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Techno Cities and Sonic Fictions

A podcast by Radio Papesse & ALMARE: What Do Sounds Want – Episode IV

WHAT DO SOUNDS WANT? is a podcast about sound, or better yet, about listening through a series of questions and intuitions Radio Papesse and ALMARE have shared while working together on Life Chronicles of Dorothea Ïesj S.P.U., a sci-fi film & audio novel written and directed by ALMARE. 

Life Chronicles of Dorothea Ïesj S.P.U. narrates the many adventures of researcher Dorothea, as she extracts – and smuggles – sound finds from the past. It investigates the link between data capitalism, technology, and value creation, reflecting on the use of archaeological artefacts, archives, and memory as instruments for power and control.  

Throughout the episodes of this podcast series, with the help of artists, scholars, and researchers, we will attempt to unfold the themes behind the film. It will be an intense journey, moving between listening practices as tools to shape the world (or our perception of it), the socio-political economy of sound and data, questions about sonic fiction and sonic weapons. 

We’d like to invite you to challenge how you listen, and most of all… to enjoy the ride. 

We’ll be accompanied by guests including Brandon LaBelle, Juliette Volcler, Aura Satz, Steve Goodman, Reem Shadid, Giada Dalla Bontà, Holger Schulze, Deborah Lupton and Audrey Amsellem.

This podcast is part of Life Chronicles of Dorothea Ïesj S.P.U., a project by ALMARE curated by Radio Papesse, promoted in collaboration with Timespan and produced thanks to the support of the Italian Council – a program to promote Italian art by the Directorate-General for Contemporary Creativity of the Italian Ministry of Culture, Fondazione CR Firenze and Fondazione CRT.

Techno Cities and Sonic Fictions

On March 13, 2024, the German UNESCO Commission chose to recognize Berlin’s techno scene as part of its national cultural heritage. The press went crazy, even though UNESCO actually had nothing to do with it. Berlin’s techno was “only” added to the German national register of intangible heritage. Correction aside, the news was greeted with great enthusiasm, underscoring its inherently enlightened and progressive nature.

But not everyone feels that way. 
There’s always some killjoy voice.
Like the one of American author Tajh Morris who, in an article published in Resident Advisor, wrote in no uncertain terms, that “this is infuriating when you consider techno’s origins.” [1] 
In this article, Morris reminded that techno originated from the cultural and musical movements of Detroit’s predominantly black youth, and that the fact that many claim techno music would not have survived without the response it got in Europe exposes an old, long-standing problem: nothing has value until it is accepted into mainstream white society.

Tajh Morris’s comment immediately reminded us of the book Assembling a Black Counter Culture by DeForrest Brown Jr., a media theorist and curator also known as Speaker Music.

DeForrest Brown Jr. is clear; in  the first pages of Assembling a Black Counter Culture he writes: “the primary intention of this book is to detach the term “techno” from the electronic dance music culture industry and the British lexical standard of the hardcore continuum to reconsider its origins in the community of Detroit and its context within African American history.” 
As if we were going to read Lord of the Rings or perhaps consult a geopolitical magazine, at the beginning of the book we find a map.

This map is made of a series of images from Drexciya’s album The Quest published in 1997. 
Drexciya is a historic band from Detroit. Their name hints at a whole mythopoetic process, reminiscent, if you will, of Plato’s Atlantis: Drexciya is an underwater world populated by the unborn sons and daughters of pregnant African women thrown into the sea during the slave trade. 
In the Ocean, they grow to be amphibious warriors, fighting for justice in aquatic cities.
From 1991 to 2002, the complex world of Drexciya took shape through track titles, album artwork, and notes in the back covers, revealing what DeForrest Brown Jr. called the “Sonic Fiction of underwater civilization’s aquatic invasion of the world on the surface”. 

And when talking about his own book, Brown states that he wrote a “historical science-fiction book about Black contributions to the electronic music industry, with a central focus on Detroit techno’s innovations in DIY ‘studio performance music’ that produce Sonic Fictions.”

But what is a Sonic Fiction? 
Let’s take a step back for those of you who come across What Do Sounds Want? for the first time. What you are listening to is the fourth episode of a collection of audio essays accompanying Life Chronicles of Dorothea Ïesj S.P.U., a film and audio novel set in an imaginary society, which follows the researcher Dorothea in her adventures as she extracts (and resells) sounds from the past.

It’s not our intention to qualify our film and audio-novel Life Chronicles of Dorothea Ïesj S.P.U. as Sonic Fiction. We cannot tell you that it is, because we struggle to think of “Sonic Fiction” as a category. The premises for coining this term are quite different, as you will see. Besides, as we understand it, you don’t decide from the start to make Sonic Fiction. To us, it seems more correct to say that Sonic Fiction works are phenomena. It’s a bit confusing… isn’t it?

Let’s try to navigate it.
In 1998, the small London publishing house Quartet Books published More Brilliant Than the Sun by Kodwo Eshun. The term “Sonic Fiction” appears right in the subtitle, Adventures in Sonic Fiction, but don’t expect to find any specific definition of it in the book. To talk about Sonic Fiction, we asked for help from Holger Schulze, who is professor of musicology at the University of Copenhagen and coordinator of the Sound Studies Lab. 
Among his credits he has edited The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Sound Art, has written texts such as The Sonic Persona: An Anthropology of Sound, Sound Works: A Cultural Theory of Sound Design and, indeed, Sonic Fiction: The Study of Sound. We had the pleasure of meeting Holger Schulze in Copenhagen, where we interviewed him and met with students from the Sound Studies Lab.  

Schulze’s book provides a basic introduction to the concept of Sonic Fiction, doing justice to the layers of meaning it has taken on over the years without reducing its expressive possibilities to an academic exercise. 

In six chapters, Schulze illustrates its principles and transformations by exploring its various applications in sound art, sonic studies, musicology, epistemology, critical theory and political activism. 
He writes: “Any small note, any aphorism or fragment of sound can qualify as a Sonic Fiction,” “Any small musical piece—any ever so small performative gesture—any bit of liner notes or cover design—stage clothing—any gossip about performers or musicians… Where one can find sounds one will also detect bits of fiction.”
To unravel this complex and ramified concept, Schulze starts from Kodwo Eshun and his book More Brilliant than the Sun.

Holger Schulze: And in this book he makes an effort to rewrite black music history without a sociological or historical background, but through the imagination connected to songs, to music, to musical practices, to technological practices. So sonic fiction in that sense refers to the imagination, to the embodied, to the sonic imagination, to the, if you will, also kinesthetic and dancing imagination that is related to music. It doesn’t intend to explicate music and sound productions according to composition, historical background, recording situations, sociological environments, but through the imaginations that are and were relevant at the time of the production, at the time of listening and at our times. 

More Brilliant Than the Sun is not a conventional essay, and to read it you must throw yourself into Eshun’s narrative, accepting that you will lose your coordinates sometimes. The book is a journey into the realms of free jazz and electronic music. It is a rhapsodic, eclectic, swirling navigation. Schulze calls it a kind of black Finnegan’s Wake.

Holger Schulze: When we listen to music, we indulge in the imagination, in fantasies, in connections we make. But that’s often not addressed in analyzing music and sound. He does that. There are three terms that are crucial and reappear again and again in the writing of quotations in that book. And these are the terms Mythscience, Mixilllogic, and Mutantextures. […] 

One could start with the term Mythscience. […] Mythscience is an approach to understanding the world that combines scientific insights with, you could say again, imagination’s personal limit, imagination’s personal sensibilities. 

Then we can move to what Eshun coined the Mixillogics […] that refers to the embodied sensibilities, the practices that play a role in the writing of Eshun. But also Steve Goodman […] they are not just writing about finished musical products. They are writing about how musicians, DJs, instrumentalists perform at the decks, at the mixing desk, with a computer, tools and so on. […] One example is, for instance, when Kodwo writes about Sun Ra, be it Kraftwerk, be it Four Tet.

Taking in sonic practices the Mixillogics, you arrive at so-called Mutantextures. These are musical sonic textures that are very different from the textures that you would arrive at if you would compose it without these practices and without these sensory imaginations. […] These mutantextures he observes in the music and in the sounds he analyzes. And they are, if you will, the product of Sonic Fiction. And they create different artifacts.

Eshun’s journey starts from the imagery of Afrofuturism, which re-examines conventional representations of racialized black subjectivities and deconstructs their narratives. Afrofuturism uses the topoi of science fiction space literature, imagining African American people as the first aliens, dragged into a foreign land without history, disconnected from the past and their homeland through slavery.

Both Eshun and Schulze mention Sun Ra’s Space Is the Place from 1974, which is an extremely clear example of the way Afrofuturism starts from the memory of the African diaspora to develop extremely vital forms of futurism. Steve Goodman, who we already met in the second episode of What do sounds want?, speaks of an appropriation of futurism, freed from white rationality to promote an epistemological and ontological position that is deeply rooted in the idea of the body as an instrument of knowledge.

Now let’s try to understand how we should interpret the term fiction.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Eshun was part of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU), a group of writers, researchers and artists founded in 1995 within the philosophy department of the University of Warwick. Initially, the CCRU gravitated around Sadie Plant and Nick Land, the latter known as a pioneer of accelerationist theory and later infamous for becoming one of the most emblematic figures of today’s neo-reactionary currents of thought.

We could say that Kodwo Eshun and Nick Land certainly shared an idiosyncrasy for conventional academic practices, and that their writings absorbed characteristics of literary fiction, referring back to a synaesthetic, bodily experience of the world. Eshun and Land coined two neologisms destined to become a tool shared by many: Eshun gave us the concept of Sonic Fiction, while Land spoke of Theory-Fiction.

In both cases the term “fiction” should not make us think of novels, but rather of rhetorical strategies to stimulate the imagination of those who approach the study of a theory; strategies to create fiction that seems so real that it can have direct effects on daily life, leading people to act.

Both, as Steve Goodman says, add a “psychedelic function to theory.” And this is a fundamental property of any work of Sonic Fiction which, as Schulze writes, incorporates the generativity of sound.The “machine” of writing is no longer just a technical machine, it is a real vector to the world.

Holger Schulze: The sonic is, needless to say, always intermixed and interwoven with language, with words, with fractures of signs, of significations, of letters, of words. So also contraction in his writing refers again and again to the role of words and the role of written text within or around musical productions. Specifically speaking, he refers to the example of the recordings of the electronic group Drexciya on the para texts. So small text like liner notes given with the CD or with a vinyl record to the song titles on the record, maybe even to somewhat hidden or camouflaged messages scratched into the record label. So signs, significations, even band names, track names, and all other written elements surrounding a recording or sound production play a role. He’s not ignorant of that, and he doesn’t take a purist stance and say a Sonic Fiction may only operate through sound and through nothing else. […] The difference to, if you will, a literary fiction or other fictions that operate solely through words and through language is that these forms of fiction do, needless to say, not have the sonic side, and they rely only on the word. In the case of Sonic Fiction, this fiction relies mainly and massively to the sound experience and gives little, you could say, framing hints or little attacks, little injections of other signatures and other significations, also like words and also like imagery and design. […] Our imagination is never as purist as only to get its cues from the sonic. And so also the concept of Sonic Fiction includes all these other cues to our imagination.

I feel it’s important if we speak about Sonic Fiction as a common, as a concept by a person of color, by quotation. […] So to me, really the critical and explosive and subversive power of Sonic Fiction lies in this mixture, and these mutant actors, coming from highly diverse sensibilities and practices and embodied musical knowledge. If you take away that, you have lost a lot of that. So I feel that is really crucial to understand what Sonic Fiction can do politically.

The ability to imagine new or alternative and parallel ways of inhabiting the world, seems to be a recurring feature of Sonic Fictions. And we know, that the great potential of these sonic experiences is not only to represent reality, but since they affect the body, they act on the plane of reality, modifying the way our bodies move through social and political ecosystems.

Now, this kind of dynamic might ring a bell with someone: muzak, earworms and the vast majority of the ways capitalism implements the functions of sound also work this way.
Now some fundamental questions arise: are Sonic Fictions intentional operations? 
And does a militant dimension have to be part of the author’s perspective? 

Or should we think of a storm of different elements that coagulate, “accelerated” as they move closer through the agency of a certain author or authors, maybe a tendency or a trend? Or could the liberating power of Sonic Fictions inhabit both these perspectives? To answer these questions, we return to Giada dalla Bontà, whom we met in the first episode.

Giada dalla Bontà: In the context of Sonic Fictions, it is important to consider the intentional operations behind them. As Steve Goodman suggests in Sonic Warfare, “The question of intentionality is central to understanding the politics of sound.” Sonic Fictions can be intentional operations, where sound is purposefully employed to shape and manipulate reality. In this respect, I think it is absolutely fundamental to keep in mind where the concept of Sonic Fiction comes from. […] Kodwo Eshun states very clearly that Sonic Fiction emerged in the context of black liberation and identity. […] However, it is not necessary for the militant dimension to be solely part of the author’s perspective. Sonic fictions can emerge from a convergence of various elements, such as the agency of different authors or trends, but even solely psychoacoustic impulses, which coalesce to create a transformative effect. The liberating power of Sonic Fictions can be found within both intentional and emergent perspectives: as it has been remarked already a long time ago in the realm of literature and art, the original intention of the author often undergoes transformations when the artwork becomes public. […] Julia Kristeva talks about intertextuality: when readers engage with a work, they bring their knowledge of other texts and cultural references, which can alter the interpretation of the original work. The public’s perception of Sonic Fictions and other works changes depending on the cultural context, the historical time, the listener’s positionality including their memories, psychology, and even the body they inhabit.

In her article Sonic Agency in Unsustainable Worlds, Giada dalla Bontà writes that “Sonic Fictions are tightly intertwined with knowledge production, subject constitution, and materiality. They do not merely offer a brief moment of escapism and refusal of the real world, but rather substantiate the desire for alternative possible ones in concrete and transformative self-affirmative manifestation.”

Giada dalla Bontà:
Desire is the propeller for the creation of new possible worlds, as Salomé Voegelin would call them. Music, encompassing visual, performative, and fleeting elements that revolve around the immediate experience of sound, serves as the origin story of fictional universes by generating fresh narratives and systems of meaning that express desires for acknowledgment and change. Sonic Fictions, as exemplified in the Afrofuturist tradition, are intricately linked with desire: the creation of knowledge, the shaping of individual identities, and the tangible aspects of existence. They do more than simply provide temporary escapes from the real world; instead, they validate and substantiate such desire for tangible and self-affirming expressions of alternative possibilities.

Let’s go back to Detroit. 
The city had witnessed the crumbling of the automotive empire since the late 1960s, and since the industry had woven an inseparable liaison with black music for half a century, it is almost a given to point out how its collapse affected the generation of black youth left without jobs and welfare, but also without the fulcrum of Detroit music production represented by Motown, which moved its headquarters to Los Angeles in 1972. 
DeForrest Brown Jr. writes that “In the years after Motown’s departure from Detroit”, , a youthful Black music scene (had) gained access to second-hand electronic instruments, underused recording studios, and mastering plants to develop what they thought of as progressive music, 
What was that youthful Black music scene up to with those second-hand electronic instruments? 
We just have to go back to the protagonists of that era. 
In the words of Dj and producer Derrick May, the “philosopher” of Detroit techno: “The old industrial Detroit is falling apart; the structures have collapsed. It’s the murder capital of America. Six-year-olds carry guns and thousands of Black people have stopped caring if they ever work again. If you make music in that environment, it can’t be straight music. In Britain you have New Order, well Detroit’s music is the New Disorder.” 

Or we could also mention musician Juan Atkins who said: “We’re tired of hearing about being in love or falling out, tired of the R&B system, so a new progressive sound has emerged. We call it techno!” 

In 1984, Juan Atkins, together with Richard Davis published the record Techno City under the collective moniker Cybotron.

And guess how DeForrest Brown Jr. described it? “The song is a Sonic Fiction about being born and raised in a city designed for technical workers; this resonated with listeners around the world who were also hoping to rethink their urban surroundings and leap into the future.”
The sample you have just listened to comes from The Last Angel of History by the Black Audio Film Collective, a video work somewhere between fiction and documentary, described as “a truly masterful film essay about Black aesthetics” [ “John Akomfrah, A Poet in the Archives”, Harvard Film Archive]

In the second episode of this podcast, Steve Goodman, author of the book Sonic Warfare, had already told us about The Last Angel of History because of its peculiar use of fiction. But The Last Angel of History is not the only fiction Goodman refers to; he also devotes numerous pages to Project Jericho, a radio docufiction by writer and artist Gregory Whitehead.

Sonic Warfare is full of mythologies, urban legends,hyperstitionalcharacters, impossible technologies, military operations and instruments, but it is also a story of collective artistic-musical narratives that had the substance needed to shape the world. 

It holds the same generative power we were just talking about with Schulze, that strength to imprint itself in the malleable matter that History and Time are basically made of. 

But why do we speak now of malleable matter? Let’s try to explain.

Sonic Fictions play with time, passing through it, winking at the techniques by which science fiction uses the future and the past to deal with the present. This layering, this possibility of playing with the malleable surface of time is also found in the latest example of Sonic Fiction we would like to tell you about.

Steve Goodman has lived in London for many years, but he is originally from Glasgow and has close ties to the Scottish Highlands. 
In 2022, under the moniker Kode9, Goodman published Astro-Darien, a 26-minute audio novel that speculates on the possible disintegration of the United Kingdom.

Steve Goodman: Astro-Darien was really the result of a number of convergences between the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, the Brexit referendum and the pandemic, and finding out that there was actually a space race going on in the north of Scotland, to be the first place in the UK to build vertical rocket launch sites, and also because of Brexit. Thinking a little bit about the origin of the UK, what happened to make the act of union between Scotland and England occur? 

Astro-Darien starts with a road trip along the northern coast of Scotland. The fiction develops from a historical event, the so-called “Darien scheme”. 

What was that?
To put it briefly: in the late 17th century, Scotland attempted to colonise part of present-day Panama, but with catastrophic results. Many settlers died from starvation and diseases unknown to them. The failure of the “Darien scheme” is considered one of the reasons why Scotland signed the controversial Act of Union to England in 1707 that resulted in the formation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. 

In fact, the English agreed to shoulder the Scottish government’s debt to those who had joined the Scheme, and this was probably one of the main reasons why the Scottish parliament   did not oppose the Act of Union. 

Astro-Darien mixes these historical facts with the contemporary events of Brexit and the claims for Scottish independence, ending up investigating some ongoing tenders for the construction of a space launch station for satellites in the Highlands.

The story is narrated by synthetic Scottish voices, and is presented as if it were a video game.

Steve Goodman:
The other way is that Astro Darien is a videogame produced by a fictional video game company called Transtar North, who are based on the idea, based on the real company called Rockstar Games, who produce Grand Theft Auto, which is probably one of the biggest video games ever produced, which is a Scottish company, originally a Scottish company. So the idea of what kind of video game would they produce if they stopped trying to simulate American street life and did something about the Break-Up of Britain? […] Weather and fiction often operates through resonance. It helps forge connections, connections which are speculative. Open ended. An often ambiguous and an abstract. 

You can find Astro-Darien in its entirety on Kode9’s bandcamp. 

And with that we have reached the conclusion of this fourth episode, as well as the end of the series What Do Sounds Want?

In order to try to investigate the themes underlying the film and audio-novel Life Chronicles of Dorothea Ïesj S.P.U., we began by defining the scope of our research in the relationship between listening and public space. 
We focused on sound weapons and the ability of sound to affect the body and our perception of the world. Then, we tried to understand more about how people and their digital data make each other in the context of the relation between data, sound, recording and listening practices. Finally, we have tried to explore the notion of Sonic Fiction, which, as you have heard, is more than just a notion or a category.

If we really had to find a word, it seems to us that a Sonic Fiction is a phenomenon, one that is created in the moment of listening, rather than in the moment of production.

In an article published in the Journal of Sound Studies in 2018, Holger Schulze lists ten principles  that can help us understand Sonic Fictions. Among these, Sonic Fictions do inspire other Sonic Fictions […] Sonic Fictions do emerge as an inspiration or a provocation of a narrative discourse, a back and forth of telling and re-telling […] move and countermove […] a call and response between narration and counter-narration […]. I like to call this: a conversation. A confluence.

Life Chronicles of Dorothea Ïesj S.P.U. may not even be Sonic Fiction, but it is certainly the story we felt the urge to translate into sound, generated at the confluence of everything we have heard, seen and talked about so far.

This podcast serves as a pair to Life Chronicles of Dorothea Ïesj S.P.U., a project by ALMARE curated by Radio Papesse, promoted in collaboration with Timespan and produced thanks to the support of the Italian Council – a program to promote Italian art by the Directorate-General for Contemporary Creativity of the Italian Ministry of Culture.

If you’d like to know more about Life Chronicles of Dorothea Ïesj S.P.U., please visit and

Thank you for your time and for listening.

Cover by Giordano Cruciani.

You can find the Italian translation of the forth episode here.


Bibliography, Bundesweites Verzeichnis Immaterielles Kulturerbe Technokultur in Berlin, March 2024.

Tajh Morris, Opinion: Berlin Didn’t Invent Techno. So Why No Mention of Detroit in the UNESCO Honour?, published on Resident Advisor, March 25 2024.

DeForrest Brown, Jr., Assembling a Black Counter Culture, Primary Information, 2022.

Artist Feature: DeForrest Brown Jr. on Drexciya, published on Carhartt Work In Progress, April 6 2023.,music%22%20that%20produce%20sonic%20fictions.

Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant than the Sun, Quarter Books, 1998.

Holger Schulze, The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Sound Art, Bloomsbury, 2020.

Holger Schulze, The Sonic Persona. An Anthropology of Sound, Bloomsbury, 2018.

Holger Schulze, Sound Works. A Cultural Theory of Sound Design,  Bloomsbury, 2019.

Holger Schulze, Sonic Fiction. The Study of Sound, Bloomsbury, 2020.

Giada Dalla Bontà, “Sonic Agency in unsustainable Worlds”, published on Field Notes Berlin, January 1 2023.,we%20live%20through%20our%20senses.

John Akomfrah, a poet in the archives, published on Harvard Film Archive, March 8 2014.

Steve Goodman, Astro-Darien, Flatlines, 2022.


ALMARE is an artistic and curatorial collective dedicated to contemporary art practices that use sound as expressive mean. It was founded in Turin in 2017 by Amos Cappuccio, Giulia Mengozzi, Luca Morino and Gabbi Cattani. ALMARE works between curatorial and artistic practices, through collective writing, research, sound and music production, organizing concerts, performance lectures, talks and exhibitions.
Radio Papesse is a web radio and a sound archive dedicated to contemporary artistic practices, founded by Ilaria Gadenz and Carola Haupt. It hosts and commissions experimental sound and radio works, by inviting artists and sound makers to renovate the rules of broadcasting and narration.