To My Startling Truth,
I’m writing to you as I mix a selection of abstract sound waves together. I’m hoping they don’t stay abstract for long, because at the moment they are separate entities and it’s my job to stitch them together
Because I can’t do one thing at a time. Because it’s either all, or totally nothing, which is a sometimes a blessing, mainly a curse and definitely a truth I’ve learnt to live with. I’m the ultimate efficient procrastinator. I’m now writing this letter whilst editing my nephews heartbeat into a one minute vignette to send into space. A shiny new record is being launched into the great unknown, and it’s one compilation I want in on. I also have the EEG the brainwaves and heart fuctions of a woman in love. And the sounds of my best friend playing cello, a sound that is now as familiar to me as the sound of my own breathe.
I thread these base, organic sounds that have been captured by machines and technology to journey through a manic brain, interpreted with learning and emotion and fate and timing and then they’re placed into more machines and technology. And then they’re given to another living interpretor, And so on, and so on. I think I’ll panned everything hard right or hard left, so that if by some stroke of luck extraterrestrials were digging some sweet early 21st century stereo technology they could isolate sounds at will
It is fair to say that I am currently totally obsessed with the idea of the golden record attached to the Voyager Interstellar Mission. I could almost recite it to you, Rain Man style, I’ve listened to it that much.
The Voyager spacecraft was designed to take close-up pictures of Jupiter and Saturn, then continue into the great expanse of space beyond our solar system. On board each craft was a golden record that included, among other things, the sound of a kiss, a mother's first words to her newborn child, music from all over the world, and greetings in 59 different languages.
The golden records on board were meant to survive for a billion years, in the hope that some day, against enormous odds, they might cross paths with an alien civilisation. The People responsible for this ultimate mixtape was Carl Sagan — astronomer, astrophysicist and well known popularizer of science. Of course, Sagan had a lot of help, including the creative director of the project, Ann Druyan. One of their struggles was looking for the penultimate piece of Chinese music.
Ann had discovered a 2500 year old ancient Chinese piece called “Flowing Streams” and knew instantly this was the right one. She called Carl excitedly, and something happened over the phone, through those tiny soundwaves, that made them fall in love. Instantly, and violently.
The Voyager hurtled into space on August 20, 1977 and Druyan and Sagan announced their engagement two days later. They married in 1981, and were together until Sagan's death in December 1996. They thought that maybe, 1,000 million years from now, some alien civilization might be able to turn soundwaves data back into thoughts. So, just a few days after she and Sagan declared their love for each other, Druyan went to Bellevue Hospital in New York City to record the sounds of her brain and body. According to Druyan, she was totally consumed during that meditation was about "the wonder of love, of being in love.” And I’ve been listening to these sounds on a loop for days now. Because sound makes sense to me. Because sound is fleeting and more honest than most and infinite. In the vast vacuum of space, sound transforms into light to remain alive, waiting for the right atmosphere to be turned audible once more. According to this 1977 recording of total dream love euphoria, love sounds a little like a lawnmower. It sounds like a swarm of bees, inhaled violently through the mouth, trapping themselves in the ribcage, finally relaxing to serve a queen in a honeyed heart.
Maybe it’s the sounds. Maybe it’s the connection to another woman who so unexpectedly and unperfectly fell in love. I know it’s been sent once before, these sounds, but I’m resending them incase the first gets lost, in case the Voyager doesn’t find it’s way to whom it is concerned.
Maybe the idea of sending proof of my existence into that great darkness excites my ego and teases my curiosity in the forever unknown. But my confession to you, Truth, is that it also humbles me greatly. And my own problems and nagging and ill will towards others becomes so small and meaningless. It dulls the anxiety of self doubt and silences the persistent black dog at the door.
No matter my perceived idea of my own or our collective greatness, we are a collection of atoms. Small and tiny and insignificant, but when split we can destroy all that sustains and thrills us. My startling truth, My startling truth, I don’t expect you to reply because you are far too busy burying our children while we are so efficiently planning to destroy more.
Maya Angelou wrote “The Brave and Startling Truth” to commemerate the 50th anniversary of the formation of the United Nations in 1995. It’s a glorious work, full of the hope that the coming together of a species can produce something beautiful and elegant and peaceful. That we have the means, but not the whole desire yet to make ourselves a better people and protect that which currently falls below our food chain. That we already are, in fact, what we are searching for. That we are our own Brave and Startling Truth.
My attempts at faith were thwarted as a child. I tried so hard to believe, I walked myself to Sunday School every week, I learnt the right prayers, I hedged my bets by learning everything from the rosary to playing tymbal, coloured ribbons and all, in the Salvation Army band. I even taught Sunday School. Everything would have just been fine, easier for me, if I could’ve just stopped asking questions. I longed for the peace of blind faith, and to this day, I’m secretly jealous of those who have it. But this little girl dressed as one of the three wise men, wanted to know the scientific name of the wondering star they were supposed to be following.
But I digress, back to the UN. The first sounds to come from the Voyager record is a greeting from the UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. “We step out of our solar system into the universe, seeking only peace and friendship. To teach if we are called upon, to be taught if we are fortunate. We know full well that our planet and it’s inhabitants are but a small part of this immense universe that surrounds us, and it is with humility and hope that we take this step.” I wonder what our world would be like if every child recited this at the beginning of every day, instead of The Lords Prayer, or the Pledge of Allegience, or the equivalent many.
I’m signing off now, My Startling Truth. Because I’ve finished EQing and mixing and panning and I’m as satisfied as I can be right now that this is as good as this one minute can be. I made you a copy, because it was always really a gift for you anyway. Whether or not someone else decides it is worthy of being hurled into that magical darkness, that’s now out of my hands. It is no longer my concern. I have attached this 60 second love letter, a snapshot of a woman in love, a reminder for you from another not forget hers. This is a small parcel of my truth for you to enjoy at your leisure.
Sincerely, and with utmost humility,
for Women of Note - July 31st 2014, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts