Astronomers plan to beam Earth’s greatest hits into deep space, and you can help

If you could send a message to a potential alien civilization, what would it sound like? It’s worth thinking about, as a new project from the SETI Institute (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) will give the public the chance to submit musical compositions to be beamed into space.

Announced at the SXSW conference, the Earthling Project’s aim is “connecting humans around the world through the universal language of music.” It will build a database of music from around the world to represent humanity and build bridges across cultures and geography.

There will be four phases to the project:

  • Phase 1 is a call for vocal submissions, collecting songs about birth (like lullabies and songs of springtime), about life (celebration songs, spiritual songs, and so on), and about death (funeral songs or mourning songs).
  • Phase 2 is a seven-part musical composition called “Earthling” which will bring together world voices, sounds from space, electronic synthesizer samples, and a live ensemble. The composition will be performed at the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) in Northern California by prominent musicians and will be broadcast live.
  • Phase 3 is the call for musical submissions, where musicians can use samples from the Earthling audio database to create a series of albums which have been “collectively composed.”
  • Phase 4 will be the launch of a digital music-making app which allows users on computers and tablets to compose music using material from the database and submit it to the project.

Once all the phases are complete, a selection of the resulting compositions and sample elements will be sent into space by SETI, on behalf of Earthlings everywhere.

The project is headed by composer and musician Felipe Pérez Santiago and astronomer Jill Tarter, as part of SETI’s Artist-In-Residence Program where artists are invited to become creative ambassadors for the institute. Previous programs have included an audio, light, sculpture, and video installation about the language of humpback whales and a group show called “Making Contact,” which featured sculpture and mixed-media works about exploration of the moon and about the origins of the universe.

The call for vocal submissions for the Earthling project will go live this year, and you can sign up to be notified if you would like to take part.

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