Archive for September, 2013

Videodrome

Two science fiction ensemble articles combine for this update, with the first appearing in Empire Magazine. Away from the “tweenage porn” of The Hunger Games – read “Battle Royale” sanitised for an American market  – you’ll find an impressive collection of SFX props from David Cronenberg’s back catalogue. Featured is the Videodrome helmet, that James Woods refused to wear because if was plugged into the mains, the ultimate terrorist weapon of the gristle gun and Dead Ringer’s jewellery horror in the  “instruments for operating on mutant women”. It’s an aptly named Atrocity Exhibition that also sets Catherine’s exoskeletal leg brace, from J G Ballard’s Crash, alongside the parasite from Shivers – called out, by Cronenberg, as being the progenitor of the Alien life cycle.

Meanwhile, over in The Guardian Weekend magazine, there’s an insightful overview of sexual politics as told through the experiences of Doctor Who’s assistants and companions. It covers a full, and contradictory, gamut of producer intentions and audience reactions. From the origins of the ‘assistants’ as ‘damsels in distress’, through the Amazonian warrior spirit of Leela – undermined by the scantiness of her leather Basque – to the well realised Rose Tylers and Amy Ponds of the mythos. The transition is typified by Janet Fielding’s damning account of John Nathan-Turner’s stint at the Who helm.  “You were told,” she says, “in words of one syllable, that you were there for the dads.” There’s still a way to go until the article’s author, Jenny Colgan, sees her female Doctor on our TVs. In the interim, I’d personally settle for a Steampunk spin off mini-series starring Victorian lesbian lizard lady Vastra.

XCOM Declassified

Aside from enjoying the Bob Dobbs look-alike antics of agent William Carter in
XCOM Declassified, I’ve noticed alien life forms appearing elsewhere outside my
targeting reticule.

This week, The University of Sheffield published research that highlighted oversized organic material being discovered in the stratosphere. Images of the diatom fragment quickly circulated around news sites, as did a re-visitation of the age old concept of panspermia – the transfer of intergalactic life via meteors and comets (most notably advocated by Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickamasinghe in their 1974 book, Life Cloud). Sceptics quickly jumped upon the paper – published in the Journal of Cosmology – in an attempt to shoot the theory of extra-terrestrial origin down, citing non-rigorous experimentation and the inclusion of untested assumptions. The question remains how these relatively large diatoms ended up at such high altitude, but turbulence seems to be the most likely cause in the absence of the smoking gun of a recent massive volcanic eruption. That said, any follower of The Fortean Times will be unsurprised by relatively large items finding their way into our atmosphere and back down to Earth in seemingly inexplicable ways.

Voyager 1 Sounds

NASA’s detection of Voyager 1 entering interstellar space got me to thinking. Twelve months after a massive solar flare, the plasma bow wave finally escaped Sol’s heliosphere and passed the automated space explorer. Readings sent back to Earth – a 12 month round trip of flare out and data back – confirmed that the spaceship was now travelling through a very different medium than that of our solar system. How NASA decided to pass this information on, however, is the crux of this Drozbot posting. By converting the data of the passing plasma into sound, NASA tapped into the on-going amalgamation of galactic activities and music.

The harmony of the spheres was a classical way of describing celestial motion as having some kind of mathematical concurrence – expounded by Pythagoras most notably through the idea of ‘orbital resonance’. Obviously no sound can travel in a vacuum, but that doesn’t stop scientists taking variable data and running it through sound systems.

Dig into the output of ‘space music’ and you’ll find an amazing array of soundscapes. Spacesounds, for example, offers a worthy (if fiddly) introduction, while the University of Sheffield have transposed some amazing ambience from our own Sun. Cnet also brilliantly links the Voyager 1 sounds to those generated by composers working within science fiction – notably the Theremin cross-over of Bernard Herrmann’s The Day the Earth Stood Still. Meanwhile, electronic composer Robert Alexander takes the whole concept to another level by working directly with NASA on data sonification.

But let’s return to both Voyagers as the harmonic connections continue in poignant fashion. Both craft carry a series of audio messages out into the unknown on their respective golden discs. Listening through the full recording, you can’t help but be struck by their hopeful fragility when compared to the relative silence they now inhabit.