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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Sci-Fi MP3 EP

The Sine Fiction series sponsors electronic musicians to compose soundtracks for science fiction novels. Among the most recent Sine Fiction entries is Jos Smolders‘ five-track, nearly half-hour score for Roadside Picnic, written by the Strugatsky brothers, Arkady and Boris. Smolders has a tough act to follow, since Roadside Picnic was the source for the widely regarded Russian film Stalker, by director Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris), which featured music by composer Eduard Artemiev.

In the Strugatskys’ novel, mankind is dealing with the repercussions of a visit by alien beings, who left their mark on Earth by transforming a handful of hotspots around the planet into dangerous, mysterious Visitation Zones. Tarkovsky’s film version took its name from mercenary characters in the novel, stalkers, who are driven to explore these strangely hostile environments and search for alien artifacts, or “extraterrestrial marvels,” more by profit than by curiosity.

Judging from his score, Smolders, who is from the Netherlands, did a serious tour of duty in the Zone himself. Aside from the opening track, “Path,” little of what follows has anything remotely akin to a downbeat or a rhythm. “Path” achieves a sense of pacing, its watery, bell-like tones warping in and out like oscillators. “Dog” drops in a quiet, distorted vocal sample, just below intelligible, amid gurgling bass and wind. “Discourse” sounds very much like language; it’s either English (Dutch? Russian? Frisian?) distorted by fantastic circumstance, or it’s just utterly unfamiliar alien-speak — it has the shape of conversation, but the vowels and consonants are all transformed into muffled barks. “Outside,” the final track, provides a sense of closure with its crisp stillness and extended denouement.

More than most of the Sine Fiction entries, and there have been 14 so far, Smolders’ work on Roadside Picnic is something to which one could listen while reading. It’s available for free download from the Sine Fiction website,, on this page here. (More on Jos Smolders at his website, here. More on the Strugatsky brothers on their website, here, which among other things provides a free download of the Roadside Picnic novel as a text document [zip file here].)

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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