http://vimeo.com/8333086 On January 15th, 2005, after a 7 year and 3,2 kilometer piggyback ride through space, ESA’s Huygens probe detached from the Cassini orbiter and parachuted into the thick atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan. Two years later the Montreal based media artist Jean-Pierre Aubé parsed the scientific data the probe sent back to Earth into a video installation that reimagines the historic descent in Kubrick vision.
Titan, and Beyond the Infinite (Titan et au-delà de l’infini, 2007), Aubé states upfront, is direct reference to the famous Jupiter, and Beyond the Infinite scene in the 1968 science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Stargate Sequence, as it is also called, was created by Douglas Trumbull, a graphic artist at NASA who applied the slit-scan technique used in photography to cinema in order to create the psychedelic warp tunnel we see in the film. Recreating the same slit-scan technique in Processing Jean-Pierre Aubé generated an 11 minute Stargate Sequence out of actual data obtained from an alien world.
The 2 minute and 30 seconds radio signal Huygens transmitted upon touchdown containing all the data collected on its way to the surface is available as a sound file on the ESA (European Space Agency) website. Aubé’s software analyzed the file and organized the various data – Huygens’ altitude, speed or the density of Titan’s atmosphere – into a database and subsequently converted the information into images and sound. “The ESA mission is extremely well documented. A lot of my research went into reading fact sheets about the type of sensors and the way they collect data,” says the artist about approaching the scientific material in an email. His Processing code turned the many sensors’ data into 2D images (that were later treated in After Effects and Vegas Video) as well as into OSC (Open Sound Control) input for a set of analog and digital synthesizers in order to generate the audio.
The original installation – shown within the exhibition Making Real / Rendre réel (Ottawa, 2007) and at the Société des arts technologiques (SAT) (Montreal, 2008) – involved two computers reading the scientific data and post processing the audio in real-time. A rendered video version was last shown at Montreal’s Eastern Bloc as part of the 2011 edition of Elektra.
“Given the cinematographic reference the design parameters of Titan, and Beyond the Infinite were pretty fixed,” says the artist, who’s currently busy preparing a new piece for this year’s Elektra in early May. “In retrospect however I’d like to think that each of Huygens’ sensors was “played” and “visualized” by a set of rules inspired first and foremost by the science behind it.”
[below: the original installation of Titan, and Beyond the Infinite at SAT (Montreal, 2008) and Making Real (Ottawa, 2007)]