SETI Artist Ponders
'Life Beyond Earth'

Montalvo Arts Center discussion on the intersection of art, science and outer space
SETI enlists artists to help scientists grapple with the mysteries of the universe.

While most of us in the near-term future will be predictably obsessed with Donald Trump's legal woes, the latest trending hashtag, or whether to quit Facebook, composer Felipe Perez Santiago will be consumed with the biggest of big-picture undertakings: how to represent humankind to the cosmos.

He calls his current project Earthling. It's a massive effort to collect language and sound recordings from all corners of the world, and merge them into one cohesive whole in a live performance with a wide range of top-flight musicians. Its ambitions are nothing less than to articulate the universal human experience through sound—presumably for the benefit of some speculative nonhuman audience.

These are the kinds of things they think about in the artist-in-residence program at the SETI Institute in Mountain View. SETI is the Spielberg-ian acronym that stands for "Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence." It is one of the world's foremost research organizations concerned with humankind's most fundamental questions.

On Friday, April 27, at Villa Montalvo, the SETI Institute will offer a peek into its artist-in-residence program and its efforts to enlarge science with art (and art with science). The event is called Life Beyond Earth, and it's essentially a panel discussion that will ponder the interplay between art and science, explain SETI's mission in melding the two and introduce Perez Santiago as the institute's latest artist-in-residence.

Life Beyond Earth will also serve as a kind of product launch for Earthling, in which Perez Santiago will collaborate closely with SETI astronomer Jill Tarter (who earned her pop-culture bona fides as the inspiration for Jodie Foster's character in the 1997 film Contact). Perez Santiago is the first musician and first foreign-born artist to participate in the SETI program.

Charles Lindsay—who founded the artist-in-residence program at SETI back in 2010, served as its first resident artist and now serves as the program's director—will participate in the April 27 panel discussion.

"The Bay Area brings together artists and scientists and technologists in very interesting ways," Lindsay says, " which is one of the reasons I love being here. For people who find this territory interesting, it's a pretty unique event."

Other than Perez Santiago, Tarter and Lindsay, the panel will include SETI chief executive Bill Diamond as well as poet and visual artist Jen Bervin, an alumnus of the program.

In Life Beyond Earth the panel will not only discuss the SETI program, but will take on the question of what benefits come from artists and scientists working together when it comes to addressing the most compelling mysteries of existence.

"It's a rich enough question that we keep addressing it," says Lindsay. "Most people intuit that it's a really good idea to put scientists and artists together, and most intelligent people would see that it's a good idea. But if you ask why, the answers are not always obvious."

'Life Beyond Earth'
Apr 27, 7pm, $10
Montalvo Arts Center, Saratoga

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