Featured image of Signal Tide Makes Music with Alien Transmissions and 3D Printing
Satellite of Love

Signal Tide Makes Music with Alien Transmissions and 3D Printing

Picture of Bulent Yusuf
by Bulent Yusuf
Sep 26, 2017

In space, no one can hear you sing; Signal Tide brings together extraterrestrial transmissions, generative music, and 3D printing.

German artists Kata Kovács and Tom O’Doherty have made some sweet music together, and they’ve done it in the most remarkable fashion. Signal Tide is a sound and extraterrestrial radio installation artwork, with music emanating from 3D printed speakers. The work combines real-time signals from an abandoned satellite currently orbiting the earth  — the Lincoln Experimental Satellite (LES-1) — with specially-commissioned music and sound.

The LES-1 was built in the early 1960s at MIT, in Boston, Massachusetts. It launched in 1965 and was operational for two years. But when it stopped transmitting signals in 1967, it was abandoned to the cold depths of space. Fast forward to 2013, however, when amateur radio satellite enthusiast Phil Williams from Cornwall, UK, detected strange signals from space. He determined the source as LES-1 after searching for identifying information on the internet.

The resurrected spacecraft transmits its ghostly signal multiple times a day; you can receive it at 237mHz on any VHF antenna. And the theory about why it came back to life after 46 years? The batteries had failed in a manner that carries charge directly through to the transmitter. This enables LES-1 to start up when exposed to sunlight. The story inspired Kovács and O’Doherty to start chasing the satellite’s erratic orbit around the earth.

On September 21 -24, Kovács and O’Doherty attempted to monitor several passes of the LES1 from the grounds of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, from the roof the Pavilion for Japanese Art. Each pass of LES1 lasts approximately 30 minutes.

During that time, a row of overhead speakers play the audio from the live signal of the satellite from an antenna mounted on the roof of LACMA. Simultaneously, a series of ground-level speakers play a unique accompaniment specifically written and recorded to serenade the satellite as it passes overhead.

signal tide

Signal Tide Speakers Made on Airwolf 3D Printers

To create the custom housings for the speakers, Kovács and O’Doherty approached 3D printer manufacturer Airwolf 3D to learn how to use the AXIOM 20 desktop 3D printer.

Afterwards they used the 3D printer in Los Angeles at the LACMA Art + Technology Lab to print enormous blue speaker enclosures especially for the art installation. The large speakers are made from ABS, a durable and strong 3D printing material suitable for outdoor parts.

Together with Airwolf 3D staff, they fabricated eight custom speaker enclosures for the art installation. The large build volume of the AXIOM 20 made the unique shape of the speaker enclosures possible, thanks to the 20″ tall build platform. Also useful was a special 3D printing adhesive called Wolfbite, for printing on a heated bed with ABS filament.

The large enclosed heated chamber and heated bed of the AXIOM 20 was critical to manufacturing these speaker enclosures in ABS; smaller 3D printers without the enclosed chamber or heated bed cannot print high temperature materials. Nor are they able to print large pieces without warping.

Meanwhile, the music for Signal Tide is also a special component of the project. The sound as played in the work is generative, so each pass of the satellite has a unique accompaniment. The recordings feature contributions from David Bryant and Sophie Trudeau (of Godspeed You! Black Emperor), Drew Barnet, James Hamilton, a choir of local Montréal sacred harp singers, and more. You can hear excerpts of the audio over on Soundcloud.

Needless to say, the whole Signal Tide project sounds out of this world.

Source: Airwolf 3D

signal tide

License: The text of "Signal Tide Makes Music with Alien Transmissions and 3D Printing" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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