Hysteresia or the music of ghost satellites

The Factory 20.03.2024

Stéfane Perraud and Aram Kebabdjian's astonishing, poetic idea to create sounds from the signals emitted by the zombie satellites that continue mysteriously to orbit the earth, has been put into practice with Hysteresia, an installation that is now touring Europe.

They're called Oscar 11, Les-five, les Solrades, Isis, Alouette or Akébono; there are 31 of them and they're zombie satellites, meaning satellites that no longer function, also known as "celestial ruins", but which continue to orbit and emit sounds. These objects, as poetic as they are technological, attracted the attention of Stéfane Perraud, a visual artist with a passion for science fiction and physics, and his partner in crime, writer and playwright Aram Kebabdjian. Together, they conceived Hysteresia, both a sound installation and a performance tool, which was on show at the Mudac in Lausanne until February 2024, and which will be touring France - as part of the next Nuit Blanche in Paris, at the Gaîté Lyrique, and probably on tour in Corsica in the summer - and Belgium, at the Pavillon in Namur.

Dialogue with the beyond

The two artists have been working together for ten years. " We're very interested in the notion of waste, technological archaeology... and the Cold War period," explains Stéfane Perraud, who is already the author of a "Machine à dessiner" that recovers military waves and transforms them into drawings, every day. But that's another story.
"Hysteria is a way of making this celestial waste sing, and telling the forgotten story of these technological ghosts," he continues. Hysteria evokes the effect of hysteria. Hysteros', in Greek, is what comes after. The effect of hysteria designates the persistence of an effect when the cause has disappeared."
In this case, the persistence of the signals that these dead satellites continue to emit from space, and more precisely from the graveyard orbits where they are located. "What do they still remember? What do they still have to tell us? These objects raise some fascinating philosophical questions," continues Aram Kebabdjian. The aim is not just to listen to the sounds emitted by these satellites, but to process them and transform them into artistic material.

hysteria-installation-mudac from Aram Kebabdjian on Vimeo.

Make the satellite's modulations sing

The two artists worked on the project for almost eight years. "We wanted to create a synthesizer of the sounds emitted by these zombie satellites. These noises have such potential, they open up the imagination and the field of possibilities..." explains Stéphane Perraud. Hysteria is presented as "a sound observatory for zombie satellites". Thanks to its software, the work automatically searches live for residual radio signals from these satellites, most of which date back to the Cold War, and lets the public hear them through its three pavilions. The software built by Stéfane and his team works on the basis of an ephemeris: "We know ten days in advance what time and frequency the 31 satellites will pass by and transmit. The software follows and picks up the signal, the waves, like a radio. There, the signal is processed, 'de-noised', and a sequencer plays the raw sound of the satellite and, little by little, tries to make it sing from a score we've written. These are simple effects, such as reverberation and saturation.

Polyphonic stories

Sound is at the heart of the process: while the satellites' noises and oscillations are emitted, the story of each of them is told by several recorded women's voices. Aram Kebabdjian wrote these texts based on documentary research and wove a polyphony: "Between five and ten texts, in French, are associated with each of the satellites. These texts are of several types: some retrace a part of the history of these satellites, military satellites, spy satellites, geolocation satellites, weather satellites, television satellites... All the functions of satellites are represented with these 31 specimens. But I don't stop at the satellite's date of lift-off and its mission - we've taken the imagination a step further. My favorite is perhaps Transit 5b-5, the oldest, dating from 1964, and nicknamed 'the singing satellite' because its delicate sound resembles that of an electronic bird!"

Noise experiments

More than an installation, Hysteresia is the occasion for a variety of noise-related performances: "We're both visual artists and writers," insists Aram. It seemed essential to us to get musicians to take hold of the waves to create music with them, to integrate them into their music." Sound artists and musicians are thus regularly invited, like Aho San in Lausanne.

hysteria-live performance-Aho Ssan- @mudac from Aram Kebabdjian on Vimeo.

The Lausanne public was very curious. " The words zombie and satellite intrigued people, not to mention the fact that the installation looked like a UFO," confides Aram. Hysteresia invites us not only to discover the singular - and sometimes incredible - story of each of these satellites, veritable witnesses, if not protagonists, of history, but also to turn our ears and eyes to the sky, "the place of all eternity in various mythologies", reminds Stéfane. Translating mysterious sounds, the installation becomes a gateway to creation.

Suzanne Gervais

Photos © Stéfane Perraud
Photos © Anquetil Bijan
Photos © Étienne Malapert


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