HackPolitik

cover art by Nir Arieli

In a wild collision of music, technology, and politics, Peter Van Zandt Lane's electroacoustic ballet, HackPolitik (A New York Times Critic's Pick), brings the compelling story of cyber-dissident groups Anonymous and LulzSec to the stage. The studio album captures every ounce of the energy and physicality of the fully-staged collaborative production of the Boston-based Juventas New Music Ensemble and Brooklyn-based dance company The People Movers, a production described by the Boston Musical Intelligencer as "angular, jarring, and sophisticated . . . very compelling . . . Ballet needs live music, and this one offered it at the highest level."

The ten scenes of HackPolitik weave chamber music with electronic sounds in an array of divergent and subversive ways, creating a blend of classical and vernacular musical traditions-- electronica and modernism, heavy metal and spectralism, free jazz and post-minimalism. From the trance-like riffing of The Jester and #OpTunisia, to the otherworldly lyricism of Laurelai emerges and Sabu's betrayal, to the raucous screaming of distorted cello in The Shaming of HBGary Federal, there is no doubt that this music was written for the ultra-physical choreography of Kate Ladenheim.

This page includes a full video recording of the hour-long premiere performance, scene descriptions, and some links to HackPolitik in the press. The studio recording of HackPolitik is available on Innova Records. You can order the CD directly from Innova by clicking here.

HackPolitik on YouTube:

(video playlist broken into ten scenes. Use the playlist button to navigate)

Program Note and Scene Descriptions

In June of 2011, a 28 year-old, unemployed foster parent and high-school dropout living in the Riis public housing district in the Lower East Side of Manhattan was arrested by the FBI, with charges including multiple counts of conspiracy to engage in computer hacking, computer hacking in furtherance of fraud, conspiracy to commit access device fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. Hector Xavier Monsegur had faced up to 124 years in prison.

On the Internet, he was known as Sabu, a key figure in a series of politically driven cyber-attacks by the hacker collectives known as Anonymous and LulzSec. In December of 2010, thousands of hacktivists attacked the websites of some of the world's largest financial institutions to avenge WikiLeaks. In following attacks protesting global government transparency and accountability, they infiltrated the governments of Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, becoming a critical force of the internet's utility in the Arab Spring.

Technology has redefined how we represent ourselves, how we engage each other, and how we engage in politics. It has undermined the global corporate and governmental power hierarchy in favor of a knowledge-is-power paradigm. A keen understanding of this technology has enabled a subculture of hackers and technologists, many of which are at odds between their anarchistic roots and a will to promote their own political ideologies.

HackPolitik is an investigation through music and dance of how we engage politics through technology in the 21st century. It explores the thin line between activism and anarchy, anonymity and ego, gender identity and personality. All of the choreography is a physical interpretation of the abstract interactions occurring in cyberspace.

Act I

Scene 1: Introduction: the donning of masks
The stage is set to the world in which Anonymous exists. It's a chaotic, crass, and mischievous world. While its inhabitants establish their own unique (if clandestine) personalities, glimmers of cohesion occur in a generally disorderly environment. Out of the collective, a few key personae emerge . . .

Scene 2: Black hat / white hat
Topiary's contemplation: Topiary contemplates on weather to identify as “black hat” or “white hat” hacker–– to use of his talents for virtuous endeavors or for mischief and hilarity. He is split (figuratively, and physiologically) between two identities: one heroic and deliberate, the other snarky and absurd. He eventually becomes fully entrenched in his own sarcasm, and chooses black.

Kayla and Sabu: A duet between Kayla and Sabu contrasts Topiary's internal deliberation with an external one: will these two highly contrasting personalities agree to work with each other? Sabu is a controlled and calculating ideologue, while Kayla is erratic, paranoid, and exaggeratedly feminine (yet she offers an extremely high level of ability).

Anonymous Assembles: The rest of the Anons join Kayla and Sabu in their newfound unity and direction, gradually becoming a unified collective. Sabu leads them in a forceful, determined ritual.

Scene 3: Laurelai Emerges
This solo scene explores the unique matter of gender identity in cyberspace. A brief departure from the ongoing Anonymous narrative, Laurelai (a character who is at times both a confidant and antagonist to our protagonists), gives an introspective solo depicting a gender transformation from man to woman.

Scene 4: Dec.8.2010: #OpPayback
Corporations including PayPal, BankAmerica, MasterCard, and Visa are pressured to freeze donations to WikiLeaks after the release of a collection of US diplomatic cables. In retaliation, the Anons organize an attack on these financial institutions. Multitudes of cyber-activists launch a series of DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks using a tool called LOIC, but are ultimately ineffectual.

The sudden appearance (and duplicity) of Civil: Enter Civil, a botnet operator (a hacker who has thousands of virally-infected 'zombie' computers under his control), who single-handedly crashes Visa and MasterCard. Drunk on power, Civil then turns on the Anons and crashes their network.

LOIC's Lament: The Anons realize their efforts were futile, and end the scene with a slow lamentation.

Scene 5: The Jester
A self-styled grey hat hacker, the Jester antagonizes Anonymous for their misguided support of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Although his/her own hacktivist efforts will often align with Anonymous, the Jester becomes intent on doxxing (revealing the identities of) Topiary, Kayla, and Sabu.

Act II

Scene 6: Jan.5.2011: #OpTunisia
In the rising unrest of the Arab Spring, Tunisians are blocked from access to social networks and a variety of other online tools to help protesters organize. The scene begins with a soloist Tunisian, trapped by the government's censorship and proxy interceptions. The rest of the Anons then join her, using the same DDoS attack plan that failed in #OpPayback. This time, the attack is successful. The Anons celebrate, and Topiary reveals the Anonymous mantra.

Scene 7: Lulz Dogma
With their recent successes, Topiary, Kayla, and Sabu begin to reject the collective's ideals of anonymity and the limitations of DDoS attacks. Gradually, the their egos begin to emerge, as they reconnect with their mischievous roots and form their own collective, Lulz Security (or, LulzSec).

Scene 8: Lex Talionis
Conflict ensues amongst the hacktivists. A series of fleeting fight scenes pit Topiary, Kayla, and Sabu against the Jester, Laurelai, and a new character focused of doxxing the members of LulzSec: Aaron Barr (a white-hat hacker employed by FBI contractor, HBGary Federal).

The shaming of HBGary Federal: Using SQL injection, the LulzSec trio infiltrates HBGary Federal's secret files. A dark, brutal humiliation transpires.

Scene 9: Sabu's Betrayal
Identified by the FBI, Sabu is given a choice between facing the most extreme punitive action the law can provide, or turning informant. Sabu grapples with his dilemma, and ultimately betrays his past collaborators. He is left alone, plaintive and undignified.

Scene 10: Finale: Lernaean Hydra

"#Anonymous is a hydra, cut off one head and we grow two back." - - - (from an Anonymous twitter post on March 6th, 2012)


HackPolitik in the Press:

Boston Musical Intelligencer HackPolitik Premiere Review

Feature Article in Forbes

Feature Article in The Daily Dot

Feature Article on CNET

Feature Article in Boston Magazine

Interview with the Clyde Fitch Report

Interview with the BBC Outriders