The International Space Orchestra in front of Vacuum Chambers, NASA Ames Research Center. Photo: Neil Berrett.
I never dreamed I would be in a NASA base in California, singing and playing music.
The Ground Control Opera performance by Nelly Ben Hayoun, presented the International Space Orchestra, 50 local technicians and scientists, playing in the city of San Jose at the Zero1 Biennial 2012. The opera reenacts the first minutes of Neil Armstrong's landing on the Moon. It's dedicated to the memory of the recently gone cosmonauts and astronauts, and the endeavors of scientists at ground-control stations, still trying to make our 20th century dreams of spaceflight come true.
My daughter asked me when she mis-heard that I was singing for "NASA": Mom why are you singing to "NATO?" NATO bombed us in Serbia in 1999! I said my dear this is NASA, not NATO, they have planes and rockets but not bombers and missiles! They are searching for habitable planets with the Kepler space probe! Maybe there are other space controllers somewhere out there!
We've never yet settled alien planets, but maybe Silicon Valley will do. Tthe topic of this years art and science biennial is "Seeking Silicon Valley." The show was curated by five women from Korea, Brazil, Germany, Canada, and California.
The Zero1 event brought in thirty pieces of art/installations: Cell phones were methodically smashed in one installation, toasters made out of stone appeared in another, books made of internet addresses in yet another one. You could be hugged breathless by a smart chair, have your face virtually eaten by a mushroom while imagining your grave… You could play with an enormous inflated bubble which would cover you with charcoal smears -- pleasant to interact with, like a giant pet.
This art event connected to local happenings on the ground in sprawling San Jose, the self proclaimed "Capital of Silicon Valley." Silicon Valley, by its nature, is hyper realistic, inflated, shiny, soulless and somewhat scary. Unlike cities elsewhere, a perfect but lonely machine. The morning after the show and party, the Sunday sun was scorching the homeless derelicts in the emptied streets of San Jose... nobody else to be seen there.
In the conceptual essay of Gisela Domschke, one of the curators of the show, we were asked to express our ideas and feelings about the Silicon Valley.
Alessandro Ludovico: a place whose virtual importance transcend its real presence. Marcus Bastos: the counterculture ethos which shaped work environments in todays major corporations. Bruce Sterling: when will Californians realize that their gold rushes always finish ugly? Marisa Olson: I remember a picture in black and white: a handsome young visionary sitting lotus-like alone on the floor of what appears to be a large home: empty save for what appears to be a lamp!
Yes, Steve Jobs is gone now but the iPhone 5 is about to show up, here in the capital of Silicon Valley. People are already queuing to pay and play; like some mystical 13th nomadic tribe of unknown ethnic origin. The virtuals are here, like a horde of a million astronauts -- what souls do they have, what dreams?