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Sónar Calling

Sónar searches for alien life

Barcelona's Sónar electronic music festival branches out, searches for alien life with Sónar Calling, #GJ273b

Written by
Marta Salicrú

We actually weren't that far off: after Sónar posted the mysterious hashtag #GJ273b, at Time Out we started guessing what it was about, and joked about the possibility that the Festival of Music, Creativity and Technology was looking for new audience members beyond our solar system. And bang! After 25 years scanning the planet Earth in search of advanced music, Sónar is now pointing its radar toward outer space. The objective: to contact an alien civilization with the Sónar Calling project GJ273b.

With the festival's 25th anniversary in mind, coming up in 2018, on October 16, 17 and 18 of 2017, Sónar sent three transmissions to GJ273b, a potentially habitable exoplanet that's 12.4 light years (more than 120 billion kilometres) from Earth. The relative proximity of GJ273b and its potential to support life make the possibility of receiving an answer more plausible. If there is life out there to receive the message and send a response, it would arrive in 25 years – perfect timing for Sónar's 50th anniversary. This is the first time in the history of humankind (!) that we've sent clear signals with the intention of making contact to a potentially habitable destination that's close enough to be able to reply.

The contents of the transmissions are 33 pieces of 10-second audio that the festival commissioned to artists from around the planet (ours) and whose creations are near and dear to the Sónar universe, such as Modeselektor, Laurent Garnier, Holly Herndon, Matmos, Kerri Chandler, Ólafur Arnalds, Kode 9, Soichi Terada, Fatima Al Qadiri, CaboSanRoque and Nisennenmondai, among others. To get an idea of the type of sounds that Sónar has launched into space, Carsten Nicolai (Alva Noto) recorded his daughter's heartbeat before she was born: Autechre, a piece with the first 449 prime numbers; Jean-Michel Jarre, a melody that evokes 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'; Nina Kraviz, a shout for peace; Laurel Halo, a cry for help ('Please save us!'); Galician BFlecha, a piece based on the cycles of the ecosystems of Earth and all forms of life; and The Black Madonna explains how to make hit here on our planet.

Collaborators who have helped Sónar to carry out this initiative include the Catalonia Institute of Space Studies (IEEC) and METI International (Messaging Extra-terrestrial Intelligence), an organisation of researchers based in San Francisco that advocates proactive contact with extraterrestrials. The transmissions were sent from the EISCAT (European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association) antena in Tromsø (Norway).

A second transmission is programmed for April 2018, and Sónar opens up participation to any creator who has an original composition to send in before March 1, 2018. Among the pieces received, Sónar will select three to add to those from Squarepusher, Juana Molina, Niño de Elche, Cora Novoa, Lorenzo Senni, Zora Jones, Desierto, LCC and Yuzo Koshiro.

If the truth is out there, Sónar just might find it.

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