FEAR OF A BLANK PLANET: TECHNOLOGY AND ALIENATION IN THE MUSIC OF STEVEN WILSON
On the inside cover to Steven Wilson’s 2008 album Insurgentes is pictured a scene of broken iPods, their cases and circuit boards strewn across the ground. Wilson has been vocal about what he regards as the diminished experience of music that iPods represent, especially the reduction of album artwork to an icon on a screen. This paper suggests that Wilson’s critique of the iPod is much broader, redolent of what Daniel Chua (2010) describes as the reduction of music ‘to a cocoon’ that allows the individual to disappear into their own subjectivity. This is, in turn, part of a broad social anxiety about contemporary digital culture. I examine how these themes play out in the 2007 album Fear of Blank Planet by Wilson’s band Porcupine Tree. Fear of Blank Planet makes a series of complex links to the Brett Easton Ellis novel Lunar Park (2005), as Wilson himself acknowledges. The album deploys a range of imagery associated with youth culture: prescription drugs, addiction to games and television, and boredom. I will argue that these themes constitute a critique of listening practices, and that the ideas of technology and alienation running through Fear of a Blank Planet have broader resonances elsewhere in Wilson’s output.
Peter Elsdon is a Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Hull. His book on Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert was published by Oxford University Press in 2013. Together with Björn Heile and Jenny Doctor, he co-edited the volume Watching Jazz, published by Oxford University Press in 2016. His publications cover a broad range of areas, from work on Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós, to chapters on John Coltrane, Snarky Puppy, theorising improvisation, and music and gesture. He is currently working on a project that examines technologies of listening by using ideas such as mediation, agency, and object-oriented ontology.