THIS IS MAJOR TOM TO GROUND CONTROL [2012]
Generative installation (dot-matrix printer, video monitor, backlit benches, paper)
Variable dimensions

A random text generator is controlled by the reception and analysis of radio waves from the cosmos, picked up by a radio telescope from the Observatoire de Paris. In the installation, we first hear the sound of these waves, a kind of more or less turbulent crackling noise resulting from their conversion into audible frequencies. The text generated by the dedicated computer program is then recited by a synthesized voice, then printed continuously on a dot-matrix printer in order to create an infinite archive of messages received from the cosmos.


A co-production Le Fresnoy - Studio national d'arts contemporains and Ville de Tourcoing

This project was carried out in partnership with the EU-HOU group (Hands-On Universe Europe, Pierre and Marie Curie University, Paris Observatory), the Mostrare research team (Universities of Lille 1 and Lille 3, LIFL UMR CNRS 8022, INRIA Lille Nord-Europe) and Acapela Group. It has also received support from the City of Tourcoing in the form of a production grant for the creation of an artwork in the public space.

Design: Véronique Béland 
Computer Programming: Guillaume Libersat
Sound design: Sébastien Cabour
Set design : Sophie Laroche (based on an idea by Véronique Béland)
Vocalisation : Acapela Group


"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. But a civilization would have to be a lot smarter than ours to recuperate the probes from the interstellar void. 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 of a cluster of stars, where it will arrive in 24000 years. We will be able to sleep peacefully for a long time before getting an answer.

So why not listen rather to radio waves that certain civilizations might broadcast inadvertently? This is the idea of the SETI program: let’s open our ears and listen to what space is telling us. Since it began in the beginning of the 1960’s, the program has had no results. Total silence as far as «intelligent» broadcasts are concerned.

But why not make «non intelligent» radio broadcasts speak in a different way? This is Véronique Béland‘s project: 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 program. As the mathematician François le Lionnais, founder of Oulipo used to write: «it is never easy to tell in advance what the flavor of the new fruit will be by simply looking at the seed». Let us suppose that the soon to be harvested golden apples of the cosmos will at least have the flavor of the unexpected."

Jean-Pierre Luminet, march 2012