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The space between lift off and landing

Do you remember the footage? In my memory it was always the end or the beginning. Nervous smiling men in space suits with—really!—those big goldfish bowl helmets, being bussed to their rocket. Then some days later, tired smiling men in space suits being helped away from their capsule, on jellified legs. Or, instead, nervous unsmiling men in control centres, waiting for bad news. All eyes were on the race for space. And we looked up and saw leavings and landings, lift offs and splashdowns, beginnings and endings. But it was on the tense, watchful faces of those engineers and telemetry boffins, gazing at the screen and holding headphones to their ears, that we really saw the immensity of space. Eventually there were a few crackled words over the immensity, and an ungainly hop or two across the moon. When it went right. But before that, before any of that could happen, there was a dog, then a man, both orbiting out there with no control, and no idea what might happen.

Yuri Gagarin—the first man in space—could not control his vessel from his cockpit. He had no say in the matter. Laika—the first dog in space—could not survive the heat in her capsule, and died in space. She had no say in the matter either. In his live, interactive work LAIKA Martin Gotfrit spins a fictional journey from the stories of these first two animals to touch the void. Unlike both his protagonists, he determines the action as it happens, in his case from a remarkable console. With his computer subsumed within a 1950s-style contraption, he plays an instrument studded with buttons, knobs and joysticks—all those satisfyingly real controls that bridge the space between fingers and mind so well. 

Laika did not return, or take the trouble to send back a pretty speech, but Yuri did. But what Gotfrit picks up in his journey, and sonically extrapolates so effectively, is the fragility of those early voyages. He sends back his own reports; on the technology that could not be relied on, the gaping holes in knowledge and the risks taken to stop them up. Sine wave clusters, thin voices and breathy interjections, scrabbling communications, beeps and space age burbles that barely crackle on the air—all these are reborn as a tentative gamelan that fingers its way from silence into space. Behind it all, the insane courage that risks hanging so much on such sparse connections. And down on the ground, a face lit by the glow of the screen, tweaking the controls, measuring the nervous space between lift off and landing.

Lima Alpha India Kilo Alpha

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