reflections on “orbitando satelites” in Gijon

When Joanna Griffin asked me for the first time (will have been on monday, the first day, so the … let me think…9th), why i am interested in
satellites, and what i was doing in gijon, i said something like:
“well, we are going to send one this year, and it will/can be
interesting to exchange about philosophical, political, artistic and
technical questions that arise from that possibility.”

i still think that, and i think, we have been doing this in very many
different ways, with different layers, with different means.

in gijon, i was mostly listening to satellites. satellite listening in Gijon, May 2011
the joy in listening to a satellite (among other aspects) lies in the fact that one has to focus to hear possible patterns in the noise. (i very much like the german word ‘rauschen’; i didnt find any good translation into another language.)

[i remember a beautiful sound installation by peter ablinger, where he
worked with white and pink and other noise, and different ranges of frequencies.
the work ist called Weiss/Weisslich 15, installation and reference, 1995.
in graz he installed that in the gallery space of Neue Galerie in the ground floor, with big windows to the street; the ceiling are bows, and so are the passes from one room to another, and i think there are 4 of them. so the
noise areas where installed in such way that you could only here them
in the passes from one room to the other, on the doorstep, like a noise shower and the space of transition, the space inbetween.]

listening to satellites is about being attentive – first on a time level: an average pass lasts about 10 minutes or so, and the entering and leaving times are usually very cracky (or: blurry, if you think of it as a picture
or graphical representation). that means that the actual, the “real”
listening time is even shorter. then you also have to know on which
band and in which mode the satellite is transmitting. it also helps to
know where north (and therefore all the others) are. πŸ™‚
so, if you are discussing – lets say, a certain political aspect, like
the bogota declaration – it might easily happen that the satellite you
wanted to grasp, has passed. of course, it is going to pass again in
another 1,5 hours, but the corridor, the pass, its elevation and/or
azimuth, might not be too good to receive, as the earth of course is
turning under the satellite.

Gijon, satellite listening
now, when the antenna is pointing in the right direction, and there is
not much surrounding noise in the physical space around you, there is
quite a lot of different things to hear. for example, the NOAAs –
weather satellites. there are some of them scanning the surface of the
earth constantly, and sending these data back to earth. soundwise it
remembered me of the needle-printers, also because it has the same
rhythm, it goes line by line, and if you have the right cable-connections between antenna, receiver, and computer and then also the right software installed (wxtoimg), you can download the current picture of the region where you are at the time when you are listening/watching. it is at the same time very meditative and also exciting. the sound is calmly more or less the same and the line appears on the monitor. after a while you can see forms, – shapes of islands and continents, and there is this moment of re-cognition (“ah, look, this must be Sicily!”), which is exciting and also comforting, like being able to decode the representation of data with the knowledge one already has. and then you can also see structures of clouds, therefore: the weather.
as this is realtime, the physical situation is fascinating and weird
at the same time: you look up, the satellite “looks” down. you are a too
small entity and wont appear on the scan, but you know you are there.
so, it is as if the invisibility of the satellite (you look up, but
you cant see it) mirrors itself on to you, and makes you invisible
as well. contagious invisibilization?

[when i spoke with Joanna on the last day, 14th, and she
asked me about what i was doing in Gijon, this invisibility of
the current technologies came to my mind again: genetic
engineering, nano technologies, nuclear technology, satellites…
all invisible, and we need machines to tell us what is going on
and we control them via machines, black boxes run and interpreted
by experts.
as long as the machines tell us: “everything is fine”, everything is
fine. everything under control.]

anyhow, we have an idea how the land, the continent looks like
where we stand. so we know what to expect from NOAA images.
being in asturias, it means, you can see a lot of clouds from both sides.

oh, ma, and the antennas – a universe of beauty, diversity and possibilities in itself! …

of course, it is kind of a drag what you would need equipmentwise to do that. starts with having some space outside in the open, where you can actually have your atenna installed or moving around or pointing to a certain angle or being moved by an (automatic) rotator. then you need all these things, like a receiver, a compu, several antennas, cables, and probably
electricity, as batteries might be empty soon.

for example, the connection with GNU-radio can make it possible to combine the listening (satellite signal receiving) station with the internet and set up an automated stream with a preprogrammed set of signals that i want to catch.

now, with the mursat, there will be the excitement to catch the signal.
i still get geesebomps, when i think of the moment when during the
worklab on 14th may, we made “first contact” to the ISS. we were
catching all sorts of signals of ISS during the week, but on saturday,
we finally managed to have them listen to us, and even calling back
“buenos dias, buenos dias!” – although without naming the caller, so
it does not officially “count”. well, but i dont care,. i’ve been
there, i’ve heard it. i know it was real.

mursat1 will – for the first time in satellite history – carry a
piezo microphone with him. so, there will be something to listen to
which we dont know yet what it will be. how it will sound. how it will
feel to hear that sound. hm, so maybe we wont hear it, as we dont know
what we should be listening to.
with the beacons that every satellite has, you know, that is for
example broadcasting its telemetric data in morse code. so you wait for sounds that can be understood as dots and dashes. if the signal is clear, and you record it, you can even see the morse code in the graphical representation of the audio recording, looking at the file.

what will we hear?

as usual, the meaning of the information will only explain itself
it the context of its appearance and herkunft (origin?) – otherwise it’ll be just cracks, that might or might not sound beautiful. and anyhow, what is beauty…
we need the code to understand it, and therefore only accessible code can make sense at all.

if saroj giri is right, the most important impact from wikileaks into
our societies is not the information in itself, but the challenge
against the power to change its structure.

the launch is planned for 2011. mursat1 will orbit something between 3
– 6 weeks, and once we have the frequencies on which we will broadcast,
we will let everybody know.
and, as gx jupitter larsson says:
β€œIn an age when state agencies are sending robotic explorers into
space, I think it is only natural that artists should launch robotic artists. To have the mursat1 satellite itself perform a performance piece in space excites my mind.”

About reni

artist and activist, researcher and explorer
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