Thursday, November 21, 2013

Edward Snowden The Musical

No, I'm not really writing a musical about Edward Snowden, the former CIA cybersecurity worker who is now exiled in Russia for the year, awaiting who knows what kind of a decision about his future. One of my professors thinks the topic of the NSA and government surveillance would even make a great opera. (What kind of arias would I write for it? Or would it be more like Einstein on the Beach?) Actually, much to my own surprise, I'm working on a new short-ish chamber music composition about the NSA, and more specifically people's feelings about government surveillance and our potential loss of a feeling of privacy over our lives. I think it's going to be written for strings and electronics. I thus find it totally appropriate that the government could pick up on the words in this post and potentially raise an eyebrow to my artistic output.

One of my main challenges in wrestling with this topic is it sheer size. The size of the debate of course doesn't just begin with Snowden, but includes Julian Assange, spy scandals in Britian, and goes all the way back to the "good ole' days" where all you could do to spy is wiretap someone's phone line, take pictures of men cheating on their wives, and intercept their postmail. Thankfully the Guardian has put out a fabulous website that helps clarify a lot of the fundamental issues (from all sides) in the Edward Snowden/NSA saga. The website is mostly in normal-people language, thank goodness, but also includes a lot of the de-classified/leaked documents of which are in question.

It's not so much the facts of the matter that interest me but the emotional content. I've never been much of a political person. I hate political debates and would rather see a list of facts of what candidates support and don't support, and I'll weigh my voting options from there. I also don't like feeling conflicted about issues, but that's mostly all I do, being a 110% Libran. I just see a million sides of things. I think, well, I wouldn't want to be spied upon. I would not like companies giving away my personal information (even in its bytes and codes and metadata) without my knowing. I don't even like to talk on the phone on public transport (or maybe that's just courtesy). On the other hand, if there's a chance that crazy people could be prevented from bombing public sites, or attacking innocent bystanders, then I don't know if I'd mind giving up some information. It's not the information people have that's bad, it's what people do with information. I do feel sad that many Americans are often quick to place blame on a single individual for such large-scale complex issues. Those people become scapegoats who usually never end up as vilified as time passes. Many times I feel ashamed that more Americans wouldn't feel like this was even an issue that could affect their lives, or that they even had some small part in the matter.

I've never personally been caught in the middle of a battle over sensitive or secure information. I can hardly keep a secret about what I might be giving you for Christmas. I don't know what I would do if my life could be in jeopardy over things I know. I would feel wrought with Libran conflict! Thus, my work had its germinal idea: a lament.

I'd like the piece to feature wafting voices, transformed into bits of coded data. Maybe there are secret messages embedded in the electronics, sent out into the audience. And the strings would play this lament, likely Medieval inspired, trying to cut through the here and now to something more timeless and universal. Fingers crossed.

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