Exploration: A Look into the Relationship Between Electronic Music and Science Fiction

Donovan Valle
ENG 2420- Science Fiction
Prof. Jill Belli
Project 2

Exploration: A Look into the Relationship Between Electronic Music and Science Fiction


There is no denying the lasting power and influence that electronic music has had on popular culture. It is evident today in hip hop and dance music. However, many do not know that the early roots of electronic music can be traced back to science fiction film. It is because of sci-fi films that early experimentalists of music and technology were able to push the boundaries of machines that could create and perform music. Electronic instruments that were developed in the early to mid 1900’s like the theremin and the modular synthesizer created the music and sounds that have since been directly associated with early science fiction film. These new instruments were able to enhance the themes and concepts that were present in the films like robots, aliens, and flying saucers.

Throughout this essay, the impact of science fiction on electronic music will be clear through film examples such as “Forbidden Planet” and “The Day The Earth Stood Still.” The exploration and implementation of electronic instruments into musical film scores paved the way for musicians to do it in their own work. It will also be shown that there is a clear bilateral relationship between sci-fi and electronic music. Not only was the music able to enhance the settings, characters, themes, and ideas present in the films, but the genre gave commercial artists like David Bowie and Pink Floyd new ways to record and present their record and present music to their fans.

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Prezi presentation can be found via this link

Revised Proposal

As I revised my proposal, I have now decided to focus on the emergence and evolution of both electronic and popular music through the lens of science fiction, and the bi-lateral nature of the relationship between the two. I will analyze 2 films and 2 albums that have been influential in pop culture. What I will then do is explain the soundtracks and musical elements of the 4 pieces, and then explain how science fiction has played a role in the exploration and evolution of musical soundscapes and ideas. What is important to understand is not only how electronic music has influenced the science fiction genre, but how the ideals and themes of the sci-fi genre has had an impact on the exploration and evolution of electronic music that we have seen in popular music.

Here are a list of some articles and sources that I will be referencing in my paper.



Electronic Music in Early Science Fiction



Sound and Music in Film and Visual Media: A Critical Overview by by Graeme Harper

There’s no Electronic Music without Sci-Fi

For my 2nd project idea, I wanted to take a focus into one of my big passions which is music. I wanted to try and create an analysis of the importance that music has played in science fiction, and also, the equally important role science fiction has had on the development and construction of electronic music. If you take a hard look, it’s a lot more prevalent than you think. Many of the early modular synthesizers and sound generators were in fact developed not only for experimental research, but also to create music soundscapes for a genre of entertainment that was really starting to take off…sci-fi.

Many of the sounds we’ve been accustomed to associate with aliens, spaceships, and robots all come from sound modulators. Think of that classic sound from “The Day The Earth Stood Still,” all came from the development of an electronic instrument called the theremin, where you basically move your hands along an electro-magnetic field to create sounds. Also important to note is the importance of classical music as well.

Now vice versa, science-fiction has done a lot to push the boundaries of electronic music and the musicians that make it. Just off the top of my head, huge albums like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, David Bowie’s Space Oddity, Rush’s 2112. All of these 70’s albums have themes and concepts that deal with outer space, robots, aliens, time, etc. What these albums also have in common is a big amount of electronically synthesized instruments and sounds. The two just go together and are so important to one another when you step out of just the literary genre.

I’ll probably flesh this out a little more, but these are just some of the ideas I want to explore.

Here’s some videos of some examples.

Theremin instrument

Dark Side of the Moon Full Album

Mind Control: I see a little bit of Clockwork Orange in this

One thing really stood out to me while reading this section of the book. especially what occurs in the first chapter. I saw a lot of similarities between the doctors in A Clockwork Orange and the doctors in the mental hospital here. We see the doctors performing this new procedure on the patients in the hospital (specifically Alice) that involves implanting needles into someone’s brain and using radio waves to control their emotions. The patients, who are supposed to be the “insane” people, are the only ones that offer sane criticism to this procedure. The doctors are crazily performing this procedure in front of recording cameras, unaware of the emotional distress this is causing to Alice, who knows exactly what’s going on.

What’s even more creepy is how the doctors rationalize this procedure. Instead of actively trying to help the patient get better and rehabilitate themselves, they believe the way to “cure” a mental patient is to actively control their mind and mold them into their own image of a “normal” person. It’s somewhat ironic that the doctors try to play with the emotions of the patient, when they themselves lack emotion for the crying Alice who says “Motherfucker, you let me up! I ain’t no guinea pig.” (Piercy 195) All of a sudden, with a switch of a radio, the doctors have completely changed Alice’s emotions, and can change it back and forth. “You see, we can electrically trigger almost every mood and emotion-the fight or flight reaction, euphoria, calm, pleasure, pain, terror!” (Piercy 196)

The reason this scene stood out to me so much was cause it reminded me so much of A Clockwork Orange. If you know the book or the movie, the main character Alex is living in a somewhat futuristic world where there is a major crime issue, and Alex is part of the youth that possesses this criminal behavior. When Alex gets arrested, he is sent to a facility that attempts to permanently change his emotional responses through a form of mind control. If you’ve seen the movie, I kind of think of that scene with the needles in the eyes when I read the scene with Alice in the mental hospital.


This is some crazy ish right here!!

This novel started off on a real bang, lots of drama and action taking place within the first pages of the novel. A hispanic lady named Connie or Consuelo (which funny in Spanish means comfort) and her niece Dolly who has been assaulted and beaten, are caught up in dangerous ordeal with Dolly’s pimp named Geraldo coming to do some more harm. I think Jonathan had mentioned it in his post, this is some straight up gritty New York City stuff in here, especially with the backdrop of El Barrio. I think of gritty 1970’s movies like Fort Apache: The Bronx when I read this first chapter. Then Geraldo has a crooked “doctor” coming in to abort possibly his own baby that he’s had with Dolly to keep her being able to be a prostitute.

Then things turn worse when Connie gets committed to a mental institution which is Bellevue Hospital (which I know as a notorious past for having some bad things happening in that hospital). The scene of her strapped helplessly in the institution was heartbreaking, really some of the saddest things I’ve ever read. Connie had to lay there in her own filth, and soon she finds out that her niece betrayed her, saying Connie had assaulted her instead of Geraldo. All Connie can think about now is getting out. All she looks forward to is escaping this god forsaken place.

Funny thing is, when I was reading this, it took me a while to say “wait a minute, what does this have to do with science fiction?” It felt like I was reading a cross between a Junot Diaz novel and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Especially when later on in chapt. 4 she describes the patients that got the horrible electroconvulsive therapy. The way she describes what it does to the person took me right to the scene with Jack Nicholson in Cuckoo’s Nest. “One morning there would be no breakfast for you, and then you would know…Then they would send voltage smashing through your brain and knock your body into convulsions…your scorched taste of death with parts of your memory forever burned out.” (pg. 73) Really scary depressing stuff.

But then the sci-fi elements slowly starts creeping in when chapter 2 hits and we are introduced to Luciente, We’re led to believe this is a man (who turns out to be a woman, so I’m gonna refer to him as her to avoid confusion on my part!!) who is somewhat crazy and talks to Connie in what appears to be a dream like state. Immediately you can tell something is different when Luciente is introduced. The way she talks is so different than the spanish slang used by the rest of the characters, and she talks about herself as being a sender, Connie being a catcher, living in a different time, etc. Things start to get really weird when Luciente appears in the psychiatric hospital and not only reveals herself as a strongly built woman, but transports her into a different dimension in time. The revelation of Luciente being a woman gives her a sudden form of comfort. Apparently, this is a future that has people living as if they were back in time. There was an emphasis on nature, everything was clean, no sign of busy streets or high skyscrapers. This new form of living is so foreign to Connie, and Connie’s way of life is equally as confusing to the futuristic people.

All in all, I can only give my impressions of the book so far. I can’t give any concrete analysis cause I don’t know what the hell is gonna take place in this book. It really isn’t like anything I’ve read before. It mixes themes and concepts that exist within urban minority life, elements of the human mind, and some elements of science fiction. Interested to see where this goes in the future.

Midterm Notes/Class Notes for 3/26

Tried to get mostly everything down. Hope the notes help somewhat. -Donovan

Midterm Next Week!!!

Free writing assignment in class
First part reflecting on Project 1: What are you struggling with as a writer
Second part: What do you want to explore more in terms of texts, content, and themes
How do you think you are doing in the class?

Remember that the essay is entirely your opinion. Your data is not outside sources, it close reading of THE TEXT

Class Opinions/Struggles of the Writing Process

– Confusion about peer review process
– Using references and links did helped to make revisions
– Not using outside sources was difficult
– Keeping track of all the info provided by prof. was confusing and almost too much
– Coming up with a topic to write about was difficult
– It was Stressful
– Writing essay was like writing science paper (using data to back up thesis)

Class Question: Is there no wrong answer if it’s an argumentative essay (personal opinion?)
– You set up the terms to make a claim. You must have your reader believe your claim by clearly defining your terms and backing up your statements with evidence from the text.
– Be aware of the entire text (not just snippets) and examples that may counter your argument.

When you enter in a communicative relationship with someone (writing, speech), you must be ethical. In rhetoric, goal of being an ethical communicator is to be FAIR.

Karl: Don’t you leave it up to the reader to make a decision?
Prof. Response:
– Do not misrepresent the text by cherry-picking and selectively leave out certain points that may counter your argument.
– It’s always more persuasive to offer a counter-argument for the reader to think about.
– Beware of Rhetorical Fallacy (unethical/misrepresentative writing)
– Come across as a credible writer (believable)
– Fact + significance = a good topic sentence

When proofreading, do not make any comments on the first reading. See the whole scope of the paper. Sometimes most of what you want to say is there, you just have to fix the order.

SIDE NOTE: Very important, BAD HUNGRY PLACE aka BHP. Beware!!! If you don’t eat, you get cranky like prof. does.


Everything we’ve done is fair game!!!

Main things that will be addressed in the midterm

– Ability to understand the texts and movies we’ve watched
o Mainly discussions of science fiction terms

– Applied Questions/Themes and concepts
o Think about the themes, conflicts, values (i.e post humanisms, prosthesis, what it means to be human, etc.) and be able to say something critical about them

– Elements of Fiction (i.e. setting, plot, characters, symbolism, point of view, etc)

– Part of the midterm may or may not be about writing critically/the writing process

It’s not make or brake (10% of term grade), but still important

*** Characters, Conflicts, Values, Themes ***



– Man vs Machine conflict

– Religion

– Authenticity

– Lack of communication (face to face)- mediation

– Fear (i.e. machine stops)

– Following other people/control/obedience/leadership

– Importance of animals

– Isolation

– Technological Determinism: a belief (now a very overly simplistic belief/not very popular) that technology determines what happens in culture and society.

– Agency/responsibility for what is done with technology

– Setting (an element of fiction) i.e. postwar/post-apocalyptic setting

– Apocalypse: destruction/radical break where something new occurs

– Conflict of Man vs. nature

– Human crisis/ existential crisis: question of existence/place of man in the world

– Boundaries: What is the distinction between different entities?

– Simulation

– Ersatz

– What is genuine?

– Power (Roy with Tyrell, Machine Stops, Metropolis, Religion)

– Freedom is limited (i.e. Machine Stops they cannot leave the machine/Metropolis they must work for the machine/In Androids the Andy’s can’t leave Mars)

– Questions of individuality

– Whether or not you can retain free will in a world dominated by technology

– Emotional Aspect (i.e. empathy, sympathy, ability to identify with something different)

– Marginalization

– Identity Crisis (i.e. implanted memories, can andys have an identity without past experiences?)

– Conformity: To be the same as everyone else/to fit in
Tied in to the idea of norms
Can lead to solidarity (feeling of belonging to a whole group)

– Classes/Hierarchy

– Status/Appearance

– Consequences of technology
o Think about certain decisions and/or actions we make based on technology
o Causes us to look at ethical problems/possible solutions

– Cyborg (cybernetic organism)- Middle ground between machine and man (i.e. android is a merging of man and machine)

– Prosthesis: mechanical extension of a human (i.e. mechanical arms/limbs)
o Forces us to question authenticity

– What is the purpose of science fiction?
o Critiques on society
o Alternative thinking
o Extrapolations: Take facts and observations about a present or known situation and use them to make a prediction about what might eventually happen.
o The “what if”
o Thought experiments


Metropolis of the Future

Going to the Expanding Megacities exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art was a really eye opening experience for me. I’ve always been interested in how technology specialists and futurists project our cities to look like in the coming decades. Especially with our issues in climate change and over population, it is really important to start wondering how we are going to restructure our cities in terms of energy efficiency and growing poverty.

The first thing the exhibit tells you is that by the year 2030, the world population will have grown to almost 8 billion people (it is currently 6 billion). Two thirds of these people will be living in congested cities and most will be poor. This will lead to a dangerous rise in socioeconomic inequality among poor and rich people within urban areas. What this exhibit does is try to offer debates and discussions to help deal with this problem through cutting edge design, architecture, and energy efficiency.


One of the main things I took away from the exhibit was just how bad we manage homelessness in our own city here in New York. There was a video that played in which homelessness activists and housing activists spoke about the disproportionate inequality between poor and rich, especially when we look at housing. Profit-driven development has contributed to this problem, as the middle class families begin to fade away and poverty becomes ever more prevalent while luxury housing seems to be popping up more and more throughout the city. Some of these stats were really alarming and confirmed a very large issue that gets overlooked many times. One of the ways to fix this poverty problem in terms of low income housing and homelessness is to better allocate space within the city. There are too many wasted spaces scattered throughout the city that could be used to help with this problem. One crazy stat was that there was 3 times more vacant space than there are homeless people, which would easily solve this crisis. Also, there is a deficiency in affordable housing for low income families while there seems to be a surplus in rich housing, especially high rises which remain pretty vacant for long periods of time.


One of the cooler things I saw was an artistic rendering of what a future city would look like. This city of Lagos in the year 2050 would be free of fossil fuel dependency and off grid. Clean energy, wind turbines, and solar panels are all over, along with high speed rails and health centers. When connecting it to the material in class, the cities resembles that of the futuristic cities you might see in Metropolis, but I think they try to focus less on technology and more on having a healthy human life in a city that may be over-populated in the near future. Also, this issue congested cities and over-population made me think about the cells in The Machine Stops. Everybody confined to small apartments and housing (especially housing projects which I used to live in)

It was a great view into the future. I hope our politicians can come around to these ideas and put them into fruition. I was a little disappointed we didn’t get to see some future projections of what New York might possibly look like (most of it was based in homelessness and lack of affordable housing). I would’ve liked to see some artist renderings for New York that I saw with the other cities.

Does Deckard dream of electric unicorns?

I finally watched the Final Cut edition of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. As a fan of films like these and directors like Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick, I had never seen Blade Runner in its entirety until now. I think I might’ve watched the first 15 minutes of it and then tapped out.

However, as I put this movie on with a fresh mind, I really appreciated all of the elements of this film, both in its subject matter, as well as the direction and cinematography. One major thing that the film does well is convey a sense of despair and distopia through it’s setting and environment. Not once is there a scene that takes place in the daytime, with exception to the first encounter with Rachel and Deckard at the Tyrell corporation that takes place in sunset. It had a great “noir” feel throughout. One of the things I liked about the setting of the film was the way they combined the old with the new. What I mean to say by this is that they incorporated a lot of futuristic technologies such as robots and flying cars, with pyramid like structures, street markets, and clothing from ancient times. In particular, the Tyrell’s headquarters resemble an old ancient Egyptian temple. When you take a look at the shot at approx. (0:17:35), as Rachel walks toward Deckard the room has natural light and consists of pillars and other architecture that is very similar to the ancient Egyptians. In addition, the shot at (0:18:55) gives a view of what resemble the great pyramids, in this Egyptian-like environment as Deckard gives a test on a humanoid robot. I thought it was an interesting way to combine the two ideas of ancient and futuristic into one setting. There are also many similarities to the setting of Metropolis, especially between the Tyrell pyramid headquarters and Fredersen’s “New Tower of Babel” and how they are the centerpiece of the city.

When comparing this Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” I found it interesting what Scott chose to incorporate into the film as well as leave out. For example, Deckard is a bit more mysterious in the film than he is in the novel. We get more of a backstory into his character and we see him interact with more people like his wife (who does not exist in the film) and his neighbor an so on. In the film, we don’t know much about his backstory other than he is a “Blade Runner” who hunts replicants. Blade Runner does incorporate many themes that are present from the book, for example, what it means to be human. How can we distinguish between human and android (as Rachel points out when she asks Deckard if he’s ever retired an android). There is also an overwhelming fear of death, especially present with Roy Batty, who’s sole purpose is to find a way to increase his lifespan so that he can live longer. However, for as brutal as Roy was throughout most of the film, he shows a lot of emotion and empathy at the end, especially for Deckard when he saves him from falling to his death. Also when Roy is about to die after saving Decking at (1:47:36) he says “All the moments will be lost in time like tears in rain…time to die.” I found that incredibly moving and an insight into how these replicants may indeed have some sort of empathy and emotion. Also, Rachel’s true love for Deckard also make us question the idea of humanity much like we did in the book.

All in all I really enjoyed the movie. There were a couple of things the occurred in the movie which left me with questions, maybe you guys can fill me in who know the movie better. What was up with the figurine/origami things that were made by Gaff. Especially when you take into account the dream Deckard had of the unicorn, and then finding one of Gaff’s origami’s in the shape of a unicorn. Makes me question whether Deckard is really human.

“The electric things have their lives too.”

As the novel comes to an end, one of the biggest things I took away from the final chapters was Rick’s transformation and emersion into Wilbur Mercer. In addition to this, we also understand that “Mercerism” is said to be a false religion by Buster Friendly. However, Deckard claims it is real. It’s as real as you make it to be. In chapter 21 Rick tells his secretary “Mercer isn’t a fake,” he said. “Unless reality is a fake.” Throughout the novel, especially within these last couple of chapters, we as readers are constantly question one thing against the other. What makes humans different than androids, electric animals versus real animals, and reality versus virtual reality? I believe it’s P.K.D’s way of saying that it really doesn’t matter. In my opinion, Iran had it right all along when she felt bad for those “andy’s” in the beginning. You see toward the end of the novel that they themselves show levels of emotion and empathy, especially when Rick shoots Mrs. Baty. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Baty,” Rick said, and shot her. Roy Baty, in the other room, let out a cry of anguish. “Okay, you loved her,” Rick said. “And I loved Rachael. And the special loved the other Rachael.” (pg. 112 PDF version). Here the android showed their sign of emotion and empathy, crying in pain as his loved one died. Again, this is P.K.D’s way of challenging us to question what it is that makes us human, and whether or not androids are really that much different.

Another interesting way P.K.D. uses challenging themes is when determining what is real versus what is fake. This ties directly with the question of human versus non-human or “humanoid.” Humans are perceived to be the “real” ones while andy’s are the “fake” ones. But it gets blurred, as we see Rick falling in love with Rachel and John falling in love with Pris Stratton. However, we also see this when trying to determine the difference between real and fake in terms of our own consciousness. Wilbur Mercer begins to appear outside of the empathy box to Rick and John. Objects that hit Rick and John manifest themselves as real wounds when they are no longer in the empathy box. In addition, we see that Phil Resch is indeed a human, but you’d never know by the way he acts and his lack of empathy. It is this constant question of what is real versus what is not.

All in all I think the novel was a great way to make us evaluate ourselves as human beings. All of us are equal, despite any differences we may have. Rick begins to realize this as he questions the morality of killing androids. Toward the end, he asks Mercer and his wife if what he is doing is wrong, which he did not do before. He says to his wife “You were right this morning when you said I’m nothing but a crude cop with crude cop hands.” (chpt. 21 pg.121 pdf). Rick begins to have empathy with electric things, and is symbolically represented through the toad, which he now views through Wilbur’s point of view. It isn’t fake unless reality is fake.

The conflict between man, machine, and emotions

The conflict between man, machine, and emotions

Through the first five chapters of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” I get a continual sense of despair and depression in this world. The humans that have survived this nuclear disaster that is called World War Terminus have conflicting values when it comes to emotions. It seems that the world they now live in has deprived them of all the feelings and emotions they used to have. The bleakness of their world is described as “morning air, spilling over with radioactive motes, gray and sun-beclouding, belched about him, haunting his nose; fie sniffed involuntarily the taint of death.” Rick Deckard, the bounty hunter who makes a living on killing androids, uses empathy as a way to tell the difference between machine and man. However, as we see in the first chapter, Rick and his wife Iran rely on technology to provide for them emotions and different ways to feel.

Another major conflict that arises is the battle between androids and humans. Apparently, one can hardly tell the difference between a Nexus-6 android and a human being. All the properties are the same, and almost all human emotions are replicated, except for empathy. Empathy, as we learn, is the reason why humans do not eat animals anymore. It’s the reason Rick Deckard desperately wants a real animal as opposed to his electric sheep. When Rick shows his neighbor Bill the control panel for his sheep, he replies, “Poor guy, has it always been this way?” This is why is frowned upon to question the validity of animals, it is described as much worse than inquiring about the validity of “a citizens teeth, hair, or internal organs.”

Animals are a reoccurring theme throughout the first five chapters of this novel. In the second chapter, a man by the name of John Isodore, who in a past life was a gifted child that had the ability to heal animals and bring them back from the dead. The police found out he was doing this and contaminated him with radiation to take this ability away. This has left him “chickenheaded,” and he uses an empathy box to escape his present reality and infuses his consciousness with that of Wilbur Mercer, an important figure who created Murcerism

Animals are also important to Rick when determining who is an android and who is a human. This test uses the Voigt-Kampff scale, which uses a series of questions related mostly to animals. The test has now come under question, and Rick believes the test does indeed work, but will do some further testing. After the death Dave Holden, a police officer, who was killed by an android, the Nexus-6 androids are becoming a danger to humans. When Rick starts to interrogate Rachel Rosen at the Rosen Associations (the place where they make the Nexus-6 Androids) he talks about various scenarios involving animals and she passes all questions. However, Rick determines that Rosen is indeed an android, but she doesn’t know it.