A random text generator is controlled by the reception and analysis of cosmic radio waves picked up by a radio telescope at the Paris Observatory. In the installation, we first hear these waves as turbulent crackling noise, resulting from their transposition into audible frequencies. The text produced by a dedicated computer program is then recited by a synthetic voice and printed continuously on a dot matrix printer, in order to create an infinite archive of messages received from the Universe.

Véronique Béland
Guillaume Libersat
Sébastien Cabour
Sophie Laroche
Acapela Group

Co-produced by Le Fresnoy – Studio national d’arts contemporains and Ville de Tourcoing. This project was carried out in partnership with the EU-HOU group (Hands-On Universe Europe, Pierre and Marie Curie University, Paris Observatory), the Mostrare research team (Universities of Lille 1 and Lille 3, LIFL UMR CNRS 8022, INRIA Lille Nord-Europe), and Acapela Group. It also received support from the City of Tourcoing in the form of a production grant for the creation of an artwork in the public space.

This work was awarded the Prix des Amis du Fresnoy in 2012.

- - -

Are we alone in the Universe? We are prepared to bet that we are not. There are three possible ways of detecting forms of extra-terrestrial life: sending a space probe, sending waves, or receiving waves. 

Sending a probe into space is a bit like sending an ant into the Sahara and hoping that it will reach Timbuktu, even if it doesn’t know where Timbuktu is. Four disks containing engraved drawings and recorded messages (voice, music...) have nevertheless been put on board spatial probes. But a civilization would have to be a lot smarter than ours to find the probes in the interstellar void.

Sending radio signals is quicker but can be rather hit and miss. In 1974, a first high intensity radio message left earth from a radio-telescope in direction of a cluster of stars, where it will arrive in 24,000 years. We can sleep peacefully for a long time while we await an answer.

So why not rather listen to radio waves that certain civilizations may broadcast inadvertently? This is the idea of the SETI program: let’s open our ears and listen to what space is saying. Since it began in the early 1960s, the program has produced no results: total silence as far as “intelligent” broadcasts are concerned.

But why not make “non-intelligent” radio broadcasts speak in a different way? This is Véronique Béland’s project: to interpret the data gathered by radio-telescopes from the Paris Observatory with the help of an automatic random text generator. Thanks to a synthesized voice that reads it in real time, the text becomes the “voice of the Universe”. One notes the “Oulipian” aspect of the undertaking: text is generated by an algorithm, whether it be mathematical or gleaned from astronomical data and processed by a computer program. As the mathematician François le Lionnais, founder of Oulipo used to write: “It is never easy to tell in advance what the flavour of the new fruit will be by simply looking at the seed.” Let us suppose that the soon to be harvested golden apples of the cosmos will at least have the flavour of the unexpected.

- Jean-Pierre Luminet




- - -





しかし、「非知性的」なラジオ放送に、別の方法で話をさせてみてはどうだろう。パリ天文台の電波望遠鏡が収集したデータを、自動ランダムテキストジェネレータを使って解釈するのです。リアルタイムで読み上げる合成音声のおかげで、テキストは「宇宙の声」になるのです。テキストは、数学的なものであれ、天文学的なデータから得られたものであれ、コンピュータプログラムによって処理されたアルゴリズムによって生成される。Oulipoの創設者である数学者François le Lionnaisは、かつてこう書いています。"種を見ただけで、新しい果実の味がどうなるかを事前に知ることは決して容易ではない" まもなく収穫されるコスモスの黄金のリンゴが、少なくとも予期せぬ風味を持っていると仮定してみよう。

- ジャン=ピエール・ルミネット