This is Major Tom to Ground Control

Véronique Béland

9 September 2013


“The void of distance is nowhere else.”
First phrase produced by a generator of random text, March 2012.

Are we alone in the universe? We are prepared to bet that we are not. There are three possibilities, in order to identify possible forms of life: sending a space probe, sending waves, receiving waves. Sending a probe into space is a bit like sending an ant into the Sahara and hoping that it will reach Timbuktu, even if it doesn’t know where Timbuktu is. Four disks containing engraved drawings and recorded messages (voice, music…) have nevertheless been put on board spatial probes.

Sending radio signals is quicker but rather hit and miss. In 1974, a first high intensity radio message left earth, from a radio-telescope, in direction to a cluster of stars, where it will arrive in 24,000 years.

So why not listen rather to radio waves that certain civilisations might have broadcasted inadvertently? This is the idea of the SETI programme. Since it started, at the beginning of the 1960’s, the programme has had no results.

Véronique Béland‘s aim is to interpret the data gathered by radio-telescopes from the Paris Observatory with the help of an automatic generator of random texts. Thanks to a synthesized voice that pronounces it in real time, the text becomes the «voice of the Universe». One notes the «Oulipian» aspect of the undertaking: a text is generated from an algorithm, whether it be mathematical or taken from astronomical data processed by a computer programme. As the mathematician François le Lionnais, founder of Oulipo, used to write: «it is never easy to tell in advance what the flavour of the new fruit will be by simply looking at the seed».

Jean-Pierre Luminet (Excerpt)

Production: Le Fresnoy

In collaboration with:

EU-HOU (Hands-On Universe Europe, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Observatoire de Paris),  the research team of Mostrare (Universités Lille 1 et Lille 3, LIFL UMR CNRS 8022, INRIA Lille Nord-Europe) and the group Acapela.

This Project has profited a subsidy of the city of Tourcoing in the frame of a production fund for a public space art work.