance of this kind has probably been happening for a while and, if so, my life has been no worse off than before such suspicions were confirmed. I could satisfy myself that I wasn’t giving anyone anything that I considered to be particularly valuable. It wasn’t until several months later, following a change of government and the continued recurrence of media news stories that continued to hark back to the original leaks made by Snowden, that it started to dawn on me the truly awesome significance of the data mining activities of the NSA. As I type this, data pertaining to my electronic activities, in part if not in total, are being harvested by PRISM (or some similar program). The exact contents of this communication are not necessarily of interest; rather the surrounding metadata – the data about data – builds an impression of my electronic activities and consequentially me as an individual. From here the temptation is to fall into conspiracy theory. The reality is that we don’t know what the repercussions of such surveillance can be, but we can assume it is of some value to someone, somewhere. Perhaps we are all too used to, and preoccupied with, uncertainty in our immediate lives following the GFC that we can happily ignore the more vague, poorly defined uncertainty that surrounds the harvesting of metadata by security organisations.
Snowden is a work that engages with this modern day surveillance state. The instrumentalist performs a musical dialogue that is never heard in its undistorted form. The computer monitors his behaviour and reprocesses his performance according to the values and changes of collected metadata – pitch, volume, noise, and brightness. The instrumentalist is close-mic’d, and the musical dialogue is constantly monitored and sampled periodically. This exchange is then reprocessed live into a whirring, textural soundscape, a manifestation of these processes of surveillance. Ultimately, Snowden uses these systems of surveillance in an affirming way – instead of being used to predict behaviour they are used to create music, simultaneously exposing metadata control systems and harnessing them for the good of creating something new and abstract. To make a change we must first understand what we are trying to change, and to that end I hope that Snowden contributes to this ongoing discussion.
Snowden was commissioned by TURA New Music.