Per Aspera Ad Astra (2018-2019)

In Solaris, through the words of a scientist exploring cognitive capabilities of a distant planet, Stanisław Lem points out a paradox underlying any attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial forms of intelligence: 'We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors. We struggle to make contact, but we'll never achieve it' (1970:72).

Per Aspera Ad Astra (from Latin 'through hardship to the stars') was a morse-coded sentence launched alongside other sound recordings onboard Voyager space probe sent into space in 1977. Just like many other signals sent by humans to reach extraterrestrial beings, the Voyager message has so far remained unanswered. Per Aspera Ad Astra is an ongoing artistic and media archaeological exploration of our persistent desire to connect with the non-human, and, more specifically, the extraterrestrial.

The project takes the form of a performative soundscape composition. It is built successively of archival material and sounds characterizing technologies used historically to establish contact with not only aliens but also with humans sent into space. The archival recordings include glitches from digitized interviews with UFO witnesses from the Sweden's Archive for the Unexplained, snippets from the famous Voyager Golden Record, gaps, static and other noises cut out from the recording of communication between Houston and Apollo 11, radio signals received lately from distant territories beyond the Solar System, and reenactments of historical messages sent by USSR and USA into space via early radio transmission technology. All this material is gradually intercepted and deconstructed by remediations of Stanisław Lem's deliberations on the inherently flawed idea of establishing contact with other-than-human residents of the deep space and time.

Part of the project was presented at Ars Electronica 2018, between September 6 and 9, within the KOSMICA Parliament's installation critically reflecting on human activities and failures in outer space. The performative soundscape composition was premiered officially at Larry's Corner in Stockholm on February 6, 2019. On August 16, the piece was performed at 'Sonic Sensibilities: /Mis/Communication/s/', a listening session co-organized by Fragmentarium Club and the Post-humanities Hub at R1 Reaktorhallen, an old nuclear reactor at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Images come from a rehearsal at Fylkingen, center for intermedia arts in Stockholm, and Reaktorhallen where the piece was performed within Jonas Staal's installation Interplanetary Species Society.

Reference: Stanisław Lem (1970) Solaris, Bill Johnston [transl.], New York: Walker

Fragments from the rehearsal at Fylkingen, Stockholm, November 2019