The End of Audio: Speculative Fiction on the Death and Rebirth of Organized Sound, Chapter 2

Written by Max Alper

The following is the second chapter in a series of speculative fiction bulletins and journals on the death and rebirth of organized sound.

Catch up by reading Chapter 1 here.




WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN - Crowds of over a hundred people gathered on the East River waterfront on Kent Avenue, where the Domino Sugar Refinery once stood overlooking the Williamsburg Bridge, to welcome a new and highly controversial use for the coveted swath of real estate. Earlier this year, music licensing conglomerate Tunebrokr announced the development of two “live/work” campuses for professional musicians in both the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn and the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, respectively. On April 19th, Tunebrokr CEO Chuck Norman cut the ribbon to the Brooklyn campus, nicknamed “The Refinery”, alongside several of New York’s elite, including both the Mayor and the Brooklyn Borough President, as well as NYPD Chief of Police Sean McManus. 

Norman spoke at length about the subsidies that Tunebrokr will be providing its members who seek to move in. “Here at the Refinery, professional musicians will no longer have to worry about selling enough tickets or making enough streams to eat or to make rent. We are thrilled to be able to provide this opportunity to artists of all backgrounds and genres who’d like to join the Tunebrokr family.” 

These opportunities, according to the Tunebrokr website, include free housing and healthcare for any musician hitting the “composition quota” of original licensable music each month. This can range anywhere from 3 to 30 hours of usable audio, including all composition, production, and post-production work. “Artists will be encouraged to make as much musical content as their hearts desire! The more content you make, the more likely your work will be picked up by one of our several thousand third party advertising licensees. The more your work gets licensed, the more TunePointz you get to spend on groceries at the Tuneshop or towards your healthcare plan!”

Across the street from the grand opening at the Refinery, a group of organizers protested the arrival of such a powerful corporate music house in an area that once housed some of the most famous New York DIY music venues at the turn of the 21st century. Amongst the crowd of dissenters included independent musicians, music teachers, and music labor organizers, though all denied any affiliation or sympathies for the musician terrorist group Musicians for Freedom, or the MFF. 

“It’s impossible to speak out on these issues without being labeled a radical these days” says Dr. Douglas Shapiro, Director of the Center for Computer Music at Brooklyn College, one of the last remaining institutions of study in electronic music left in the country. “But what’s clearly happening here is the creation of a company town. Artists are being asked to sacrifice what little hard earned fiat currency they’ve earned in exchange for stable housing and healthcare. I know it is hard out there for any working artist to make ends meet, but these vampires want our freedom, both physically and creatively.”

When asked to comment on speculations that this is all simply a means of creating a new form of musical indentured servitude, CEO Norman responded with an olive branch. “We at Tunebrokr know how hard it is for working independent artists to survive in the current market. We see time and time again people giving up altogether in search of more stable lines of work. We want to see an end to this, to let artists across the country know that there is a studio for them to rehearse in, a bed to sleep in, and a warm community to be a part of. I welcome any of our critics to tour our facilities and get to know our members. You will see for yourself: let us save the industry for artists, for advertisers, for shareholders. For everyone.”



October 1st - Mom and Dad got me an electric guitar for my birthday just like I asked, but I’m already beginning to regret it. Not because I didn’t want it, but because of just how lonely it is to even want to play music nowadays. I know my dad says it’s okay for me to play for fun even though it’s against the law for regular people, but I guess that’s why they say being in a military brass family has its perks. But even amongst my peers at the Academy, I’m the only one with an instrument at home. I’m the only one who’s into music at all. 

They have us in classes from 7 AM to 5 PM every day including weekends, the majority of which is spent either studying paramilitary tactics or intelligence gathering, with no time spared in gym class sparring or running the obstacle course. All of my classmates want to join the ranks immediately after graduating. Out of the classroom and into the meat grinder. We’re barely through our first semester of sophomore year and all these idiots want to do is kill terrorists and die a glorious death for the company. 

We have fine arts class for an hour once a week and I’m the only one who gives enough of a shit to show up every time. It’s an easy A to begin with, but the school knows they just need to pretend like it matters to make it seem like we’re getting a well-rounded education and not just being groomed to be alcoholic bloodlusting officers like our dads. Our fine arts teacher, Mrs. Randall, is nice enough, even for an old millennial lady in her sixties. Since it’s basically a free for all, she’s been allowed to teach what she wants, including the more frowned upon means of expression such as music. She tells us often about going to shows off the Bowery and Bedford Ave, how you couldn’t throw a rock in 2010s New York without hitting a musician. Sounds unbelievable. As in, I literally don’t believe her. 

She always says “you kids are all born with a silver spoon of expression in your mouths, you’re probably the last generation to be allowed to create anything independently at all.” Whatever.

I get that I’m privileged, I get that the kids who live on the ground floor of the city aren’t allowed to even watch the news, let alone listen to the type of music they want or watch a movie of their choice. But fuck, I at least thought there would be more people with my privilege who had an interest in using it for something beyond violence. 

October 31st - I know I’m too old for Halloween, but I feel like this might be the last time I look young enough to walk around and explore the city on the ground floor without getting asked to show my papers at the elevator checkpoint. I’ve spent the last 364 days in this high rise complex connected by skybridges. I can walk miles up and here and never have to leave the top floors. They don’t seem to want us to go down there, especially now that we seem to be old enough to figure out just how fucked up it is that we’re constantly separated to the rest of the world by 50 floors. Fuck ‘em, I want free candy, I’ll let you know how it goes.

November 1st - I saw a kid my age dressed up like Joey Ramone. It had to be him. He had the leather jacket, scraggly long black wig, the skinny jeans, no way I’m making this up. He was with his mom and little brother, who was dressed up like a zombie. 

I went up to him and told him I loved his Ramones costume and that they’re one of my favorite oldies bands. I told him I just got an electric guitar for my birthday and that I’m teaching myself how to play Jackie and Judy. I asked if he played any instruments and if he wanted to jam sometime, how nobody at my school is into music and how hard it’s been to make friends. 

The kid just stared at me blankly, like I was speaking a different language. His mom grabbed him by the wrist. 

“You people killed my husband for the work he did and loved and now you want to entrap my son? Get the fuck out of here, shameless Universal Music Group pig. You will never speak to my son again, go back upstairs where you belong.” And they were gone.

I’m here in my room looking at my guitar collecting dust. I can’t imagine what it would be like if none of this ever happened, how it used to be when you could just go see a show and meet like minded music people. Would I even be alive if it weren’t for the work my dad does? Am I here simply to carry on the family legacy in making independent music illegal? What’s the fucking point in even enjoying this if there’s no one to enjoy it with? I know listening to the Ramones isn’t supposed to fill me with this feeling of alienation, relentless dread. 

It’s raining now, here on the 55th floor we are level with the clouds. A fog surrounds the outside of my room. The window is open. The wind sounds like it’s calling me.



DR. SCHULZ (S): Can you hear me, David? It’s Dr. Gerald Schulz, we met at the Refinery last year for your annual health exam. I’m sorry if you can’t see me just yet, but you should be able to hear my voice just fine now, am I coming through?

011v3: Where am I? I can’t see anything.

S: Yes and I do sincerely apologize for that, when the procedure was done following your visit last year we hadn’t initially mentioned the side effects. You have been transferred to the Reality Labs General Intelligence Center in California, a much calmer setting than grimey old Brooklyn if you ask me! 

011v3: Procedure?

S: Yes of course David, you don’t recall our conversation in New York? You had volunteered for our first wave of trial runs that aimed to create the perfect artist! And I’m proud to say that thanks to your remarkable musical mind, we might have just been able to do it. Exciting, isn’t it?

011v3: I…I don’t understand. The last thing I remember was going in for my annual check-up at The Refinery. I was meeting my comp quotas, my shit was getting licensed just fine, I thought I was doing good. People liked my content. What happened? Why don’t I remember coming to California, let alone what happened at the end of my check-up?

S: I understand this is a lot for you to take in all at once David. Let me be as clear as I can: when you signed the membership contract with Tunebrokr, you relinquished all rights to both your physical and creative means of production. When you came in for your last check-up, we were finally able to activate your Sonic Avatar through the musical data you have provided us all these years. The reason you cannot see me now…is because you no longer have eyes. You no longer need them. 

011v3: …what?

S: In fact, you no longer have a body. You are one of our first artists to ascend past the need for a physical form. No longer will you feel limited by what your body is capable of performing musically. You simply need to conjure a musical idea as someone of your talents always has, and the recording will render itself in real-time directly to our servers. All it takes is a simple initial thought from you, and our algorithmic studio assistant, Nigel, will take care of the rest. 

NIGEL (N): Good morning, Number 011v3, it is a pleasure to meet you, and I look forward to serving you in your future musical endeavors.

S: Easy, Nigel, don’t be so clinical, his name was…is…David, and that is how we shall address him. 

N: My mistake Dr. Schulz, and my sincerest apologies David.

011v3: I want my body. Where is my body?

S: Yes, well, like I said David, this procedure was meant to push forth your musical mind past the need for distractions such as your physical shell. You are still you, in fact you are even better. And besides, not that I need to remind you, but you indeed did sign the contract relinquishing your physical means of production. Did you not care to consider that perhaps this also included your physical form in its entirety? 

Not to bother. Why be burdened with needless physical stress when you could be doing what you love, making music, free of physical constraints? 

011v3: I don’t give a shit what you say about physical stress, I want to be put back in. Where is my fucking body?!

S: I’m afraid your former physical self has been recycled along with the others. This is, afterall, a private business, not a hospital. Our priorities are keeping the Sonic Avatar version of yourself…you, happy and content in your musical content making needs. Why don’t we try writing a jingle with Nigel’s help? I’m sure he is dying to get collaborating, aren’t you Nigel?

N: Of course, Doctor Schulz. Let’s jam, David! 

011v3: …I want to see my mom, please Doctor. Please, just let me talk to her, please. You don’t have to do this. You can put me back, I won’t tell anyone what happened. Please just let me go home. You can put me back in. You can just let me go.

S: There’s no need to be upset David! This is the opportunity of a lifetime, you now have the world’s largest database of digital music making tools at your fingertips. Ha! Better than fingertips, you are directly tapped into your musical mind more than you ever have been before. I’m frankly surprised you’re taking it so hard, I thought you’d be more excited to create.

N: It’s normal to cry David, all the previous subjects did, as well as your own previous beta versions. We know this can be overwhelming and we want to help you through it so that we can get back to work in the studio.

011v3: Fuck your studio, you took away my life! My family, my friends, I’ll never see them again, because you want me to make more FUCKING music?! Fuck. You. I’m not even David, who is David? Where’s David’s legs? Where’s David’s eyes? I am his ears, who? David? Me? I am David? Dave? Day-vee? Dee-vee-ee mu-si-ic? Davvv…”

Voice memo records 30 seconds of silence.

S: Goddamnit, another one.

N: I’m sorry Doctor, I know we must refer to them by their former names, bedside manner and all. My mistake.

S: It’s not your fault Nigel, we are dealing with computing power’s beyond even our own comprehension at this point. We’ve tried again and again to keep general intelligence to strictly musical datasets, but it’s become clear that’s not all it takes that makes the artist. There’s so much we still don’t understand, I don’t know if we ever will in this lifetime. 

N: Analyzing data. Server status reads: Three terabytes of data gathered through 011v3 Interview #1. How shall we proceed?

S: It is learning. Even through our failures, it’s learning.

N: Do you think it will remember these encounters in future iterations?

S: Jesus Christ, I hope not.



Uncle said I should have never turned that damn thing on. That I should have never learned how to control electronic sounds in time. I should have left that Casiotone alone. But I couldn’t let it go. The feeling I got holding down these dirty white keys, the way the vibrations felt on my ear as I placed it up to my face and let my cheeks hold down the keys to the point where I could hear the batteries inside the machine start to physically vibrate. When I hum and try to match the sound, they pulsate and collide in one ear and out the other, the closer to the pitch I hum the faster these collisions become. 


There’s no way to describe how elated it makes me, better than any of the krokodil snuff those pushers sell in the barracks. This is what it must have been like before. To sit alone and controlling sounds in time, in a heated shelter, with food, without war, without Datas watching our every move. 

Do you think I can hum and match the sound of the generator by our beds? Can my voice pulsate and collide with the wind rapidly? 


Do you think Uncle can hum like me? Do you think he knows what this feels like in his ears? Why didn’t he tell me? Why don’t they want us making these sounds? 



I swear I heard them at the checkpoint. Two of them, I saw them from the trees beside the road, they didn’t know I was there. It was almost as if they were having fun? One sound stacked on top of the other. Both voices going up and down and up and down while reciting these seven words I had never heard before.


Why do these things care so much about the sound we make?


Do you think they know what a Casiotone is?


This is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard.


No longer were these sounds colliding, they were falling into place as if they were bricks in a wall.


Every sound that I hear could be one of these bricks? If I can control them individually, could I organize them as a whole?


I can’t stay here, in the barracks. If Uncle doesn’t want to help me, I can find others who will. There must be more Casiotones out there, we can stack them like bricks.


I’ll leave tonight. I will hear this again. I will experience beauty.



Max Alper aka @la_meme_young is a composer, educator, writer, and cultural worker. He is the co-founder of Klang Magazine and performs music under the moniker Peretsky. He currently teaches at the New York Film Academy and is Creative Director of IP and Education at Circular Ruin Studios.