Tune into the short video below produced by Jupiter Artland. That bit of Beethoven tinkling away, while awfully familiar, sounds somewhat off, doesn’t it? As if some invisible amateur is trading forgotten notes for accidental gaps of thin air.
Yet you’re not hearing a shabby sausage fingers recording of a classical favourite, nor is that Yamaha digital grand piano glitching out. The parts that are seemingly just skipped over add gravity to what is in fact a conceptual art moon landing akin to NASA’s in 1969 (depending on which conspiracy theories you’re inclined to believe).
It’s called Earth-Moon-Earth, finalised by Glasgow-born artist Katie Patterson in 2007. Fascinated by abstract and concrete extremes of separation, exchange, time, size and adaptation, Patterson conceived an ingenious form of extra-terrestrial communication. E.M.E is essentially a radio transmission, consisting of a Morse code message beamed from the earth, bounced off the moon and picked up again here on the home planet.
Though as in a game of telephone, bits of information go astray. The moon itself absorbed some of the radio frequency, flinging them off into its shadows, dry oceans, and, I’d still like to believe, cheesy craters.
The Morse code message sent through the atmosphere in E.M.E coyly contained a melodic translation of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. The message reflected back was then re-arranged for the piano, all its holes and pauses reflected as silent rest notes. The astrally-filtered music is what plays on the automatic instrument we hear.
The almost sweetly precocious notion of the moon itself rattling the ivories with its rendition of Moonlight Sonata sours a bit when you reflect on the fact that Beethoven never associated his composition with lunar ideals himself. He named it Piano Sonata No. 14 in C# minor, calling it Quasi una fantasia at his most poetic, for it was dedicated to star pupil Countess Giulietta Guicciardi.
To put the moonlight in the sonata, it took the mushiness of a more obscure German music critic, pining admiringly over mental images of pale light waltzing atop Switzerland’s Lake Lucerne conjured up by Beethoven’s groove.
But admittedly, those picayune facts are a tad beside the point. Patterson’s out of this world achievement resonates no less crisply with contemporary audiences who know the music by its colloquial name, audiences of the present day whom the artist strives to rocket towards radical new ways of critically examining the universe.