Music 1240H // M 2-5 & Th 7-9 // Granoff Center // Syllabus (pdf)



Future Lives is an upper level production course in working beyond the cutting edge. Drawing from science fiction and speculative practices in various media, we explore how myth and technology have shaped current worldviews and respond with projects of our own—making (and faking) new myths and technologies that might shape future lives. Robot performances, network interplays, digital gardens, living rooms, automated companies, virtual pop stars, performance protests, and time bending cartoons are all potential starting spaces. Significant production experience in at least one medium is required.


The word ‘lives’ in Future Lives refers to lives (as in we are alive–life) and to be live (as in performing live–here and now). Science fiction provides a frame for exploring this double meaning as well as the intersections and overlap between these modes of lives. By combining technological perspectives (Artificial life / Animation) and social perspectives (Liveness / Mediation), science fiction helps us to navigate between the social and the technological—exploring how new technologies continue to (re)frame what it means to be and act (a)live.

Companies at the cutting edge of technological development produce new modes of engagement and, in engaging with them, people are recreated in their vision. Humans make technologies make humans. What space is there for meaningful intervention into ‘new’ media when being and making at the cutting edge is a game of perpetual catch up? Science fiction and other speculative practices (design fiction, various futurisms) are concerned with the ‘cutting edge’ merely as a starting point, proposing alternative tactics—guises, characters, masks, stories, and myths that help us step outside of our current lives to imagine other worlds and new modes of life.

This course examines the utility and aesthetics of speculation. What possibilities emerge when one works as someone or something else? How does new technology change how we act, how we perceive ourselves, and how we interact with others? How might we use fiction (science, social, design, etc) to create radically new types of technologies and shape our future lives?


  • Navigate the history of speculative practices in literature, film, music, and new media.
  • Identify themes, methods, and concepts common in speculating about future lives.
  • Develop both critical and constructive perspectives on the relationship between technology and life.
  • Produce original work and/or adapt existing fictions to offer new perspectives on the future of life.



Attendance and participation are mandatory. Unexcused absences beyond three will result in the deduction of a letter grade. Participation includes both in-class discussion and online or asynchronous discussion. You are expected to engage with all assigned materials prior to class and prepare questions or thoughts for discussion.


Short exercises will be due most weeks. They vary in scope, but as a general rule, they should take an evening of work (between 2 and 6 hours). Be ready to present exercises in class on the date they are listed in the syllabus.


Buy a notebook for recording your thoughts about the materials along with any figures, sketches, and ideas you might want to include and bring it to class each week. Notebooks are due at the end of the term along with a short (1 to 2 page) synopsis mapping the notebook’s contents / evolution.


10.27 // Concept due  // 10 % // Brief Presentation in class
11.17 // Trailer due // 10 % // Brief Screening in class ( < 3 minutes )
12.04 // Project due // 20 %

The form of the final project is open, but it should relate in some way to the themes of the course. Final projects should be significant in scope, but do not necessarily need to be singular works. They can be a series of iterations, a sustained practice, an institution, etc.

Final projects will be presented for the public on December 11th. Mark your calendars.


Set aside a few hours to engage with each week’s materials, which draw from film, music, literature, new media, advertising, journalism and online forms. Occasionally, short theoretical readings are assigned to provide context or perspective. Most of the materials are available on the course website— You are responsible for checking the website and viewing all materials posted by Friday at 5pm for the following Monday’s class. If something resonates with you, follow the rabbit hole—learn about the artist’s inspirations, the production process, etc. Treat the materials as you might treat a text, view them from different angles, think about them while you are walking around.

There are a few required books:

Neuromancer by William Gibson and/or Red Spiders White Webs by Misha
Snow Crash
and/or Diamond Age, both by Neal Stephenson
Einstein Intersection by Samuel Delany
Bloodchild by Octavia Butler
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (Recommended if you have not already read it)

As part of our exploration of virtual lives, you will be required to join a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. I will provide a list, but you are free to choose a game/situation not on the list, just run it by me first.


Please speak with me during office hours if you have a disability or other condition that might require modification of the course procedures or exercises. For information visit

I expect you to follow the Brown Academic Code. Production courses sometimes call into question traditional notions of fair use, copyright, and plagiarism. If you have questions about a specific project, meet with me during office hours.

I will usually reply to emails within 24 hours. If I don’t reply within 24 hours, email me again.


This syllabus and schedule will change as we move through the course.