SETI and NASA Make Overture to the Arts

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Among the most profound enterprises in human history is the search for our beginnings and our place among the stars. To that end, The SETI Institute is partnering with NASA to extend an invitation to that seemingly most unscientific of creatures: the artist.

Among the most profound enterprises in human history is the search for our beginnings and our place among the stars. To that end, The SETI Institute is partnering with NASA to extend an invitation to that seemingly most unscientific of creatures: the artist.

The Institute’s new Artist-In-Residence Program channels one of the most potent forces in our world – human creative energy – to explore worlds beyond. A fellowship program and think tank will foster collaboration between a new generation of science leaders and artists, at a moment in history in which we are moving ever closer to a unified field theory. “We see lots of opportunities to open up this research to the world,” says Jill Tarter, Director of the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute, and 2009 TED Prize winner.

The Institute recognizes how the principles that order the universe find expression in the grand architecture of a Shostakovich symphony, in the compressed power of a Kahlo canvas, in the violent stillness of a Kurosawa film.

Artist and Guggenheim Fellow Charles Lindsay has been selected as the Institute’s first Artist in Residence. In collaboration with prominent Hollywood visual effects artist Eric Hanson, his new installation will form the centerpiece of this year’s Starmus Festival*, a major international exposition of space, art, and music. “Film is a wonderful way to engage the public in the depth and fascinations of science,” says Hanson, Professor of Animation and Digital Arts at the University of Southern California. “But there is nothing more powerful in the human experience than imagining other life existing throughout the universe.”

The Music of the Spheres

Also on hand at Starmus will be the legendary band Tangerine Dream, in a singular performance of “Sonic Universe,” the first concert to blend human music with acoustic sounds from the stars. Cosmic sound, both deep in the universe and close to home, is believed to promote healing and social harmony.

Since the Pythagoreans began mapping siderial harmonics 2,500 years ago, people have registered the relationship between music and the motions of the planets. It should be no surprise, then, that the great institutes of science are now reaching across the aisle to the art community.

As New York Times culture critic Edward Rothstein suggests in his book Emblems of Mind: the Inner Life of Music and Mathematics, “The distinctions between math and music seem fundamental: they are between truth and beauty, timelessness and change, science and art." But he goes on to make an elegant argument for the fundamental parity of these enterprises. They both seek deep structure through abstract means, and share no less ambitious a goal than discovering the meaning of life.

*The Starmus Festival is organized by Dr. Garik Israelian of the Institute of Astrophysics. To be held in Tenerife, Canary Islands, June 20-25, 2011. Featuring SETI Institute scientists Dr. Jill Tarter, Dr. Frank Drake, Dr. Laurance Doyle, Dr. Mark Showalter, and Dr. Jon Jenkins.

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