top of page

We Interrupt This Transmission

Vibraphone and Electronics

Score sample

Click on the score page above to access a more in-depth score preview (where available). 

We Interrupt This Transmission

On November 22, 1987, WTTW (a PBS affiliate in Chicago) was airing an episode of Doctor Who. At approximately 11:20pm, the signal was interrupted by a figure wearing a latex Max Headroom mask in front of a corrugated metal panel. The figure held the signal for about 90 seconds. In that time, he laughed, sang, feigned defecation, and pretended to be spanked by a second figure with a flyswatter. Following the interruption, the signal returned to the Doctor Who broadcast. Authorities were never able to conclusively determine who was behind the interruption.

Technology has changed and (supposedly) gotten more secure. We have responded in kind by living more of our lives within it. What was a unilateral channel used to watch TV in 1987 has today exploded into social networking, information sharing, banking, and virtually every other aspect of our lives. We count on the security of this space, but every day carries a reminder of its vulnerability. From the WannaCry attack to the Equifax data breach to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it’s clear that the technology we live with — and that we increasingly depend on — is no less breakable now than it was when Max Headroom interrupted an episode of Doctor Who.

We Interrupt This Transmission explores information security and its impact on all of us. The vibraphone begins in a placid, complacent world: in front of a TV screen, watching Doctor Who. More and more signs of interruption emerge, from static to voices of American and Russian numbers stations. As the signal is interrupted (and Max Headroom appears), the texture shifts, and the vibraphone is thrust into a series of pas de deux with the electronics. The technology evolves around them, beginning to include sounds of modems and servers. In the end, the vibraphone and electronics’ musical roles are reversed: the electronics adopt the music of the beginning, while the vibraphone shouts a desperate, plaintive (and futile) plea to be released.

We Interrupt This Transmission was commissioned by the University of Texas at El Paso, and is dedicated to Andy P. Smith.

Score and Electronics: $35

bottom of page