Music of the Future as Depicted in Science Fiction Films

March 11, 2019 § 3 Comments

Have you ever wondered how cultures might change in the future? Will people hold on to their customs, or will individual cultures dissipate into an ever-growing melting pot? Science fiction has somewhat answered that question through its filmic presentation of music in technologically advanced worlds. Science fiction has integrated technology into current musical and cultural genres not to dissolve cultures but to enhance them. Before we discuss examples of science fiction films that utilize music and technology to preserve cultures in the future, let’s first understand how a music artist could mix technology and music together. Let me introduce you to the musical genre: techno.

Techno is a genre of music that began in the United States during the 1980’s. African-American youth from Detroit, Michigan created this form of music after mixing their own beats with European electronic dance music. Initially starting as a new local genre in the city, techno soon increased in fame to a global level. Consequently, music producers started to mimic techno and create their own techno subgenres, which include trance, electronica, jungle, and gabba. A sample of techno music is taped below.

As you probably realized, techno primarily consists of instrumentals. The most common instruments used are synthesizers, saxophones, samplers, drum machines, and electric guitars. Other than the saxophone, all these instruments are engineered using technology. Artists are able to combine technology and natural music through these instruments. For example, a synthesizer, which is known as the “Godhead of dance music,” creates unearthly sounds by synthesizing natural sounds electronically into something else not naturally created by physical instruments. Drum machines produce a variety of beats not commonly heard on a regular drum set due to technological engineering. Consequently, artists commonly use drum machines to find unique beats that enhance their music. In addition, the electric guitar, one of the most common instruments today, senses string vibrations electronically via a magnetic pickup. Once sensed, the sound is sent to an amplifier to produce the guitar’s unique sound, which differs from a standard acoustic guitar. Altogether, the electronic sounds produced by these instruments is a result of combining technology with natural music. This special combination has helped to popularize techno as a common genre today. However, techno may not hold significant roots in today’s culture because it is still relatively new. Do genres exist in cultures today that use technology in music? One genre comes to my mind: afrobeat.

Afrobeat began in the 1960’s as a combination of jazz, traditional Yoruba music, funk, and West African highlife. Pioneered by Nigerian artist Fela Kuti, this genre has developed into a style of music infused with technological enhancements and instruments similarly used in techno. Check out this song below: “For Life” by Runtown. Listen to the technologically-engineered instrumentals in this song.

In this song, you can hear the full notes of a synthesizer in the background. Moreover, while it may be hard to discern between an actually drum and a drum machine, the beats in the song were likely produced by a drum machine in a studio. Using a drum machine is simply more convenient than using actual drums. Artists would not have to worry about physically beating a drum precisely in the right manner to produce the same beat because the drum machine always produces the same exact beat. Altogether, you can see that this genre is full of technological tools. As shown by this genre, the future may indeed continue to integrate technology into various cultural music genres. Interestingly, science fiction has already showed us that through the recent film, Black Panther.

In Black Panther, film director Ryan Coogler creates the world of Wakanda, which is a technologically advanced African country in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although this society has technology that surpasses the rest of the world, the people of Wakanda still hold on to their culture. Coogler shows this not only by depicting their clothing, jewelry, and traditional dances throughout the film but also through the use of music. Coogler uses music that resembles African styles of music. Although these songs are classified as Hip-Hop/Rap genre, “Seasons” by Mozzy, Sjava, and Reason and “Opps” by Vince Staples and Yugen Blakrok both utilize African artists (Sjava and Yugen Blakrok) to ensure that African styles of music are present in the film.

After listening to these songs, one can hear the common techno and afrobeat instrumentals, such as drum machines and potentially synthesizers, utilized in these two songs. Coogler uses these African styles of technologically enhanced music to describe and preserve the African culture of this technologically advanced society in science fiction.

Besides Black Panther’s use of African cultural music, other science fiction films have utilized technologically improved music to paint their technologically advanced worlds as well. For example, the film Ready Player Onedepicts a futuristic society in year 2045 that greatly advanced its virtual reality technology to escape their current hell on Earth. The film director Steven Spielberg uses a variety of pop rock songs known to use techno instruments to describe this technologically advanced world and preserve its American culture. In addition to the film’s use of well-known American cartoon characters such as The Iron Giant in the virtual world OASIS, pop rock music further highlights the film’s portrayal and care for American culture.

In the film, pop rock songs include “Jump – 2015 Remaster” by Van Halen and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) – Remastered” by Eurythmics, which both likely use electric guitars, synthesizers, and drum machines. Since these songs were “remastered,” artists likely also used samplers, which are common techno instruments, to remix and change the sound quality of these song’s original versions. Check out these two songs below.

Altogether, science fiction films have preserved cultures through the use of technologically engineered music. Returning back to my two original questions, I believe that culture will remain unchanged in the future. People will hold on to their cultural roots. The only thing that might change is music. As shown in the two aforementioned science fiction films that describe futuristic and technologically advanced societies, music might only employ more technologically engineered instruments in the future that still play for the culture. Since more and more songs from various genres are using techno instruments today, science fiction films may actually predict the rise and fusion of technology and music in the future.

~ cjwalters18

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§ 3 Responses to Music of the Future as Depicted in Science Fiction Films

  • paige.adams says:

    Along the same lines, I’ve always thought it interesting that when movies depict a futuristic society, the greater part of our culture(s) seems to have “evolved,” including that of our music. We know techno, edm, rap, and similar styles aren’t going to be the favorites of the entire world population, but I can’t say that I’d see a country or jazz song very fitting in the middle of Ender’s Game or Star Wars. Some people would definitely argue that technology is not enhancing their music styles, however, and is instead removing the “natural talent.” My cousin told me something the other day along the lines that with synthesizers and similar tools, anyone can become a singer. Just very curious about how this could potentially change our perspective on, for example, the artists we listen to today. Would we appreciate music more or less if we found out everything was made without the “natural talent”?


    • cjwalters18 says:

      I am not completely sure if society would appreciate music more or less if people knew that music was made more with technology and less with natural talent. But I am reminded about how people have critiqued artists who use autotune. Autotune is an audio processor that alters pitch in vocals. People just don’t seem to appreciate autotune as much as a singer’s natural voice. Consequently, this may mean that society will appreciate music less if technology continues to influence music more in the future.


      • These comments made me think of how technology/robots/AI/etc. cannot fully replace humans in today’s world. I think we will always value human talent, ambition, and creativity to some extent no matter what. Could a robot produce a piece of art comparable in meaning to a man-made piece of art?


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