SXSW 2019: Sending the Sound of Humanity to the Stars with ‘The Earthling Project’

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Earthling Project

During South by Southwest (SXSW) 2019 the SETI Institute Artists in Residence Program announced its newest initiative, The Earthling Project. In the panel, “SETI, Earthling & the Collective Musical Voice,” Rob Baker, Ola Kowalewski, and Felipe Perez Santiago, the SETI Institute’s Artist in Residence, explained the importance that music plays into representing humanity, the role it played in the Voyager Golden Record, and the role it will play in the future.

The panel aimed to explain The Earthling Project which hopes to create a universal voice that can represent humanity to the cosmos. They also outlined the plan to send our united voice to the stars. Utilizing the advances in technology since the Golden Record, the initiative aims to collect sound from all over the world and use them to compose a piece of music that exemplifies the multitudes of humanity. The best explanation of the initiative comes from Perez Santiago himself:

“The project’s goal is to create global collaborative music, for eventual launch into space, that leaves a message of who we are now as species, as humans, and as earthlings. Using online platforms and social media we will invite musicians, artists, space lovers, humanists, and everyone else in the world to participate and build a community of music, art, and technology.”

The theme is to present us as Earthlings, one planet, with many songs, sounds, and languages, who are a part of one humanity. As Perez Santiago explained in the talk, the name for the project is centered around the word Earthling was from Jill Tarter a world-renowned Astronomer.

Having attended a closed-door session at SETI during my first year of grad school in 2014, everything about this project fascinates me. The project will have four phases, featured below, each of which the panel discussed at length during their announcement at SXSW.

Phase one is the collection of Earth’s voices. In this stage they will ask for recordings of human voices speaking, saying, or making sounds that are culturally significant to them, representative of their geolocation on the planet, country of origin, or heritage. The collection of the voices is focussed on accessibility and aimed to be done with a basic smartphone or via a web browser. When asked about collecting samples from more remote locations with access to the aforementioned tech, Kowalewski explained that nothing has been ruled out and that they are aware of the need for inclusion of those voices.

In phase two, Perez Sanitago will compose a piece of music using the voices set to percussion. His choice to use percussion instruments instead of a symphony, in spite of his extensive experience as a conductor, was due to his need to present a piece of music that is not Euro-centric. By using percussions, Perez Santiago explained, he would be using the oldest form of music created by Earthlings. This focus on the details from a classically trained composer, is a breath of fresh air, as all forms of academia struggle to decolonize their works.

Left to right: Rob Baker, Felipe Perez Santiago, and Ola Kowalewski
In phase three, the team will then call for musicians to put forth their “Earthling” compositions that complement and expand on the composition created by Perez Santiago. Through the use of an open source platform that will house all of the sounds of the Earthlings created. Musicians known and unknown will begin making albums and through interaction with their respective bases to create a viral quality that ensures variance and diversity in sound, culture, and genre. As a platform, all music created from it will be royalty-free and completely free-use.
Finally, in phase four, the team will create a sound mixing app that will allow everyone, musician or not, to use and compose a variety of sounds. Through these channels and phases, the team aims to collect music representative of the Earthling experience. In this phase, of all the music created, some will be chosen to be sent into space and become Earth’s collective voice to the star.
Since this is a longer-term project, the team is unsure of how they will send the music to space, but with the back of the SETI Institute, we know that they have funds and technology to accomplish this grand plan. The project is still in the early stages, to stay up to date on the initiative, you can follow Perez Santiago on Twitter as well as the SETI Institute. For an example of the sounds you can expect, take a look at the trailer below:
If you would like to support the project financially, head here.