What We’re Listening To: Out There

The offices of UCHRI staff are often sources of highly varied sonic experiences–from sports commentary and radio plays to music crossing genres–vibrating through the hallways of Humanities Gateway at UC Irvine. Sometimes, we also deploy music when doing drudgework together before events: stuffing envelopes, organizing folders, cutting name-tags, gathering recording materials. You get the idea. At some point, we started wondering why some of the music in the background of our everyday work couldn’t be displayed more prominently. As a result, in preparing for a few significant public events over the last couple of years, we have started compiling playlists that are broadcast at the venue before and after an event takes place. Beginning with this post, in the coming months, we hope to make public partially annotated editions of these playlists. So you have an idea of what informs the work we do and can–if you’re brave enough–sing along.

“Out There” brought together a panel of scholars whose work reflects on the spaces beyond our planet. They pondered how the political and creative imaginaries of outer space have emerged from, reflected, and shaped human worlds here on Earth. Bringing ideas from their scholarship and creative practice, participants probed humanity’s dreams, desires, and evolving affects with regard to what lies “out there.” Space is a void, but what if it had a soundtrack? Selecting from an eclectic pool of trippy, spacey tracks, this playlist evokes outer space in all its expansive, mind-bending mystery. The music for this event spans decades and genres, with cosmic themes and out-there sounds to transport the listener to the uncharted territory of outer space.

From the 1998 album, Moon Safari, by Air, “Kelly Watch the Stars” incorporates groovy synths and spacey lazer sounds into a dreamy, repetitive melody that calls to mind the weightlessness of space. A classic by The Byrds, “Mr. Spaceman,” was released in 1966 at the height of the space race before humans had landed on the moon. This track is a playful, country-inflected anthem to extraterrestrial visitors, imploring them to “take me along for a ride” on their spaceship. “Time Float,” released in 2016, is the work of one of the event’s panelists, Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother). This track carries the listener along on an effervescent background that invokes the sounds of a computer, paired with a minor melody and vocal effects that balance out the lightness of the instrumentals. Legendary avant-garde jazzman Sun Ra, one of the pioneers of afrofuturism, believed he was an alien from Saturn who had been sent to Earth on a mission of peace. He’s known for outer space-themed jazz, and the 1959 tune “Saturn” is named for his home planet.