Track By Track: Maria W Horn – Panoptikon


Maria W Horn’s latest release, ‘Panoptikon,’ delves into the haunting depths of the decommissioned Vita Duvan panopticon prison in Luleå, Sweden.

Originally conceived as a multichannel sound and light installation titled ‘Vita Duvans Lament,’ it transports listeners into the eerie confines of a place where isolation and surveillance were paramount. Drawing from the panopticon’s history of spatial control and psychological manipulation, Horn’s composition invites us to confront the harsh realities of imprisonment through a sonic exploration of imagined inmate perspectives.

Constructed as a suite of vocal and electronic pieces, ‘Panoptikon’ intricately weaves together spectral sound processing techniques and site-specific source material. Maria W Horn’s distinctive approach to composition, which blends synthetic and acoustic elements, creates a sonic landscape that oscillates between fragility and intensity. Through her meticulous attention to timbre, texture, and harmony, Horn not only pays homage to the historical context of Vita Duvan but also crafts a profound musical narrative that resonates with the complexities of confinement, resilience, and hope.



“The prison installation setup and recording of the album was done in the winter of 2020 by myself and Mats Erlandsson. As this was during covid the Biennale that commissioned the work instructed us not to meet any other people.” Notes Maria

“In the north of Sweden by this time of the year there is just a few hours of sunlight, so we were pretty much by ourselves in this cold and dark prison for over a week. We were running the installation audio non stop as a way of stress testing the system before the opening, meaning we constantly heard the recorded voices and mumbling voices from within the prison cells.

By the end of the week within this closed environment I started hearing other voices than the ones I knew from the recordings. I liked to think of it as the ghosts of the Vita Duvan Prison joining in on the hymns.”

Here, Maria reveals a track by track guide to the record. Reflections below…


Omnia Citra Mortem

Omnia citra mortem can be translated as: everything until death. This is a legal term that meant that an accused person who did not confess their crime could not be sentenced to death, but only to torture, omnia citra mortem, until a confession was made.

This first part is composed as a kind of call-response between the prisoners, starting from singular sparse vocal fragments that gradually build into a canonical web of voices.
In the original installation the directionality of each vocal line comes from a different cell of the prison. This spatial paradigm is hard to translate into a stereo recording, but we tried our best when recording the pieces using microphones set up in the panoptic center of the prison. In this sense the building itself acts as a filter for reamplification, picking up the specific characteristics of the building itself.


Hæc est regula recti

The second part Hæc est regula recti translates as this is the rule for straightness/correctness, from the illustration of Nicolas Andry’s book L’orthopedie, the art of correcting and preventing deformities in children, an image also serving as the opening plate of Foucault’s Discipline and punishment.
This part is sung with conviction and hope of penance, followed by multilayered echoes of the underlying electronic lines. As they gradually decrease we are left with the bare voices of inmates quietly reciting to themselves the kind of memorial rhymes used by prisoners to keep sane and cope with the isolation – listing northern Sweden’s largest rivers, logical connections, memory games and so forth.

As an underlying harmonic structure of the whole album, this chordal sequence acts as a kind of grid, on top of which the vocal lines are composed. In this third part the synthesis is central and allows space to bloom, allowing electronic portamento lines to build and sweep across the spectra.
The synthesis is made using the Supercollider musical programming environment which allows for intricate customization of the sound. Several parameters of the synth lines involve the use of randomness within predefined limits, for instance the velocity and the octave distribution of specified pitches are sequenced using algorithmic means. I like this way of working as it creates a material behaves like an organism in some sense, it allows for an element of unpredictability within an otherwise predetermined circuit.

Längtans Vita Duva
The melody and text used in the fourth part of the composition, Längtans Vita Duva (Lamentation of the White Dove), is a traditional folk song from Närke which has been arranged to fit within the harmonic context of the vocal cycle. The Swedish lyric could be translated as follows:

The mountain of Hel will crack like ice The sun will lose its shine
The forest will turn into a dove
Before I forsake you, my friend

PANOPTIKON by Maria W Horn is out now via XKatedral, info / listen HERE.