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Stefana Fratila Invites Listeners On A Windy Tour Of The Solar System

The rising electronic musician explores the sounds of space from a real world perspective.

by Danielle Wensley

Photos by Shelby Fenlon

Stefana Fratila has always been curious about experiencing alternate realities and her latest full-length release is a deep space dive. From 2018 to 2019, the Romanian-born, Toronto-based sound designer met with astronomers and scientists from NASA to address one complex question: “If each planet in our solar system were a different room, what would each room sound like?” 

I want to leave this Earth behind is a dreamy tour of the eight planets of our solar system. The emergent, ever-shifting soundscapes follow a steady itinerary from nearest to sun to furthest. The eight, five minute and five second tracks offer a rich and complex listening experience, yet each composition also feels ephemeral: evolving, dying and renewing. It is an exploration of inherently unlivable atmospheres that Fratila states “convert all human body-minds into disabled-bodied-ness.”

Fratila identifies as crip, or disabled, and holds an understanding of ‘Crip Futurity’ as a focal point of her work. She explains: “I am the first artist (a disabled producer/musician, no less) to have worked with NASA researchers on a sonic imagining of the solar system’s atmospheres that incorporates real scientific data. If we are all ‘disabled’ in (or by) outer space, my music is concerned with propelling all listeners into space, leaving Earth behind them, through my music.”

As all earthlings face the experience of evolving climate catastrophe, a slow and tentative emergence out of a lengthy pandemic, and increasing, unimaginable violence on a global scale, the invitation here isn’t necessarily to escape, but to extend our listening into ostensibly inhospitable conditions. What might we find when we are open to hearing even the most miniscule possibility of accommodation, and livability?

The album itself is an extension of her research for Sononaut, which resulted in eight VST plug-ins that emulate the atmospheric conditions of the planets for digital audio workspaces (DAWs). These Weather Loops allow other sound designers and musicians to activate the planets’ atmospheric conditions in their own ways, offering endless potential for how these sound worlds will be experienced. 

We caught up with Fratila at her home in Toronto to learn more about her new album and recent intergalactic revelations that came from working with NASA.

What does an average day look like for you these days?

I usually spend my day in my studio. I spend my evenings watching films, or going to the Revue Cinema (in Toronto). 

How did your journey into music start and when did you realize you wanted to be a musician?

I started writing music as a teenager and was in a band in high school. I began making electronic music after that. Eventually that morphed into sound art.

Can you identify any specific pathways that led you into the making of I Want To Leave This Earth Behind?

From a very young age, I was always very interested in outer space, science-fiction, and UFOs.

How would you describe your new album to someone who perhaps isn’t as well versed in the electronic music community?

I would describe it as getting into a shuttlecraft and taking a spin through the atmosphere of each planet in our solar system. It’s windy out there!

Can you tell us about the process of connecting with NASA? How did working with NASA impact the way you approach making electronic music?

I reached out to a few scientists and they facilitated my being invited. They were incredibly generous and kind. I don’t think my approach has explicitly changed but it was very energizing to be around scientists who are so passionate about what they’ve dedicated their lives towards researching.

Of the eight planetary soundscapes you’ve created, which is your favourite? Are you interested in continuing to develop soundscapes for other planets and celestial bodies?

I love them all. Creating the sound of particles colliding within Saturn’s rings was a real highlight. Yes, I hope to extend this project to the various moons in our solar system— Titan, especially.

Do you think sound experience can possibly support a more hospitable earthly experience?

Yes, particularly when we consider sound as something beyond hearing, and as something that can be felt.

Anything else you would like us to know about you or your upcoming album?

I want to leave this Earth behind has beautiful corresponding video works that were created by Diana Lynn VanderMeulen, Peter Rahul, and Xuan Ye. Watch for those.