You Can’t Trust Music: Interplanetary Machines

You Can’t Trust Music: Interplanetary Machines


Courtesy YCTM.

May 30, 2022
Chapter 1: Interplanetary Machines
You Can’t Trust Music

“‘Why wasn’t a poet sent to the moon?’ Pauline Oliveros wondered in a 1977 talk on art and technology. As we listen to the expanse of cosmological silence—as lifeless as it appears—we’re directed back to a perhaps more intimate unknown: the human. Listening even further, beyond human frames of reference, we find a margin not only from the known but also from what is knowable.”[1] writes G Douglas Barrett. The title of chapter 1: Interplanetary Machines is informed by Prince Nifty’s recently released record of the same name which appears in this chapter. Lyrics for this record are taken from the recollections of Carl Jung’s patients dreaming of UFOs, as described in Jung’s Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies (1958). In his analysis, Jung considered flying saucers to be a psychic phenomena he called “visionary rumors,” serving Cold War era platitudes and anxieties that tap into the acousmatic nature of flying objects. Kurt Newman elaborates that “Flying Saucers is haunted by Jung’s suspicion that the advent of the atomic era—the dropping of bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the testing of atomic bombs in the US desert and Bikini Atoll, Soviet test bombings beginning in 1949—had, in fact, broken the dialectic of history that led humanity from the ancient era through the Christian moment and into modernity. In other words, the onset of the atomic age constituted an event that, for the first time in human history, would radiate throughout the cosmos.”[2]

In the introduction to You Can’t Trust Music (YCTM) Ryuichi Sakamoto contributed the sound work IS YOUR TIME, composed on a piano that had washed up on the shores of Fukushima following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, and subsequent nuclear disaster, on March 11, 2011. The instrument became a register of the traumatic events and a conduit for their interpretation. Chapter 1 connects the social, nuclear and political anxieties embedded in that work with the bodies, objects and social spheres that become sonic documents and instruments of human activities on the stellar scale.  Stefana Fratila’s I want to leave this earth behind part 1 of 2further concerns celestial bodies. Fratila collaborated with scientists at NASA to simulate the atmospheric conditions on different planets in the solar system, in the process reflecting on her own body and the politics that prioritize some abilities over others. An excerpt from Bill Dietz and Gavin Steingo’s “Experiments in Civility, the text that inspired the title of this project, is also reproduced along with a new preface from Dietz and Steingo. Their original essay, published in early 2016, asks readers to reconsider musical practices as laboratories for experiments in civility, practices ceaselessly formulating conjunctural questions. It further re-introduces the radicality of sound’s non-partisanship and the deceptive agency of music: could the example of music’s “untrustworthiness” as such, demonstrate its capacity to perpetually betray its tactical instrumentalizations?[3] This idea reveals itself further in Christopher Willes and Anne Bourne’s collaboration Satellite (2016). Satellite invokes the moon, along with its phases, as the ultimate satellite and regulating instrument: Willes’s installation utilized sub-bass and infra-sonic sounds via a large subwoofer installed directly within the gallery wall that worked with the real-time phases of the moon’s orbit (a cycle of 29.5305882 days) as its form. Bourne is a long-time collaborator and friend of Oliveros, and G Douglas Barrett’s essayEchoes”, details the literary, philosophical and technological ramifications of Oliveros’s Echoes from the Moon, a multi-form process where audience members broadcast their voices and other sounds to the moon and received an echo back on Earth. This chapter launches on the new moon of May 30—what was to be Pauline’s ninetieth birthday—and is dedicated to her.

With thanks to Second Spring, NASA, The University of Chicago Press and Duke University Press.

You Can’t Trust Music (YCTM) presented by e-flux is a research project connecting sound-based artists, musicians, writers, composers and writers and exploring the way that landscape, acoustics and musical thought contribute to the formation of social and political structures. It is presented on a platform designed by Knoth&Renner and developed by Knoth&Renner with Jonas Holfeld.

YCTM on is made possible with funding from the Canada Council for the Arts. It is produced by e-flux and developed in partnership with M WOODS, NTT InterCommunication Center (ICC), Liquid Architecture, Kunsthall Trondheim, and Infrasonica.

YCTM is curated by Xenia Benivolski.

[1] Barrett, G. Douglas, Experimenting the Human: Art, Music, and the Contemporary Posthuman, The University of Chicago Press, 2022.

[2] Kurt Newman, “The Auditory Uncanny,” You Can’t Trust Music, e-flux, May 30, 2022,

[3] Bill Dietz and Gavin Steingo, “Experiments in Civility,” boundary 2: an international journal of literature and culture 43, issue 1 (February 2016): 43–74,

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May 30, 2022

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