“How do you bring art to the realm of space physics?”
Alina Marrero, a writer/director for theater, and TV and radio director from Puerto Rico, was invited to give at least one answer to that question at the United Nations Office of Outer Space conference held in Daejeon, Korea, Sept. 21–25.
Ms. Marrero gave a presentation on how she participated in the creation of a contemporary dance work of art to the “sounds of the sun” by way of a technique called sonification—the use of non-speech sounds. For this particular project, Ms. Marrero used solar wind data that had been converted, with the help of advanced software developed by NASA, into musical tones to which she helped create a dance performance.
Ms. Marrero had first been introduced to NASA’s Xsonify software in 2004. She was intrigued at the harp-like sounds produced from solar wind data. There were no set patterns, which resulted in a form of music she found to be naturally free-form, powerful and determined. Immediately she thought, A ballet!
In 2006, Ms. Marrero asked the Shirohisa Ikeda Project—a radio astronomy education program named in honor of the second son of Dr. Daisaku Ikeda—to provide solar wind and radio data sonification from which to develop a soundtrack and choreography for a play presented at the main center for performing arts in Puerto Rico.
After the success of that production Lolita Villanúa, a producer/director with Puerto Rico’s Andanza Contemporary Dance Company, asked permission to use one of the sonifications she used for the theater production at an Andanza activity for The Museum of Modern Art in Puerto Rico. This resulted in a proposed collaboration between Ms. Marrero and the Andanza company on a contemporary dance piece using solar wind sonification.
Ultimately, the work included sonification and even a quotation from The Lotus Sutra was derived, with the central theme, “The oneness of everything.” Under the banner of its lengthy name—“Andanza cósmica, zafari de palabras y sonificación para ballet en un prólogo, cinco partes y un epílogo” (Cosmic Adventure/Walk, Safari of Words and Sonification for Ballet in One Prologue, Five Parts and Epilogue)—the commissioned piece required not only dancers but a vocalist and an oboist to provide “live” transitions between sonified elements. The Shirohisa Ikeda Project supported Ms. Marrero and the Andanza company all through the project, providing, among many other resources: various sonifications, including radio data sonification using sea waves as a timbre; astronomical research, references, photos and even conducting astronomy workshops for the choreographers and dancers.
And the resultant ballet integrates videos, photos, light EFX and sculptures by Puerto Rican artists, sonification, voice, movement, and other visual elements brought together to represent “the oneness of everything” from the beginning to the end. The world premiere of the solar wind data sonification dance performance “Andanza Cosmica” took place on April 17, 2009, and was dedicated to Daisaku and Kaneko Ikeda. The encouragement of President Ikeda, whom Ms. Marrero considers her mentor, has been central to her development as both an artist and a human being.
Hans Haubold, Director of UNOOSA, said to Ms. Marrero: “How perfect that your ballet presentation be at this moment [Indian mathematician Dr. A.M. Mathai having just ended his speech], because mathematics is harmony, as are music and ballet.”