article-imageThe International Space Orchestra playing at the world’s largest wind tunnel (Photograph by Neil Berrett, via Nelly Ben Hayoun)

How will people keep humanity in the alienating distances of space? Perhaps through music. That’s what French artist Nelly Ben Hayoun set out to try when assembling the International Space Orchestra, a musical ensemble composed of scientists and staff from NASA Ames Research Center and SETI Institute. 

article-imageThe International Space Orchestra assembled in front of vacuum chambers (Photograph by Neil Berrett, via Nelly Ben Hayoun)

The orchestra has such space travel stars as NASA Astronaut Yvonne Cagle on percussion and Lewis S.G. Braxton III, Deputy Director of NASA Ames Research Center, on gong, and Nelly Ben Hayoun’s music collaborators include Arthur Jeffes of Penguin Café, Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz, singer Bobby Womack, and even sci-fi writer Bruce Sterling who contributed lyrics. The orchestra’s first performance piece is Ground Control: An Opera in Space, and was inspired by our drive to comprehend the universe, and to delve further into exploring the distant stars.

A feature film about the organizing of the International Space Orchestra was premiered this January at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam, and the International Space Orchestra is currently featured in Space Odyssey 2.0, an exhibition on contemporary art and space, at Z33 House for Contemporary Arts in Hasselt, Belgium. A future component of the project will broadcast the music into the depths of space through SETI.

The International Space Orchestra had their world premiere performance last September in front of an appropriately otherworldly location: the world’s largest wind tunnel at NASA Ames Research Center. You can preview their celestial music showcase below: