Keynote Speakers

We are happy to announce two keynote speakers, both are recognised and respected scholars in their fields. Isabella van Elferen will discuss, and play recordings of, the diverse sounds of space and Lovecraftian monsters in film, tv, popular music, and classical music. Karen Hellekson will be talking about, and show, a range of Doctor Who fan videos including those that recreate missing episodes and reframe post-2005 episodes.

In Space, No One Can Hear David Bowie: A Brief History of Unheard Music

Isabella van Elferen, Kingston University London

Science fiction has inspired composers, artists and filkers to translate into music the enticingly alien quality of space adventure. The examples are as numerous as they are diverse in sound. Many SF film and television soundtracks have become classics in the genre, which combines epic musical styles with white noise and electronic instruments like the theremin to create immersive but slightly eerie soundtracks. This approach results in grand compositions like John Williams’ scores for the Star Wars films, but also in Vangelis’s metal version of epic-electronic sound in Blade Runner. In TV series like Dr Who these elements are combined in an eclectic but still recognisably science fictional sound. A particularly interesting example is the Dr Who Radiophon-A-Tron, an online tool that demonstrates the quirky playfulness of such SF composition.

Classical composers have taken inspiration from science fiction also. Starting from the sweeping idiom of nineteenth-century opera and implementing unusual elements like atonality, these works have clearly influenced the epic style of SF film and television composing. Gustav Holst’s 1914 The Planets creates ephemeral, romantic melodies to accompany space fantasies. Other works, like John Adams’s 2005 opera Dr Atomic, characterise the alienness of space travel by way of unexpected atonal harmonies. Eef van Breen’s Klingon 2012 opera ‘u’ combines folky instruments like drums and flutes with arhythmical figures and fierce vocal performances in order to emphasise the profound unearthliness of his subject matter.

Finally, science fiction also pervades popular music history. David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” is perhaps the most famous early rock reflection on space travel, with its deceptively calm intro and its glissando into alien territory. It was soon followed by the musical Afrofuturism of artists like Sun Ra and George Clinton. Since P-Funk, outer space has been groovy as well as alien: “Put a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip / And come on up to the Mothership”. Similarly implementing 1970s sounds into pop idioms, Jeff Wayne’s Eve of the War explores a grand orchestral theme with the help of synthesizer timbres, electronic glissandos, and a disco-style drum machine. In the last decennia digital technology has helped musicians from Kraftwerk to Welle:Erdball and DJ Spooky create distorted subliminal sounds.

While the sounds of SF culture are abundant, the actual reality of space is silent. Utterly, devastatingly silent. Not even the Big Bang would have been audible to human ears if the owner of these ears would be able to survive in outer space conditions. The Alien tagline is quite correct: in space, no one can hear you scream. Or sing, your best filking efforts notwithstanding. Few authors have described the terrifying silence of space more grippingly than H.P. Lovecraft, whose stories narrate the “black seas of infinity” surrounding human life. But the vacuum of space, Lovecraft asserts, listens. Through the “audient void” of his universe voiceless sounds resonate. Detestable, gigantic, absurd, their soul is called “Nyarlathotep, Crawling Chaos”. What could this arch-alien possibly sound like?

Bio: Isabella van Elferen is professor of music at Kingston University London. Her publications focus on gothic, fantasy and SF music in film, TV, video games and subcultures. Her last book is Gothic Music: The Sounds of the Uncanny (2012).

Affirmational and Transformational Doctor Who Fan Videos

Karen Hellekson

The 2005 Doctor Who reboot brought a whole new audience to the beloved family show, now a British cultural institution, and resulted in a resurgence of interest in what is now known as the classic series. Fan expressions of Doctor Who are too many and varied to enumerate here, but among the myriad ways fans engage with the show are fan-created videos. I discuss two sorts of videos in relationship to their canonicity and their expression of fandom: affirmational and transformational. (These two sorts of fans were explicated in a 2009 Dreamwidth blog post by Obsession_Inc.) Affirmational fans, who are usually male, seek to restate the source material and to affirm the creator or producer, who may actually sanction the fan artwork. Transformative fans, on the other hand, are usually female; they seek to transform the source material; and they are usually not interested in the creator or producer, at least in terms of their artwork creation.

I will show fan-created videos to illustrate the differences between the two sorts of fans and to highlight their commonalities. For the affirmational fans, I will show clips from several examples of Doctor Who recons (reconstructions). Between 1967 and 1978, the BBC destroyed archived videotape for Doctor Who. Although some footage has been recovered, many episodes remain partially or fully missing. Fans, taking advantage of the fact that audio exists for all the broadcast episodes, have created videos of the missing episodes by stringing together stills from the show or by creating cartoons, and playing the images over the soundtrack. In contrast, transformational fans do not seek to create a text that evokes canon. I will show several fan-created videos, including song/music vids, which splice together clips that, read along with the music, tell a new story, with a focus on post-2005 Doctor Who.

I examine the fan impulse to create a text in terms of transformation and canonicity. For recons, fans creatively attempt to use transformation and alteration to attain textual fidelity. Complete faithfulness to the lost original is not possible with existing technology, but practical and symbolic selection of images to fit the story and mood is possible, thus rendering recons a form of artwork rather than a literal reconstruction. Transformational fandom, which has received far more critical attention, works against the grain of the source text to critique the show or an element of our culture; to posit a preferred fan meaning (such as a relationship between characters); or to fill in perceived gaps in canon. Both kinds of fans rely on fellow fans and the community they create to support them and to provide an audience.

Bio: Karen Hellekson is founding coeditor of the fan studies journal Transformative Works and Cultures. She entered fandom as a teen in 1982 via Doctor Who. She studied English at the University of Kansas, where she worked with James Gunn and the Institute for the Study of Science Fiction. She has published in the fields of science fiction and fan studies.


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