Peter Elsdon (University of Hull, UK)


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.