The Void: Hello from Earth

L-R: John Meriton, Liliane Lijn, Tony White

There was a great turn out last night for the launch of ATOMANOTES by Liliane Lijn in the wonderful, bohemian surroundings of the barely-converted mews space that is Maggs Gallery. The reception was generously co-hosted by Maggs Bros. Rare Books, to whom I am very grateful. Here are a few photos.

L-R: Rosemary Bailey, Andrew Wilson, Liliane Lijn, Ken Hollings

Liliane spoke briefly and insightfully about the project, reading a short extract from the introduction to her visionary epic poem Crossing Map (London: Thames and Hudson, 1983) that described the genesis of ATOMANOTES.

Liliane also revealed that the catalyst for her to write Crossing Map had been that she was unable in 1968 to find any scientists who were willing to answer the questions she was formulating about human and atomic behaviour.

L-R: Ken Hollings, Richard Strange

There’s something quite remarkable about questions being posed yet remaining unanswered for forty-two years. That’s a long time.

Forty-two years is precisely how long it would take, for example, to send a radio signal from Earth to the solar system known as Gliese 581d (about 20.3 light years from Earth) and receive a reply.

If you haven’t heard of it before Gliese 581d is a solar system in the constellation of Libra. It is also the home of ‘at least two potentially habitable planets and the most Earth-like planet discovered so far.’

I’m not making this up.

In fact, an experiment to do just this was recently launched from the NASA/CSIRO Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla in Australia. Here is what it says on the Hello From Earth experiment‘s website:

At midday on Friday 28 August 2009, the 70-metre main antenna, known as DSS43, transmitted the signal to Gliese 581d at a frequency of 7.145 gigahertz and a power of 18 kilowatts. The resulting signal, repeated twice over two hours, was equivalent to using the combined power of over 300 billion mobile phones at the same time.

There is way more information on the website, including a live counter which shows that there are still (at time of writing) 19 years, 159 days, 21 hours, 8 minutes and 5 seconds until that signal reaches Gliese 581d.

Back on Earth, the working title Liliane used to gather those questions together in her notebooks forty-two years ago was ‘Atom-man Notes’.

L-R: Liliane Lijn, Tony White

James watching 'What is the Sound of One Hand Clapping', Maggs Gallery. Photos at rear are of William S Burrough in Paris.

When we first met up a couple of years ago to discuss what she might do for Piece of Paper Press, Liliane suggested that it might be worth revisiting those Atom-man Notes. I agreed. The questions (prefaced with the directive, ‘See human beings as atomic stuctures obeying the same laws as atoms’) include the following:

If each atom has a certain field of radiation then what kind of field does each structure called a human being have?
Imagine human beings travelling at the speed of light. Would we then have a stronger gravitational field? What if the mind could function, thoughts travel at that speed, would it exert a gravitational pull?

Now, finally, the questions have been answered by a number of scientists including John Vallerga, Laura Peticolas, John Bonnell and Ilan Roth. Their answers form the bulk of the text in Liliane’s new book. However, the small, roughly A7 format of Piece of Paper Press editions has forced a compression of that original working title to the single neologism ATOMANOTES.

In the here and now of a rainy September evening in London, when Liliane finished her reading we distributed copies of her book. As with all editions from Piece of Paper Press, ATOMANOTES was given away, so everyone left with a free copy.


I love this picture (above left) of James watching a DVD of Liliane’s 1974 film What is the Sound of One Hand Clapping on the monitor when we were setting up.

Looking at the photo earlier I noticed something; a bit of a happy accident.

If you have seen the film, or know about Liliane’s poem machines, you will appreciate that the probability of such a photograph capturing a recognisable word on screen completely by chance would have to be pretty small. Look more closely and you will see that not only did the camera do exactly that, but, even better, framed and almost perfectly registered on the screen is this (hint: click the image for a nice surprise):