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I Think To Tomorrow: An Audio Interpretation of Isaac Asimov’s The Foundation Trilogy

An imagined reconstruction of the Spy-Beam technology from the novel The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov, using randomly selected phrases in different tones and voices.


My Book/eBook: Electronic and Experimental Music, sixth edition, Routledge 2020.

My Podcast: The Holmes Archive of Electronic Music

Novels from the days of classic science fiction are getting the cinematic treatment these days. Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, Part One arrived in cinemas and it doesn’t disappoint. I have also been fascinated by a serialized television version of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, available through Apple TV and simply called Foundation. Foundation is what I want to introduce to you via an audio experiment produced for this episode.


I’ve been a fan of the Foundation Trilogy since I first read it as a teenager. Asimov was trained as a biochemist, a scientist, but he apparently spent most of his waking hours penning science fiction stories. The stories that eventually made up what would be collected into the Foundation Trilogy in 1951, mostly began as individual stores published in the pulp magazine Astounding Science Fiction beginning in 1942. But what made these stories different was their subject matter. Not about mad scientists, spooky space monsters, and Flash Gordan types of adventures, Asimov told the story of a declining Galactic empire, somewhat based on the Fall of the Roman Empire. It was perhaps the earliest, thoughtfully developed science fiction to introduce the idea of a Galaxy wide empire made possible by the ability to jump through space and certainly had familiar echoes of the British Empire in terms of its monarchy and reach to distant lands and different cultures.


At the center of the story is a mathematician names


My fascination with Foundation has to do with Asimov’s clinical writing style in his narrative. These novels are mostly comprised of spoken dialog along with extracts from the fictional Encyclopedia Galactica which he intersperses with the dialog as a way to convey additional facts around the galactic struggle. I was inspired to make this composition by a passage on page 34 that described an anti-eavesdropping technology. The passage reads:

“It was not a large office, but it was quite spy-proof and quite undetectably so. Spy-Beams trained upon it received neither a suspicious silence nor an even more suspicious static. They received, rather, a conversation constructed at random out of a vast stock of innocuous phrases in various tones and voices.”

I therefore found a couple of dramatic readings of this passage from recordings in the Archives and formed a theme behind the entire piece: that of taking spoken passages and randomizing them into meaningless clouds of sound. Audible cloaking to disguise another conversation.


I created various schemes for randomizing the final material for the work. The original materials were page 14 of the text and that Spy Beam passage just mentioned. The piece is divided into four sections based on manipulations of those sources.


  • Part 1: The Foundation “Spy-beam” passage from page 34, using dramatized readings from the BBC and Caedmon Records (with William Shatner), plus audio processing. 4:00

  • Part 2: Foundation page 14, using computer-voiced readings, divided into 480 individual sound clips and then randomized, plus synthesized sounds. 20:00

  • Part 3: Foundation page 14, using computer-voiced versions plus myself recorded and played-back using the Bell & Howell Language Master, divided into 44 clips that I recorded and randomized, with synthesized sounds and audio processing. 11:00

  • Part 4, Foundation page 14 read by William Shatner plus random passages from The Mayors section read by author Isaac Asimov. Both dramatized readings are from Caedmon Records, with audio processing and synthesis. 6:00

The title of this work, “I Think To Tomorrow,” happens to be one of the phrases generated using this randomized process of word scrambling.


Playlist

1. Isaac Asimov read by William Shatner – Foundation: The Psychohistorians. (1976 Caedmon Records). Passages the 1951 edition of the novel comprising page 14 plus the Spy-Beam passage from page 34. 1:40 and 0:18

2. Isaac Asimov, “Psycho History And Encyclopedia” from The Foundation Trilogy (1990 BBC Enterprises Ltd.). Passages the 1951 edition of the novel comprising page 14 plus the Spy-Beam passage from page 34. 1:37 and 0:17

3. Isaac Asimov, miscellaneous passages, The Mayors From Foundation Read By The Author (1977 Caedmon Records).


Additional audio processing and synthesis created by Thom Holmes using WavePad, Logic Pro, MetaSynth CTX 1.2, Arturia ARP 2600 V, Arturia Moog Modular, Arturia Pigments, Madrona Labs Aalto, and various audio processing applications.


Background Music

  • Isaac Asimov read by William Shatner – Foundation: The Psychohistorians. (1976 Caedmon Records). Passages page 14 including Encyclopedia Galactica 4. 1:40

  • Isaac Asimov, miscellaneous passages, The Mayors From Foundation Read By The Author (1977 Caedmon Records). 2:60

Opening and closing sequences voiced by Anne Benkovitz.

Additional opening, closing, and other incidental music by Thom Holmes.

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NOISE AND NOTATIONS

Electronic and Experimental Music

Notes on the development and continuing history of electronic music, its creators, and the technology.