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notsuoh, a problem

By Garreth Chan

Photosensitivity warning: flashing lights

Artist's Note

Denis Villeneuve's movie Arrival (based on Ted Chiang's short story "Story of Your Life") brought forth the question, “What language would we use to communicate with extraterrestrial beings, and how would we be certain that they could even perceive time, space, and sound the same way that we would?"

The exploration of space has been driven largely by a desire to prove if we are the only beings in the universe. Many things have been jettisoned into space in hopes of a response, but I’ve always wondered why we are confident that any extraterrestrial species would see that as proof of life? Upon hearing human speech, certainly any alien races would not have picked up on any context except the tonal quality of our voices.

notsuoh, a problem attempts to imagine an alien species interacting with time and space, while receiving transmission from Earth. I converted a real-life conversation in the Mission Control Center in Houston into MIDI values, then designed a digital synth to play back the exact values to mimic pure tonal quality, void of context. The image of the humans are highly distorted and colourized in a way that was reminiscent of infra-red vision from Predator, a perspective purely scientific.

This is interlaced with footage from the Hubble telescope, fractured to forced a renewed perspective of time and space. Maybe to these aliens, each system is a box to open and close at ease. Maybe we're in a locker room, like in Men In Black. Maybe there’s an Interstellar-esque tesseract that we can’t perceive.

The interplay of space and the attempt to contact space is designed to be in dialogue. To them, we're the aliens - so our voices and images permeate in a strange way through the universe, trying to reach them. So close, yet so far.
Garreth Chan is the multimedia editor of Postscript Magazine and a transdisciplinary artist from Hong Kong, focusing on the intersection of sound, text, and video. He holds a BA in Music and Sociology from NYU Abu Dhabi. Garreth worked for a film production studio as a film colorist and audio engineer before deciding to explore as a freelancer. His work in film and theater has premiered in Amman, New York, London, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, and Budapest, among others. He is most interested in notions of silence and the mundane.