Handpan - and the Panopticon Connection

Chances are if you watched Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie (the first one), you’ll have some idea of what a “Panopticon” is (see picture right). First imagined by English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, a Panopticon is a kind of prison, within which the cells are constructed in a circle, built around one central surveillance platform. The scheme of the design is to allow all (pan-) inmates of an institution to be observed (-opticon) by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all the inmates' cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that they are incentivized to act as though they are being watched at all times.  Effectively compelling the inmates to constantly control their own behavior.

And despite first being devised purely as a thought experiment, a number of Panopticon-style detention-centres were constructed based upon the concept, including the “Presidio Modelo”, in Cuba, a Panopticon famous for the fact that it once housed communist revolutionary, Fidel Castro.  And the name Panopticon itself, is in reference to “Panoptes” of Greek mythology, who was a giant with a hundred eyes.

And likely you've already spotted where we going with this, in terms of the similarities between the Handpan's architecture, and the Panopticons. With the Handpan's notes being positioned around the central note, or Ding, in a similar manner to the Panopticon's cells. Something presumably not lost on Saraz Handpan's Mark Garner, and E.W. Harris, who chose the name for the second track on their ReEntry album...


And additionally there is a Handpan-specific events-organising company based in London, UK - that also names itself Panopticon.

Top down view of a Panopticon.
So we have "Pan" in the name, and the visual imagery is also strong. But there are still further similarities between these two seemingly far-removed objects and entities that strengthen the connection between them. That can be found within the sonic qualities of both.

In the book, Prison and Jail Administration: Practice and Theory. The authors explain that:

'...built with concrete or masonry, furnished with steel bunks and secured with steel cell fronts, the panopticon has extremely high normal, or ambient, noise levels because of reverberation and echoes within its hard walls. The circular plan shape, which generates the drum-shaped building, is a natural sound amplifier. Given the normal activity in a prison housing unit (e.g. talking, showering, closing doors, doing janitorial work), the ambient noise level in a panopticon at midday is so amplified by its shape that normal conversation sounds like shouting...'.

Operating in the same manner the Handpan's internal echo-chamber works to amplify its own sound.

Thus cementing the connection between the Handpan and the Panopticon forever - if only in some weird symbolic esoteric kind of way...

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