Sound Systems

An image of space with giant collaged instruments overlayed on it.

American orchestras face challenges relative to diversity, equity, relevance, sustainability. How do the embodied and cultural roles of performers and artists—enactors of aesthetic memories and futures—need to be reimagined and centered? What is the future of the orchestra? 

Working in collaboration with future-oriented musician Alex Laing, the Center for Science and the Imagination hosted a two-day speculative futures workshop in April 2023, which will lead to the publication of a volume about the American orchestra, combining fiction, nonfiction, and original art, as well as resources and prompts for further explorationThis work will build on prior volumes on collaborative futures CSI has pursued, including The Weight of Light and Cities of Light

This project is supported by the Sphinx Organization and the Flinn Foundation.


William Cheng is a writer, pianist, and gamer. He is a professor of music at Dartmouth College and a founding coeditor of the Music & Social Justice Series with the University of Michigan Press. During 2022-23, he is the Rita E. Hauser Fellow at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute.

Mikhail V. Chester is a professor in civil, environmental, and sustainable Engineering at Arizona State University, where he runs a research program focused on preparing infrastructure and institutions for the challenges of the coming century. He is interested in how we need to change infrastructure, governance, design, and education for the Anthropocene, an era marked by acceleration and uncertainty. 

Ashley Lauren Frith is a violist, composer, facilitator, and educator. She is currently the director of racial equity and belonging at Community MusicWorks in Providence, Rhode Island, and faculty of the LA Philharmonic’s YOLA National Institute. Ashley’s work is held and supported by a contemplative end of life practice and yogic training, driven by deep healing and total liberation for all beings.

Ernest Hogan is considered the Father of Chicano Science Fiction because of his novels High Aztech, Smoking Mirror Blues, and Cortez on Jupiter. He was born in East L.A. and is based in Phoenix, Arizona; his mother’s maiden name is Garcia. He is trying to sell his latest novel, Zyx: Or, Bring Me the Brain of Victor Theremin. He blogs at and at, the world’s longest-running Chicano Chicana, Latina Latino literary blog.

Christopher Jenkins is an associate dean and conservatory liaison to the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Oberlin Conservatory. He is currently earning a Ph.D. in musicology at Case Western Reserve University and a DMA in viola performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music. His first book, about support for students of color in conservatories, was published by Routledge and the College Music Society in 2023.

Loki Karuna is a interdisciplinary arts activist whose work aims to decolonize “classical” music; he was described by the Star Tribune as a “classical agitator.” His nationally syndicated radio programs include The Sound of 13 and Gateways Radio, and his weekly podcast TRILLOQUY was described as “required listening” by the New York Times.

Karen Lord, a writer from Barbados, is the award-winning author of Redemption in IndigoThe Best of All Possible Worlds, and The Galaxy Game, and the editor of the anthology New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean. Her latest novel, The Blue, Beautiful World, was longlisted for the 2024 Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Dr. Joyce McCall is an assistant professor of music learning and teaching in the School of Music, Dance, and Theatre at Arizona State University, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses. Her research centers on how race, culture, and class affect educational equity in music. In addition to previously teaching in Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas, she also had a successful 14-year career in the United States Army Bands. 

Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky, is a composer, artist, and writer. His multimedia pieces have been exhibited at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Internet Archive, and his artwork has appeared at the Whitney Biennial and the Venice Biennial for Architecture. His books include Sound Unbound, on digital music and media, and The Book of Ice, a visual and acoustic portrait of the Antarctic. He produced Pioneers of African American Cinema, a collection of the earliest films by African American directors. 

Punya Mishra juggles being associate dean, professor, researcher, author, and designer at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. He claims to be interested in life, the universe, and everything, and loves shoehorning Douglas Adams’ book titles into his bio statement.

Amy K. Nichols is the author of the science fiction duology Now That You’re Here and While You Were Gone. Her shorter works have appeared in Plain Spoke and the Say Goodnight to Illiteracy Bedtime Storybook series. She has taught with the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and the Copper Hills Center for the Arts, and has served as writer in residence with the Glendale Public Library. Driven by fascination for both art and science, she is navigating the world one story at a time.

Deji Bryce Olukotun is the author of two novels, and his fiction has appeared in various book collections. His novel After the Flare won the 2018 Philip K. Dick special citation, and was chosen as a best book of 2017 by The Washington Post. His short story “Between the Dark and the Dark” was selected for Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2020. He works for the audio technology company Sonos, where he launched the Sonos Foundation, which focuses on ecoacoustics, music education, and bringing underrepresented voices into the sound industry. He is a Future Tense Fellow at New America.

Jesse Rosen recently retired as the CEO of the League of American Orchestras; he previously held executive positions with the New York Philharmonic, American Composers Orchestra, and Seattle Symphony. He is a member of the board of the Gateways Music Festival, a credentialed leadership coach, and will teach the course “Critical Issues in Classical Music” at the University of Michigan in the fall of 2023. 

Robert Simonds has had a multifaceted career as a violinist, consultant, and non-profit advisor and board member. He was the principal second violinist of the Rochester Philharmonic and has performed with major orchestras across America. He is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and Harvard University.

Sheree Renée Thomas is a New York Times bestselling, World Fantasy Award-winning author and editor. A 2023 Octavia E. Butler Award Winner, she is the author of Nine Bar Blues, Marvel’s Black Panther: Panther’s Rage, and “Timebox Altar(ed),” a collaboration with Janelle Monáe. She co-edited Africa Risen: A New Era of Speculative Fiction and is the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. She lives in Memphis, Tennessee, near a mighty river and a pyramid.

Evan Tobias is associate professor of music learning and teaching at Arizona State University and leads the Consortium for Innovation and Transformation in Music Education ( He focuses on imagining possibilities and futures for music learning and teaching, its impact on people’s lives and society, and helping people develop related curriculum and pedagogy. Learn more about his work at 

Lisa Villarroel is the chief medical officer for public health at the Arizona Department of Health Services, where she has served as medical director for the emergency response to Ebola, Zika, opioid, vaping, and COVID-19 crises. She received her undergraduate degree from Princeton University, her doctor of medicine (MD) from Northwestern University, her master’s degree in public health, and a certificate in Media and Medicine from Harvard Medical School.

Project Team

Alex Laing joined The Phoenix Symphony as principal clarinet in 2002. Alongside performing, his practice explores orchestras as organizations, and “classical music” + Black people, culture, and artists. In July 2023, he will join the leadership team at Gateways Music Festival, first as executive director before succeeding Lee Koonce as president and artistic director on January 1, 2024.

Ed Finn is the founding director of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University where he is an associate professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the School of Arts, Media and Engineering. He serves as the academic director of Future Tense, a partnership of ASU, New America and Slate, and a co-director of Emerge, an annual festival of art, ideas, and the future. He is the author of What Algorithms Want: Imagination in the Age of Computing.

Joey Eschrich is the managing editor for the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, and assistant director of Future Tense, a partnership of ASU, New America, and Slate. He has coedited a number of collections of fiction and nonfiction, including Cities of Light, created in collaboration with the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities, supported by a grant from NASA.