When first approaching this sculpture, museum-goers are revealed a glistening shell-shaped aluminum pavillion, with ethereal melodies emanating from inside. The shadows and sounds together make for a hauntingly beautiful experience on the ground of the Huntington Library in San Marino.
With two acts, The Orbit Pavilion audio compositions glide visitors first though the interpretation of what the International Space Station and 19 earth satellites currently sound like circling the Earth, then played the artist’s one minute rendition of the ecological missions of those satellites over 24 hours.
“We’re talking about satellites that NASA have that study the Earth, and all this activity up there that we can’t really sense. We started to think what it would be like to use a different sense than just our eyes to locate satellites,” Dan Goods a co-creator, said in this video posted by California Institute of Technology.
In Act One: Real Time, the direction you hear the satellites coming from in the pavillion is where they are at that precise moment in space. The pavilion’s sounds behave like a compass needle to the listener, giving a real-time bearing to the satellite’s location. A beautiful stand out, OSTM J-3 sounded like water droplets filling up a small glass. According to the posters outside of the sculpture, this satellite is responsible for “measuring global sea levels, the speed and direction of ocean currents, and heat stored in the ocean.” The sound switched to the satellite “CLOUD SAT,” which “examines clouds in 3-D to answer questions about how they form, evolve and affect our weather, climate and fresh water supply,” then “GRACE,” which “provides data on water and ice distribution by measuring regional variations in Earth’s gravity field,” etc. Each with its own unique sound.
Act Two: Compressed Time, is where each satellite has been in the last 24 hours, sped up to one minute. It is a musical interpretation of the ecological missions of each satellite. Electronic sounds mixed with waves, frogs croaking, human voices, and wind, all blended into one earth-song.
“When you’re inside [the sculpture] and close your eyes, it feels like you’re floating above the Earth,” said George M., a Huntington Library patron.
When the architect for the project, Jason Kilmoski, described his motivation for the shell shape of the pavilion, he described the phenomenon of listening to a shell from the beach and hearing the sounds of the ocean.
“I was remembering when I was a kid, and you go to the ocean and you pick up a shell. In that shell you hear all of the vibrations and the echoing of the ocean. You have this little tiny shell that holds the vastness of the ocean. So I proposed making a big shell to hold the sounds of space,” Kilmoski said in the video posted by CIT.
There are perforated slats trailing along the shell in the style of star and satellite trails, allowing for intricate shadows to flood the inside. But the slats also serve a purpose for the acoustics, allowing the atmospheric sounds to not become muddled in the round structure.
This piece ticks all of the boxes of a fantastic installation emersion. It brings us a little closer to the man-made celestial bodies we’ve created to help improve our planet.
There are many talented people behind this sound sculpture. Visual strategists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Dan Goods and David Delgado originally dreamt up the idea. They recruited Shane Myrbeck as the composer for the project and Kilmoski, the architect of StudioKCA, to produce the shell.
Originally installed in October 2016, the stay of the sculpture has been extended to September 2, 2019.