Kovács/O’Doherty

Signal Tide

Spectrogram image of an excerpt from the signal of the LES-1 satellite, showing the gaps in transmission approximately every four seconds.

Spectrogram image of an excerpt from the signal of the LES-1 satellite, showing the gaps in transmission approximately every four seconds.

Antenna Diagram (from Rothammel’s Antennenbuch, 1963)

Antenna Diagram (from Rothammel’s Antennenbuch, 1963)

Signal Tide is a research process, which aims to create a response to the erratic signals of the LES-1, a defunct satellite. The work is supported by the Art + Technology Lab at LACMA, as one of the recipient projects of the Art + Technology Awards 2016. During the early stages of research, the piece had the working title Twin Moons.

The LES-1 satellite was manufactured in the early 1960s at MIT, in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. It was launched in 1965, and functioned normally for the following two years. It then ceased to function in 1967. However, in 2013, the signal from the LES-1 was unexpectedly received again, for the first time in 46 years. The satellite is now slowly tumbling in orbit, rotating on its own axis approximately every four seconds – visible and audible as a clear dip or gap in signals received from the satellite.

The research undertaken in the course of the Signal Tide process will attempt to provide an ‘answering signal’ to fill the gap caused by the tumbling of LES-1, responding to the implicit silences of the satellite’s signal with a matching signal, thus combining the two into a unified whole.

The process of receiving and responding to these erratic signals is the subject of ongoing research. To date, this process has included hand-building antennae to receive signals from the satellite; working with software to investigate methods to reliably receive the signal and output it as audio; and research and recording of music from the folk traditions of Massachusetts and the wider New England area (including the tradition of Sacred Harp shape-note a capella singing), to accompany the satellite as an ‘answering signal’ derived from the place on earth where – in an anthropomorphised sense – the satellite is from. A blog with further details is now online.

Audio and video excerpts from the signal of the LES-1 satellite are embedded below, derived from I/Q data recorded in September 2016, in Berlin, Germany, and Lunow-Stolzenhagen, Germany. The final work emerging from the research is intended to be installed as a speaker array, as well as a series of APIs of received information.

See also:

Audio:

Video:

Excerpt from the signal of the LES-1 satellite, derived from I/Q data recorded in September 2016, in Lunow-Stolzenhagen, Germany. Screen recording shows waterfall spectrogram of I/Q data played back via Gqrx SDR.