Peter Gabriel Shares The Idea Behind New Song ‘Panopticom’

Surveillance has always been one of the most important tools of political power to monitor, control, and discipline individuals. Today’s data technologies are undoubtedly one of the last incarnations of these tools. Peter Gabriel’s latest release, ‘Panopticom,’ precisely addresses this issue, and the singer shared the details of his new song in a video on his official YouTube channel.

“Panopticon was the creation of Jeremy Bentham, who I think is sitting stuffed in my son’s university, UCL in London, but he was a social reformer,” the musician started to explain Bentham’s design of a prison. “A lot of interesting ideas, but this one was about prisons. And it has a slight Orwellian feel to it because, in a sense, it’s about surveillance, which is a very current, important topic.”

Gabriel continued, “One guard would be in the middle, and all the cells around would be open on the side facing the guard so he or she could see anything or everything that was going on. Now, if you flip that model, so Big Brother becomes little sister. Then you try and create something like this giant globe that allows ordinary people to observe those in power and exactly what they are doing.”

In his song, we see a different interpretation of this design. The singer noted, “So that was a sort of idea, the starting point for ‘Panopticom,’ and then the com would be that they can communicate both to the globe and what’s going on in the globe. So it’s turning surveillance on its head.”

The album also touches on artificial intelligence and the fate of art through its cover. As you know, today, different artificial intelligence software can create art pieces with the keywords you provide only in minutes. This has brought the question of ‘what art is and should be’ to the agenda again, perhaps more controversially than ever before.

David Spriggs, with whom Gabriel worked on the album cover, is an artist who ponders these issues, and with the artwork he designed for the album cover, he tried to show what art could look like in the future. Peter added, “There is a piece of art with each song, and we’ve been looking at the work of many hundreds of artists.”

Reflecting on Spriggs, the rocker said, “And David Spriggs, who was actually born in Manchester but now lives in Vancouver, does this amazing stuff and uses many layers of transparency. So you get this sort of strange creations that almost feel like, well, some are influenced by nature, but they have a life of their own. And because of so many layers, there’s an intensity to them.”

The singer concluded by saying, “So I had a couple of great talks with him, and he said part of what he does is he imagines what art might look like a few years in the future and then try and create accordingly. And I think he’s done that very successfully in this particular piece.”

As you know, while there is still quite a large portion of people who have no access to the internet, it is still available to many. Based on this wide accessibility, it is argued that the internet provides an opportunity to balance the asymmetrical relationship between government and citizens, as it opens up a maneuvering space not only for the power but also for the citizens.

For example, videotaping police actions, known as cop-watching, emerged as a new form of political activism. These topics are becoming increasingly important today as data technologies leak into even the smallest moments of daily life. Discussing this issue through music is undoubtedly one of the best parts of Gabriel’s upcoming album.