John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
“Orbit Pavilion” is a metallic womb that tracks and musicalizes invisible space chatter.
Torrents of data rain down upon the earth every second only to be sucked up and translated by giant satellite dishes such as those at California’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex. What might these ethereal signals sound like, if put to music?
Residents of the L.A. area can hear it in person by visiting a strange NASA sculpture called “Orbit Pavilion.” Shaped like a massive seashell, the pavilion has a hollow interior that broadcasts the movements of 19 satellites. Listeners inside can hear the space vessels approaching and passing overhead as a range of naturalistic noise, from ocean waves to blowing leaves to the lonely howl of the desert wind.
The sculpture is meant to educate people about the technology monitoring our planet; thus the missions of satellites are displayed as they pass, from studying weather events to wave heights to Earth’s diminishing ice. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory built it with help from Brooklyn’s STUDIOKCA and composer Shane Myrbeck. “What we’re really interested in doing is making an experience where people can walk out and understand that these satellites move above them,” says NASA’s David Delgado. “We want them to feel the presence of those satellites and know exactly where they are in the sky—to be able to hear them and point their finger at where they are.”
Folks who want to experience the surreal grooves of “space chatter” can enter “Orbit Pavilion” at the The Huntington Library, Art Collection, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California.