Ground Station

Dimensions variable.
GPS receiver, electronics, Dysklavier piano.
With Jocelyn Robert

Ground Station produces music in real time by following the current azimuth, elevation and signal strength of twenty-seven Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. Ground Station (GS) is in a sense an audible reflection of the activities of the GPS network it watches. Whereas GPS was developed as a positioning technology to aid in warfare, GS inverts the traditional use of this data by watching the positions and movement of the satellites themselves. As GPS data is fed into GS, it is processed by an algorithm designed by the artists that filters and transcodes this into musical notation. This unique, continuous musical score is then played live on a Dysklavier piano.

Ground Station works by, in effect, 'borrowing' data from the US military's Global positioning satellite network. There are two sets of authors for the music GS produces: the artist-programmers who create and contextualize the work, and the military infrastructure that maintains and oversees the GPS network. This connection between these authors is a definite one: GS is compositionally dependent on the data it receives from the GPS network, and in turn on the ground system that controls the satellites. The role of Schriever Air Force Base in controlling the music produced by GS is indirect yet significant, as the music produced by GS depends on satellite trajectory, which is under direct military control. Without this ground control, the music produced by GS would eventually fade and cease, in parallel with the decay of the satellites themselves.


Systems aside, GS was not conceived to champion technology or the possibilities of computer-based musical composition. As collaborators we have little interest in the aesthetics of the 'music' produced by the piano. Rather, its goal is to produce music as a kind of cultural artifact of the time and place we live in. Musically, GS relies on the supposition that musical composition is a product of the time and place in which it is produced, rather than its formal or syntactical qualities. A piano played under the rocket fire of wartime Beirut, for example, and GS's piano-manifested satellite data are both musical compositions that reflect specifically upon the social state of the cultures they are created within.

Ground Station sets out to make visible different cultural approaches to technology, and to make audible the invisible data that connects these approaches. In this sense Ground Station's performance is not one of music but an aural translation of the current technologized society that we inhabit.