Art from Satellite Transmissions: SatNOGS and Software Defined Radio used in a Sound Art Installation

One of the piezo speakers playing the satellite transmissions.
One of the piezo speakers playing the satellite transmissions.

In the past we've seen software defined radio's like the HackRF use to create art installations such as the 'Holypager', which was an art project that aimed to draw attention to the breach of privacy caused by pagers used by doctors and staff at hospitals.

Recently another art installation involving a software defined radio was exhibited at Wichita State University. The project by artist Nicholas A. Knouf is called "they transmitted continuously / but our times rarely aligned / and their signals dissipated in the æther" and it aims to collect the sounds of various satellite transmissions, and play them back using small piezo speakers in the art gallery. To do this he built a SatNOGS receiver and used a software defined radio to capture the audio. He doesn't mention which SDR was used, but most commonly RTL-SDR's are used with the SatNOGS project. Nicholas describes the project below:

This 20-channel sound installation represents the results of collecting hundreds of transmissions from satellites orbiting the earth. Using custom antennas that I built from scratch, I tracked the orbits and frequencies of satellites using specialized software. This software then allows me to collect the radio frequency signals and translate them into sound.

The open source software and hardware, called SatNOGS and developed by a world-wide group of satellite enthusiasts, enables anyone to build a ground station for tracking satellites and their transmissions, which are then uploaded to a publicly accessable database. Data received by my ground stations can be found here. These transmissions are mostly from weather satellites, CubeSats (small satellites launched by universities world-wide for short-term research), or amateur radio repeaters (satellites designed for ham radio operators to experiment with communication over long distances).

I made the speakers hanging from the grid from a piezoelectric element embedded between two sheets of handmade abaca paper that was then air dried over a form.

The project was also discussed over on the SatNOGS forum.

The SatNOGS art installation
The SatNOGS art installation

One comment

  1. Mac

    I’d love to see someone to record that APT from that installation, run in with WxToIMG and display the result. It would be an ultimate extra to have a picture of that recording decoded directly from the art!

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