Friday, 31 July 2009

Full Spectrum Dominance

My last posting referred to David Thrussell, and it turns out that things get even more interesting with a bit more digging around. His side project is called Black Lung, and the album Full Spectrum Dominance was officially commissioned by the DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency -- a funding body of the U.S Government and the Pentagon) to produce a recording that reflects the ideals and reality of Vision 2020, a futuristic military strategy program that first saw the light of day in May of 2000. I have been listening to this piece almost continuously because it is truly remarkable to experience some sense of entering the phenomenological space of this military inner sanctum, much in the manner of the employees listening to it on their iPods and over the base address system:

"March 2008, in one of the most unusual events in contemporary music history, notable electronic/alternative musician David Thrussell is commissioned by DARPA ...

"The design was twofold," Says DARPA media liaison Thomas Steel, "to deliver to the men and women working in some of the Pentagon's most challenging fields an inspiring soundtrack to their daily working lives, but also to present to the general public information and a view hitherto unconsidered of some of the lesser known branches of our military."

Working with a sizeable budget and unprecedented access to defense installations and personnel, Thrussell took over a year to complete the project and wove many field recordings as well as the sounds of sensitive hardware and technology into the final product. One of the greatest thrills for me," says Thrussell, "was setting up a full P.A. inside one of the ICBM silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California to run and record the final mix on the title track Full Spectrum Dominance -- room ambience and all!" Incorporated also are actual recordings of top secret military activities in the upper ionosphere generated from the HAARP base in Gakona, Alaska, "If I told you what they were up to there, not only would you not believe me, but I'd still have to shoot you!," chimes in Thrussell with a wry smile.

Asked if he sees any conflict between his latest project and his past stance as a sometimes critic of government and military activities Thrussell is quick to retort, "No, not at all. I see my role first as a musical journalist -- to present the information -- there's plenty of time for editorialising later. And....," he continues enthusiastically, "I've even invented my own sub-genre to describe the album's unique, crunchy, downbeat sound -- Grave-step....." He smiles another beatific smile without the faintest trace of irony.

The project, comprised as it is of both motivational tunes and immersive soundscapes, has already been deemed a success by the personnel at Vandenberg, if play counts on iPods and over the base address system are anything to go by. The DARPA Arts Liaison Fund is proud to present the new Black Lung album Full Spectrum Dominance. Available to the general public June 2009".

Track Listing
1. Imperial March
2. Hostmen Of Tyne
3. Full Spectrum Dominance
4. Territorial Imperative
5. Regulator Plot
6. Great Unconscious
7. Wonderful Wizard Of Ounce
8. World Without Us
9. Feminine Void
10. Neuroses Of Nostalgia

With a bit of imagination it is possible to see such a commissioning of an artist as apiece with a larger strategy to militarise civilian culture. It's Nick Turse's thesis in The Complex taken to the nth degree insofar as the strategy of "full spectrum dominance" encompasses not only the military's control over land, air and sea, but information/sonic resources as well (it would be remiss of me to not also mention in this context Steve "kode9" Goodman's upcoming Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and the Ecology of Fear). But why now? What other dystopic inflections can be given to this scenario? In his book Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order, economist William Engdahl adroitly explicates the effect the servicing of debt has on the realpolitik associated with Vision 2020.

I see it as inevitable that some unholy alliance of technological determinists and conspiracy theorists will be quick to trace an almost [genetic] concordance between full spectrum dominance and technological Singularity. This style of reasoning will emphasise how the United States will go "transhuman" to refinance itself: "rapturing" its citizens out of their material forms in a new age of "spiritual machines" (to use Ray Kurzweil's favorite expression) as it advances to a permanent war economy. This conception makes a recent TV series such as Battlestar Galactica seem like a warning about the shape of things to come. However, a recent study, with the very telling title Cylons in America (thanks ahuthnance for the tipoff), has managed to qualify the dystopic interpretation with specific reference to the Singularity.

I don't see Americans then becoming cylons, but am willing of course to consider science fiction serving as a sensitising device. It seems to me though that it is more important to monitor the connections between brain research and national security, as earlier featured on this blog with reference to Jonathan Moreno's Mind Wars. So let's keep track of what the science can actually do, and then consider how it can be regulated by a social epistemology. Hence the problem I have with the "sonic warfare" reading is the potential inherent risk of its convergence with the dystopia of the Singularity in what equates to a post-political conception. There is a danger of presuming that rational deliberation, letalone any reliance on ideology in political discourse (that is at least detectable and therefore capable of being held accountable), will simply go out the window, thanks to some kind of invisible, but inescapable, strategy of Control. It follows that it is simply insufficient for its adherents to reply that the post-political condition is a mere side effect of their thinking for which they can take no personal responsibility. Epistemic justice demands to the contrary that your arguments have to make allowance for unintentional effects as well. Authors cannot just ask for their paternity [sic] to be returned to them as such logic is consistent with the so-called genetic fallacy.

Make no mistake about it though, the challenges progressives face are considerable, but I'm not willing to give up just yet, as if military transhumanism were somehow inevitable: we haven't "raptured" ourselves into that kind of "transcendental fascism", so it is still up to us to take responsibility for the kind of future we want. The future remains a prospective ideal.....

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