In the early seventeenth century, at the very end of his life, the English statesman and philosopher Francis Bacon wrote a utopian fable called New Atlantis, containing an uncanny presentiment of twentieth-century electronic music. Now, four hundred years later, music writer Robert Barry digs into the significance of that tale for the history of music, media, science and the senses.
New Atlantis marked a significant turning point in the history of utopian literature — not to mention the pre-history of science fiction, and even modern science itself. At the heart of the island paradise stumbled upon by Bacon’s stranded sailors is a research institute called Bensalem where the locals practice “all sounds and their generation”. The passage was sufficiently inspiring that Daphne Oram quoted it in full and pinned it to the wall of the newly opened BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1957.
Newly re-united with extracts from the Sylva Sylvarum, a notebook of real experiments that New Atlantis originally came bound with in the seventeenth century, this new publication seeks to bring Bacon’s ideas to life for a new generation of artists and scholars engaged in the sonic arts, media archeology, and science studies.
New Atlantis is presented with a brand new introduction by author and musician Robert Barry, which lays out the continuing relevance of Bacon’s utopia for the place of sound and technology in the arts to this day.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was an English philosopher and statesman. Known as the “father of empiricism”, his work was influential in advancing the fields of philosophy, politics, history and science.
Robert Barry is a freelance writer and composer, based in London. A regular contributor to Frieze, The Wire, Art Review, and Fact, he is also visual arts editor at The Quietus and digital culture editor at Review 31. His music has been featured in films and published, in the form of prose scores, by BCNVT of Stockholm, Sweden.