Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



College of Creative Arts


School of Music

Committee Chair

Travis Stimeling

Committee Co-Chair

Evan MacCarthy

Committee Member

Evan MacCarthy

Committee Member

Matthew Heap


As government programs such as NASA and SETI seek signs of intelligent life in space and privately-funded programs such as SpaceX finalize plans to colonize Mars in the coming decades, representations of space and extraterrestrial life in American culture have become increasingly relevant. Focusing on Jóhann Jóhannsson’s musical score for Denis Villeneuve’s science-fiction film Arrival (2016), Terry Riley’s Sun Rings (2002) for string quartet, chorus, and recorded space sounds, and former International Space Station Commander Chris Hadfield’s “Songs about Space” Spotify playlist, my research problematizes the ways in which composers, musicians, and even astronauts depict alterity through music and reinforce colonial narratives about outer space. Drawing upon the work of postcolonial theorists and musicologists such as Charles Forsdick (2003), Olivia A. Bloechl (2008), Ania Loomba (2015), and others, this thesis argues that musical depictions of extraterrestrials and space exploration, more generally, reveal the potential for discrimination, misrepresentation, and abuses of power to emerge from space colonization. But, back on Earth, this study also suggests that such fraught theoretical relationships between human colonists and extraterrestrials echo the real-life suffering of colonized indigenous groups and the necessity of decolonization.

Included in

Musicology Commons