Writing about music really is like dancing about architecture, and Frank Zappa’s observation remains lucidly correct. I continue to wrestle with the “right” words to describe what I do: sometimes I choose those terms because of a pleasant alliteration, or because I see them as underappreciated in the broader world.
So then: why “sonic science fiction”?
Since I was a tiny tot, I’ve been enamored with visions of the future and possibilities of “What if?” The spectrum has included counterfeit worlds and dystopian cyberpunk of Philip K. Dick, to Ray Bradbury’s wildly passionate tales that speak from the heart, to the succinct and consistent gems that Ted Chiang crafts… each and every one a priceless, life-impacting memory. And not just literary — I’ve been fixated by the visual component too, be it Syd Mead’s thoughtful worldbuilding or Jacek Yerka’s Mind Fields (his supreme collab with Harlan Ellison). Plus, “genre” anthologies like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, and who can forget The Mind’s Eye computer-animated voyages?
Alongside all of this, there is music associated with science fiction, as in film soundtracks, as in concept albums inspired by those unspooled yarns. My own (present) take on the matter is based on my love of the brief form, the short story. The intent to build a self-contained world, let the characters get loose, and get out. Hence, another related phrase I’m fond of: “sound short story”. The rules are simple:
- Come up with a specific idea.
- Explore it in two minutes.
Why that length? It came about awhile back due to the stipulations of a Samplephonics “create a genre” contest I entered. (You can hear my results here.) Around the same time, I was reading about brief yet great songs, and it helped propel me to complete tracks in rapid, startup-style succession. In continuing hindsight, it’s been a creative limitation that has bred productivity — I now have an abundance of 120-second critters roaming around, and so many more on the to-dream-to-do list! I also find with an economy of time, I make stronger decisions about sequencing/structure. At times, it’s akin to warping into a picturesque planet where the air is toxic and your containment suit has a ruptured seal — love the sights, can’t stay for dinner.
Of course, I can have my proverbial watermelon and eat it too: I continue to create longer songs (that are also based on specific ideas, such as an alternate history of progressive house). But for the bulk of it, my sonic science fiction is very much about creating the kind of music I want to birth and thrive, ziplining across imaginary nodes that neither of us have heard before. This is why I liken it to finding treasures (aurelics, or “aural relics”) in alternate realities, parallel timelines, other universes, etc.
Like its sci-fi ancestors, my music serves as allegory for how things might have developed divergently. One track might represent a world where accordions are taken more seriously; another is an étude involving classic drum machines; yet another might be a reasonable excuse to learn a virtual effect I’ve just bought. (I also believe creatives and toolmakers should collaborate closely to improve the overall environment of self-expression, but that’s a topic to expand on another time…)
And now you know. All that remains is for you to dance about architecture with me: I invite you to put on a quality pair of headphones with rich bass (as I make quite abundant use of it), get into a comfy position, and let’s travel together into these other spaces.