Philip K. Dick’s Favorite Classical Music: A Free, 11-Hour Playlist

Image by Pete Welsch

What did Do Androids Dream of Elec­tric Sheep? and A Scan­ner Dark­ly author Philip K. Dick, that vision­ary of our not-too-dis­tant dystopi­an future, lis­ten to while he craft­ed his descrip­tions of grim, psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly (and some­times psy­che­del­i­cal­ly) har­row­ing times ahead? Mozart. Beethoven. Mahler. Wag­n­er.

Yes, while look­ing tex­tu­al­ly for­ward, he lis­tened back­ward, sound­track­ing the con­stant work­ings of his imag­i­na­tion with clas­si­cal music, as he had done since his teenage years. As Lejla Kucukalic writes in Philip K. Dick: Canon­i­cal Writer of the Dig­i­tal Age:

After grad­u­at­ing from high school in 1947, Dick moved out of his moth­er’s house and con­tin­ued work­ing as a clerk at a Berke­ley music store, Art Music. “Now,” wrote Dick, “my long­time love of music rose to the sur­face, and I began to study and grasp huge areas of the map of music; by four­teen I could rec­og­nize vir­tu­al­ly any sym­pho­ny or opera” (“Self-Por­trait” 13). Clas­si­cal music, from Beethoven to Wag­n­er, not only stayed Dick­’s life­long pas­sion, but also found its way into many of his works: Wag­n­er’s Goter­dammerung in A Maze of Death, Par­si­fal in Valis, and Mozart’s Mag­ic Flute in Do Androids Dream of Elec­tric Sheep?

At his Forteana Blog, author Andrew May cred­its Dick with, giv­en his pop-cul­tur­al sta­tus, “a decid­ed­ly uncool knowl­edge of clas­si­cal music.” He cites not just Wag­n­er’s Der Ring des Nibelun­gen in the intro­duc­tion to A Maze of Death, Beethoven’s Mis­sa Solem­nis in Ubik, or the part of The Game-Play­ers of Titan where “a teenaged kid forks out 125 dol­lars for a vin­tage record­ing of a Puc­ci­ni aria,” but an entire ear­ly sto­ry which func­tions as “(in my opin­ion) a pure exer­cise in clas­si­cal music crit­i­cism.” In 1953’s “The Pre­serv­ing Machine,” as May retells it, an eccen­tric sci­en­tist, “wor­ried that West­ern civ­i­liza­tion is on the point of col­lapse, invents a machine to pre­serve musi­cal works for future gen­er­a­tions” by encod­ing it “in the form of liv­ing crea­tures. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, as soon as the crea­tures are released into the envi­ron­ment, they start to adapt to it by evolv­ing into dif­fer­ent forms, and the music becomes dis­tort­ed beyond recog­ni­tion.”

Though no doubt an astute spec­u­la­tor, Dick seems not to have fore­seen the fact that our era suf­fers not from too few means of music stor­age but, per­haps, too many. None of his visions pre­sent­ed him with, for exam­ple, the tech­nol­o­gy of the Spo­ti­fy playlist, an exam­ple of which you’ll find at the bot­tom of this post. In it, we’ve assem­bled for your enjoy­ment some of Dick­’s favorite pieces of clas­si­cal music. The songs come scout­ed out by Gal­l­ey­cat’s Jason Boog, who links to them indi­vid­u­al­ly in his own post on Dick, clas­si­cal music, and May’s writ­ing on the inter­sec­tion of those two cul­tur­al forces. Lis­ten through it while read­ing some of Dick­’s own work — don’t miss our col­lec­tion of Free PKD — and you’ll under­stand that he cared about not just the anx­i­eties of human­i­ty’s future or the great works of its past, but what remains essen­tial through­out the entire human expe­ri­ence. These com­posers will still appear on our playlists (or what­ev­er tech­nol­o­gy we’ll use) a hun­dred years from now, and if we still read any sci-fi author a hun­dred years from now, we’ll sure­ly read this one.

The 11 hour playlist (stream below or on the web here) includes Bach’s Gold­berg Vari­a­tions, Beethoven’s Mis­sa Solem­nis and Fide­lio, Mozart’s The Mag­ic Flute, Wag­n­er’s Par­si­fal, and Mahler’s Sym­pho­ny No. 2 (Res­ur­rec­tion). If you need to down­load Spo­ti­fy, grab the soft­ware here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

33 Sci-Fi Sto­ries by Philip K. Dick as Free Audio Books & Free eBooks

Robert Crumb Illus­trates Philip K. Dick’s Infa­mous, Hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry Meet­ing with God (1974)

The Penul­ti­mate Truth About Philip K. Dick: Doc­u­men­tary Explores the Mys­te­ri­ous Uni­verse of PKD

Philip K. Dick The­o­rizes The Matrix in 1977, Declares That We Live in “A Com­put­er-Pro­grammed Real­i­ty”

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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