Soundtracks to The Circle: PC Music and Panopticon Pop

I was originally going to write this as a reply to Professor Fest’s post Soundtrack to Protocol, but felt like it warranted its own comment here.  In response to Fest’s post, user elexiusmusick wondered aloud about music that would fit in a trailer to a film adaptation of The Circle.  This got me thinking about what kind of music the employees of The Circle would be listening to while they work, play, and live within The Circle’s techno-utopian enclosure.  They seem to be only vaguely interested in the aging songwriters and classical musicians who stop by the campus for concerts, viewing their antiquated sincerity from another era with a condescending amusement. The proper soundtrack to The Circle would be music that feels like it comes from the same hyperreal dreamworld the employees inhabit, paradoxically detached yet fully engaged with the constant interconnectedness of the present moment. The closest thing I can think of to capturing the atmosphere Eggers’ constructs is the music from London-based netlabel PC Music:

The magnum opus of label mastermind AG Cook, Keri Baby appropriates the last twenty years of pop music into the a whirlwind flash of just over two minutes. G-Funk bass, EDM wobbles, and MIDI drums collide and twist around each other, rising and falling ecstatically like a rubbery waterslide ride. This new brand of pop music, known as bubblegum bass around the web, doesn’t just sound artificial, but embraces sterility with a maniacal grin: there’s even a sample from a Cannon digital camera click that occurs throughout. There’s no other song I can think of that better encapsulates what it feels like to live in the overstimulated year of 2014 as well as this one on a purely musical basis.  It’s overstuffed with hooks and textures to the point of queasiness, like being lost in a Chinese super-mall or trapped in a deep maze of gaudy pop-up ads. The most human thing about the track is Hannah Diamond’s untrained vocal performance; but even that is chopped up and altered robotically, her voice split into a hundred different cyber-Hannahs trying to break out of a digital cage.  “Don’t want to be / an MP3”, she intones.  Three-two-oh kay-bee-pee-ess / you know how I feel / kind of real / kind of OOOH -”  

The garish thrill Keri Baby delivers is something I could imagine hearing in the background of Gamer’s Society just as much as I could envision it booming out of the speakers in The Circle’s lobby.  Any of PC Music’s other tracks would fit, too: there’s GFOTY’s warped party anthem Don’t Wanna, Thy Slaughter’s infinitely ascending Bronze and the literal sugar-rush of SOPHIE’s Lemonade.  But as dense and addicting as these songs are, there’s an unnerving disconnect between the way they comment on their own hollowness while wholly embracing it. Just like the utopian corporate facade set up by The Circle, the 3D shimmer of AG Cook and friends’ music feels like its resting on top of something it knows is ultimately empty and shallow.  While these songs raise many questions about life and art in the 21st century (another post could be written about the ways they toy with of gender and identity, or even how they use social networks to share their music in a way not dissimilar to how distributed network protocol works), they don’t attempt to answer them; rather, Cook and others reflect the vapidity of the post-modern, post-reality world back in our faces through masterful production and some severely addicting songwriting.  PC Music are not afraid of Foucault’s Panopticon or Harraway’s cyborg future: As Hannah Diamond sings on Attachment, even in the face of break-up, you can save your lover’s face as a picture on your phone.

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2 Responses to Soundtracks to The Circle: PC Music and Panopticon Pop

  1. danwillisdan says:

    I think that the vision of the people of PC Music is very much akin to Eggers’ vision in writing The Circle, because their music is so knowing, whereas a lot of what the actual fictional company The Circle is defined by its obliviousness. It might be easy to conflate Eggers’ point of view with Mae’s because it’s so painfully obvious that The Circle is evil, but let’s not forget that Mae, like all the other Circlers is totally convinced that what they are doing is in no way sinister. If I had to pick an artist that the employees would realistically listen to, I’d think it’d be something more like Mumford and Sons. Their music is just so massive and rousing and youthful and sincere, but also totally agreeable. It’s got these whole “we’re starting a movement!” and “we’re in a car commercial!” vibes going on that strike me as really Circly.

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  2. danwillisdan says:

    Also, what do you mean by ‘Panopticon Pop’? What does PC Music have to do with surveillance or control? And what’s the deal with the last link you included in your post? I don’t understand it.

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