Nuit Blanche | Paris, 2011
Nuit Blanche
| Toronto, 2012

A player piano, alone in an empty room, plays a familiar tune: Beethoven’s 1802 Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor “Quasi una fantasia”, commonly known as Moonlight Sonata. But something’s not quite right. Some notes sound off-key, while others appear to be missing. Moreover, the tempo lacks the emotional intensity and dramatic flair that we expect from this classic of romantic music. 

Katie Paterson has worked with ‘moon bouncers’, radio enthusiasts who use a technique developed by the US military after World War II, to produce an E.M.E. (Earth-Moon-Earth) transmission of the sonata. Morse code messages derived from the composition were sent to the moon, reflected on its surface, and received back on earth. Some notes have been ‘lost’ en route, absorbed in the moon’s shadows and trapped in its craters. As they return to earth in fragmented form, they are translated into a new score and the piano is programmed accordingly. 

The piece recalls radio innovator Guglielmo Marconi’s suggestion that sounds never die, but continue to reverberate as sound waves around the universe.

Katie Paterson often works with scientific and technical experts to devise encounters between people and the natural world — from broadcasting sounds of a melting glacier over a cell phone, to documenting disappearing stars. Fusing the Romantic sublime tradition with current technological innovations, her work is formally understated yet philosophically ambitious. She has exhibited at Tate Britain, London, and the Power Plant, Toronto, and was Leverhulme Artist in Residence in the Astrophysics Group, University College London.