Science Fiction Music Through the Ages
Today on Echoes, it’s a trip into the world of science fiction. Sci-Fi literature and movies have always had an impact on a certain breed of musicians, usually the ones who were a bit tripped out and cerebral. You’d have trouble pinning down the first Sci-Fi music. Was it Otto Luening’s “Fantasy in Space” for flute and magnetic tape in 1952? You could go to the early 20th century for Gustav Holst’s The Planets, but that was more about the solar system and cosmos than science fiction. Bebe & Louis Barron’s 1956 all electronic score for Forbidden Planet should certainly be mentioned. But the godfather of science fiction music has to be Sun Ra, whose Intergalactic, Solar Myth Discipline and Jet Set Omniverse Arkestras told tales of space with Ra himself claiming he was born on Jupiter and not Birmingham, Alabama. “Sun Ra and his band from outer Space will entertain you’re here” went one of his lyrics as they sung about “Rocket #9 leaving for the planet Venus.”
Sci-Fi themes bust out in the 1960s with Jefferson Starship’s Blows Against the Empire, Pink Floyd’s early work like “Interstellar Overdrive” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.” But it was probably Hawkwind who took the Sci-Fi modality most to heart, spinning out psychedelic tales of inner and outer space travel, sometimes on their own, sometimes using lyrics from science fiction author Michael Moorcock.
Progressive Rock was a wellspring of Sci-Fi efforts from Yes’ optimistic “Starship Trooper” to King Crimson’s nightmarish “21st Century Schizoid Man.” Gong created their Sci-Fi “Radio Gnome Invisible” trilogy and that carried into German space rock with Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and others draping their electronic journey’s in Psy-Fi imagery. Vangelis took that sound to the screen with his score for Blade Runner although I would argue that an earlier release, Albedo 0.39, was a better album with a Sci-Fi theme.
David Bowie created the biggest Sci-Fi hit with “Space Oddity” and the first science fiction song-cycle with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Gary Numan carried that into the 1980s with Replicas with music and lyrics inspired by JG Ballard and Philip K. Dick’s dystopian nightmares.
Punk Rock wasn’t enamored of Sci-Fi imagery, although Spizzenergi had a great tune called “Where’s Captain Kirk?” But New Wave bands from Ultravox & John Foxx to Depeche Mode embraced the more technological side of Sci-Fi.
The 80s were awash in alien imagery from New Age to the later generation of Space music. Steve Roach mixed mysticism and futurism on many of his albums like Traveler and On This Planet. And Michael Stearns went full bore into space with Encounter: A Journey in the Key of Space. Let’s not forget the label with which both these musicians were associated, Hearts of Space Records, which, especially early on, was heavily vested in the imagery of space and science fiction with albums like Kevin Braheny’s Galaxies and Constance Demby’s Novus Magnificat: Through the Stargate. The 90s found that imagery imbued in techno music and its stepchild, ambient music, especially with The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and Future Sound of London’s Lifeforms, couching their psychedelic journeys in Sci-Fi metaphor.
In the new millennium, science fiction music flows like a Matrix data stream from The Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots to zerO One’s electro-bop songs sampling Sci-Fi dialogue. Bluetech has always had a bit of the Sci-Fi about him. His The Divine Invasion is inspired by Philip K. Dick’s “Valis” and his new album is Space Hop Chronicles Volume 1.
We take a trip into that Sci-Fi world tonight on Echoes. Some of these artists will be there, some won’t and many others will be. We barely scratch the surface in two hours of space epics, monsters from the id and paranoid androids. It’s Sci-Fi Echoes tonight.
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10 Great Sci-Fi Albums
1 David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
2 Tangerine Dream – Phaedra
3 Gary Numan – Replicas
4 Pink Floyd – A Saucerful of Secrets
5 Gong – You
6 Hawkwind – Space Ritual
7 Mike Oldfield – Songs of Distant Earth
8 Bluetech – Space Hop Chronicles Vol 1
9 Bebe & Louis Barron – Forbidden Planet
10 Radiohead OK Computer
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