Oct 1, 2017 | By Julia

Ever wondered what extraterrestrial music sounds like? Wonder no more: visitors of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) got a taste of some “alien” instrumentation last week, thanks to a new sound installation by Berlin artists Kata Kovács and Tom O’Doherty. Capturing the sonorous and largely unexplained signals emitted by the long-lost Lincoln Experimental Satellite (LES-1), Kovács and Doherty’s “Signal Tide” provides a glimpse into life beyond Earth, and the bewildering soundscapes that abound out in the cosmos.

For those who need to brush up on their satellite trivia, the famed LES-1 is an experimental satellite built by MIT in the early 1960s to test devices and techniques for satellite communication. Launched into orbit in 1965, the LES-1 circled the Earth for many decades, dutifully performing its required services before fading into oblivion in the late 20th century, no longer in use.

Until, unexpectedly, we began receiving signals from the LES-1 again in February and March of 2013, some 46 years after the out-of-date satellite’s last recorded activity. Amateur radio satellite enthusiast Phil Williams from North Cornwall, UK was credited with the discovery, after detecting the incoming signals and determining the source to be the LES-1. Some say that after nearly 50 years of inactivity, the satellite’s battery had failed in a such a way that it could now carry charge directly to the LES-1’s transmitter, enabling it to boot up when in direct sunlight. This theory could not be proven, however, and to this day the phenomenon remains largely unexplained.

That bewildering occurrence is precisely what caught Kovács and Doherty’s attention. Captivated by the poetic uncertainty of the LES-1’s remote communications, the Berlin artists began chasing the satellite as it orbited the globe, tracking the unexplained signals. Over the course of their experimentations, Kovács and Doherty set up shop on the roof of LACMA’s Art of the Americas Building, constructing a 3D printed speaker installation devoted to the LES-1.

From September 21-24, a row of suspended speakers emitted the live audio signal of the LES-1 passing overhead, captured via an antenna mounted on the LACMA roof. As part of the Signal Tide installation, a Sacred Harp singing arrangement accompanied the audio signals, evoking a type of choral music that can be traced back to 18th century New England.

Written and recorded specifically to serenade the satellite as it continues on its lonely journey, Kovács and Doherty say the musical accompaniment, which features David Bryant (of Godspeed You! Black Emperor), Drew Barnet, and James Hamilton, is a response to the satellite’s call. “The LES-1 satellite can be considered, anthropomorphically, as a weary pilgrim on a repeating journey, having left Boston in 1965 and travelled ever since,” the artists explain. “Signal Tide [allows] the satellite to be serenaded with music derived from the place that it is originally from.”

Kovács and Doherty worked with staff from 3D printing company Airwolf 3D and the LACMA Art + Technology Lab to design and print 10 ABS speaker enclosures for the installation. Signal Tides was exhibited from September 21-24 at LACMA’s pavilion for Japanese Art.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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