The Tree of Life: A Space Song Foundation Project

Julia Christensen’s Upgrade Available. Courtesy of the Brooklyn Rail.

By DARYL KING, March 2022

NASA is the most symbolic of the American government agencies. It has inspired more series, films, and novels than other agencies, most recently collaborating with streetwear-focused brands. Now, a handful of NASA scientists — while they aren’t working on space missions and the like — are partnering with artist Julia Christensen on the Space Song Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the design and fabrication of technology that supports long-range space missions, while promoting long-term thinking at the intersection of art, science, and design.

This goal made it possible for the Space Song Foundation to earn 111% return in total through Kickstarter. The Tree of Life is the first of many projects that will focus on how “to promote long-term thinking regarding how to connect the Earth and outer space." Sound waves will bounce back and forth between spacecraft and trees. Recorded data from the Tree of Life will eventually become a song available for hearing and use.

Courtesy of nss magazine.

The team behind The Space Song Foundation is artist Julia Christensen and Steve Matousek. To the art industry, it means that an LACMA Art + Tech Lab awardee, Guggenheim fellow, Creative Capital Fellow, and chair of the studio art department at Oberlin College is working with Steve. Anyone passionate about NASA knows that Matousek is the NASA/Jet Propulsion Lab’s Advanced Concepts Manager at the Innovation Lab.

He has been active in the field and was awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 2012. The other members of the team are just as equally talented and well-known figures amongst their respective fields: Dr. Alessandra Babuscia; Joel Ferree, Director of LACMA's Art + Tech Lab; Judy Lai-Norling, COO of Carbon Mapper; Roger Klemm, space mission test engineer at NASA/JPL; sound engineer Tom Hall, artist, and developer at Cycling ‘74 (Max/MSP). 

Courtesy of nss magazine.

The first two sites for the project are in New York and Los Angeles. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Art + Tech Lab will also participate to host the site, ensuring that numeric data, and recordings of the tree’s experience of life at the site, will be matched with the spacecraft’s detail of its orbit. The numbers will then be turned into sonic frequencies.

Anyone can access the song, and the Tree of Life project will generate useful research to help scientists, designers, and the public to grasp a better sense of the future. This knowledge can be attributed to the fact that nature is a key element of the project, as opposed to something like concrete. Concrete, a revolutionary building material, is everywhere across the globe and has conquered everything. Yet, it is associated with the greatest sense of distaste. 

“First draft design of antenna tree by mounting and exciting current probes,” from Interim Report, Tree of Life Antenna and Ground Segment Design,” by Ingie Baho.

Without the current war in Ukraine, where concrete’s visibility has increased across the broken capital, this project would not be as interesting. Private companies are now flying their owners into Space. Who knew that the space market was segmented into Spaceliner companies, Spacecraft component developers and manufacturers, Space settlement, Space stations, Space Mining, Space manufacturing, Satellite launchers, Propulsion manufacturers, Research craft and tech demonstrators, landers, rovers, and orbiters, Launch vehicle manufacturers, Suborbital, Orbital, and Cargo transport vehicles? Part of the allure is tied to the need to escape the concrete world and reach the stars.

Concrete marks flaws in the human system, marking the difference between the built environment, human waste, and nature. The amount of waste keeps growing at the same pace as the need for more circular work. The Tree of Life project itself was derived from an enterprise to reach Proxima B, an exoplanet that is 4.2 light-years away.

As the team considered how to expand the current limits of human technology, one of the most immediate concerns was the need to upgrade organic communication systems. Rather than creating something new, trees, which must be preserved for at least 200 years, become part of a living antenna system. With regards to even architecture, this pushes the concept of passive design. WM


Daryl Rashaan King

Daryl Rashaan King currently works as a Teaching Artist with Leap NYC; a Chef de Partie at CUT by Wolfgang Puck, The Four Seasons Tribeca; and the Vice President of the Asian American Film Lab. He is the founder/ principal of kokuoroi, a multidisciplinary creative studio. The studio focuses on problems derived from urban living, viewed through the perspective of King, a Brooklyn native. A graduate of Columbia University, who originally specialized in painting, some of King’s goals include obtaining both an M. Arch and an Expert Diploma in Culinary Arts. He would also like to pursue various art and design programs and to live abroad. King has already earned certificates from Parsons in Streetwear; completed part of the Sustainable Design Foundation at Pratt Institute; and volunteered in Cusco, Peru at the construction site of a new Lower School. His work has greatly evolved since taking an Information Architecture course focused on Future Cities, hosted by the Department of Architecture at ETH Zurich. A former varsity wrestler, King has hopes of learning and practicing new martial arts. When he isn’t working, enjoying music, or playing video games, King’s focus is on the future.

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