The International Space Orchestra

Nelly Ben Hayoun wants to be an astronaut. "I’m totally serious about this", she tells me.
Nelly Ben Hayoun.
Nelly Ben Hayoun.

While this may be a common aspiration for six-year-old children, it’s rather more surprising to hear it from an award-winning director, PhD candidate (built environment and design fiction at Royal Holloway – a step towards her astronautical ambitions) and graduate from the Royal College of Art’s Design Interactions course.

But I wouldn’t bet against Ben Hayoun making it into space, given the success she has had so far in an equally ambitious and unlikely mission: to bring "programmed chaos and disorder" into a controlled environment – the NASA Ames Research Center in California.

To do this, Ben Hayoun assembled the International Space Orchestra – the world’s first orchestra composed entirely from space scientists, from Ames and other institutions including the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute.

The orchestra features bluegrass-playing space operators, a genuine astronaut (Yvonne Cagle) on percussion and two-time Grammy winner Evan Price as musical director.

They’ve also got rather natty uniforms, featuring a cool logo by David Benqué.

The orchestra came together to perform a space opera, using transcripts from NASA’s Apollo 11 mission, as well as Bobby Womack’s The Bravest Man in the Universe.

Ben Hayoun’s film Ground Control: The Opera for Techno Wonders, captures the orchestra’s formation, rehearsals and eventual triumphant performance in from of the Ames wind tunnels, as well as revealing footage from inside Ames.

It’s an experiment in breaking down barriers between science and creativity, using design to disrupt workplace hierarchy and ultimately, creating some surprisingly catchy music.

As Ben Hayoun says, "I am regularly on a mission to bring chaos, subversion and disorder into the scientific world".




Content by

Watch the Talk with Nelly Ben Hayoun