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Sky is Calling

Kim Boekbinder and Jim Batt

[Originally published on The Imagination Age.]

Kim Boekbinder and Jim Batt at Science House

Last night, Science House premiered Kim Boekbinder’s mesmerizing new song (from her album of the same name, due out in March 2013), a space anthem, “Sky is Calling.” Jim Batt’s stunning animation, composed of NASA footage, served the song’s purpose: to get people excited about this moment in the relationship between humans and space exploration.

Instrumentation for the album includes a mix of electronic and acoustic instruments not usually heard together (synthesizer and hammer dulcimer, Mbira and drum pads) and sound samples from earth and space. Some rhythm tracks have been created by importing visual data (NASA photographs) into an audio program where they are sculpted into grooves. We will be dancing to the beat of the stars.

Science House is an ardent supporter of both space exploration and the ongoing Boekbinder/Batt collaboration, and last night was an extravaganza on both fronts. “Sky is Calling,” was recorded on September 9th and will be released along with a Kickstarter campaign on October 3rd. Recording is taking place at Studio G in Brooklyn, NY with producer Joel Hamilton (The Black Keys, Tom Waits, Plastic Ono Band.)

I sat down with the artists to find out more about the project.

RJK: How did you start to become inspired by space as a subject? Have you always been interested in space and astronomy, or is this something that started more recently?

Boekbinder: I’ve always been excited about space! From watching the Challenger shuttles when I was very small, to reading the mountains of sci-fi that I have, to following NASA and the Curiosity rover on Twitter. Space has always been an exciting part of my life, even when it’s not at the forefront. It feels like I’ve been waiting to write this album my whole life.

Batt: Space has always captured the imaginations of filmmakers, from early Méliès silent films onward, and I’m excited to be able to explore the possibilities that our vast cosmos inspires.

RJK: Where did the video footage come from?

Batt: With a few exceptions, the video is primarily made up of individual image frames of raw data sent back from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, currently orbiting Saturn. The eerie black and white glitch aesthetic is the result of various technical factors, data artifacts, exposure calibrations, even cosmic rays hitting the sensors, and gives us a rare unprocessed machine-vision glimpse at the solar system. The overlays are diagrams of our attempts to understand the universe in various eras, from early astrology through to blueprints of the spacecraft that enable us to reach the sky.

RJK: How is it collaborating with scientists on an artistic project?

Boekbinder: It’s always interesting to talk to people who are excited about their work. People who approach things with a more scientific process teach me a different way to look at something. I can be inspired by the mystery of the cosmos, but I’m also very inspired by the facts. Mystery is romanticised as poetry, but facts are beautiful too.

Batt: Working through NASA’s excellent collection of data, which is all accessible to the public, I am constantly amazed at the inspired determination shown by these scientists and engineers in their drive to achieve the seemingly impossible. Even the briefest exploration of their archives leaves one with a new appreciation for the complexity of their task, and the consistent ingenuity with which they respond to the challenge.

RJK: The intersection of art and science is a powerful combination for the imagination. You’ve accomplished something spectacular here by capturing the essence of what makes space exciting. The sky is calling–and we go! What are you hoping to accomplish with this effort?Boekbinder: Music is a powerful medium for communication. Because of it’s emotional impact and it’s ubiquity – we listen to music everywhere – songs have a way of getting into us that other methods of communicating just can’t do. My hope is that by listening to a great album people will be inspired to learn more about our world, our entire universe.
Batt: Watch. Listen. Be inspired. Look up.

Rita J. King is the EVP for Business Development at Science House and the director of Science House Creative, a full service creative consulting firm. To book Science House for an event or find out about brainstorming services, contact rita [at] sciencehouse or ping @RitaJKing on Twitter.

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