Authors: Danbee Kim1,2, Goncalo C Lopes3, Xiao Xiao4
1Vocals, 2Bass, 3Percussion, 4Theremin
Aronauts (Portuguese), or “Aeronauts” in English, are a band of V.I.R.S.’s (Vigilante Intergalactic Roustabout Scholars) who use interactive performance art to teach science. As practitioners of science, art, and engineering, members of the Aronauts bring to their lyrics lessons and insights learned from their interdisciplinary work, weaving them into a funky, improv-based musical arrangement. In their first EP, Pilot Data, the Aronauts share facts and speculations about global warming, cuttlefish, the human mind, and our relationship with robots. In the spirit of open science, they have made a demo of the Pilot Data EP available for free download. Due to the improvisational and interactive nature of the songs, the demos represent merely the fundamentals of each song and not the full nature of either the performer or audience experience.
Aronauts was born in January of 2013, while Danbee and Goncalo were both working on their PhD’s in neuroscience at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown (CCU) in Lisboa, Portugal. They had been discussing performance art as a medium for information transfer, and the possibility of creating a performing group that focuses on presenting stories that teach science and math through dance, music, acrobatics, interactive stages, and augmented reality. Such a possibility seemed closer to reality at the CCU, which boasted amongst their students and staff a number of scientists with a formal circus-trained or theater background, or with professional experience in technologically-enhanced performance.
A huge inspiration was the science outreach group at the CCU called Ar (“air” in portuguese), which organizes events that encourage a curiosity and excitement for science amongst non-professional scientists. It was during the 2013 Ar retreat that the name ‘Aronauts’ was coined, from the mash of “aro-“ (“aero-“) and “-naut” (voyager). The initial idea was to create a series of short stage stories about people exploring the world using a pair of magical goggles, which gives them the ability to see the world around them in a new way and facilitates a curiosity about the common or mundane things around us. In an email immediately after the retreat, Goncalo wrote:
The way I see it now is that we are persons living in a world we think is familiar, but actually if we are given the ability to look underneath the surface through the lens of new perspectives, our world transforms into a million amazing new dimensions. This can be very much akin to exploring a new, fascinating alien world. In this way, I imagined the Aronauts’ goggles would give them the ability to see the world through these new perspectives, be it revealing all the different spatial scales, from atoms to molecules, cells, and so on, or even allowing them to perceive in different time scales, from centuries to nanoseconds. Furthermore, I imagined taking this into even more abstract domains, such as enabling them to look at the world through the eyes of other people’s ideas (i.e. what is it like to see the world through the eyes of a religious person, or someone from a radically different culture?)
Danbee then shared this idea with Xiao, an old friend who at the time was working on her PhD with the Tangible Media group at the MIT Media Lab. The Aronauts idea resonated with Xiao’s interest in exploring new ways to teach topics like music and mathematics. Xiao and Danbee had also already started to collaborate musically, and the Aronauts concept began to simmer in the backs of their minds as a long-term inspiration for both their research and musical practices.
The Aronauts share a passion for teaching, and understanding how to nurture both playful and rigorous learning. Because we believe in teaching (and leading) by example, we have pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones to make this album, by learning a skill that will be debuted for the first time at our performance at the Live Music Symposium on 29 September 2017 at the Francis Crick Institute.
Danbee – singing and playing bass simultaneously
Xiao – playing theremin, improvising solos to new songs with only a week to practice as a full band
Goncalo – playing djembe and shaker
The set will be highly improvisational yet based on the skeletal structure recorded in these rehearsals. Because some of the songs are also interactive, we’ve posted lyrics and [dance suggestions in brackets] here:
When our minds began to shape, faced an unknown landscape full of fatal fruits,
but we moved cuz that’s what living things do.
Yeah, we groove and we rise to unchain our minds from the vines of the vices of the status quo.
They don’t wanna free our minds, they want obedient drones,
who will labor for the myth of a rich man’s favor, ‘stead of lovin’ their neighbor.
We all long to belong, sing along, harmonies of all the same song.
The Cuttlefish Song
[hold up 3 fingers on each hand, place hands on the side of your face]
lookin’ side to side,
[turn head side to side]
squish to the front when the shrimp’s on the run.
[move hands forward, in front of your real eyes]
A morpheus tangle, got eight arms to wrangle.
[hold up 4 fingers in each hand and wiggle both hands in front of your mouth]
[wiggle your body as if you have no spine]
[place you hands on your head] of foolin’ your sight. [cover eyes, then reveal eyes on “sight”]
song update: 09 May 2018
(spoken) Are you ready to hunt? Ok, then!
(intro only) The 4 fingers on each hand are 4 of your cuttlefish arms, and your thumbs are your tentacles. These are like your tongue, but cuttlefish each have 2 tentacles in their mouth, and they use those tentacles to hunt! So!
When you’re ready to hunt,
Middle arms go up! [index fingers are steepled in front of the face]
sneak sneak sneak sneak, [wiggle sneakily]
stretch stretch stretch stretch! [stretch while keeping hands over face]
Now prepare the tentacles, [make “llama hands”, then put the llamas’ chins together]
make a tripod and throw! [stick out pinky fingers, then on “throw!” straighten your arms while pointing with your thumbs]
Did you catch, or miss? [if catch, dance wildly! if miss, return to stealthy sneaky mode]
Your pattern is how I know!
W eyes, looking side to side,
squish to the front when the shrimp’s on the run!
A morpheous tangle, got 8 arms to wrangle!
No spine, but mastermind of foolin’ your sight.
Chromatic array in their skin is how they betray
when they decide whether to attack or hide! But when they have a secret, they know how to keep it, cuz light they polarize for colorblind eyes!
Jackets in June
Jackets in June just ain’t my kinda tune for a plump summer.
Voraciously take the heat that it make,
decimate, glutton’s pace, bake and eat our cake
Don’t wanna wait,
Won’t be long ‘til we’re gone,
so be merry with the fates.
They itch for your blood, they will make it flood into cold coffers.
Proceedural twine ensnares our minds,
you’re inclined to be blind, turn the other cheek
Can’t handle the weight
Won’t be long ‘til it’s gone,
now we’re wedded to our fate.
Too dazed to look beyond the haze of money-makin’ plays,
they eat the atmosphere,
don’t know how to yield.
Too wasted by the race to be a money-makin’ face,
they only keep us to bleed us
and feed their machine of
gotta learn how to wait.
won’t be long ‘til we’re all gone,
so get ready for our fate.
We don’t need the robots but it’s ok to love them
We don’t need the robots to feel for us,
if someone else breathes, no oxygen fills my lungs,
remember to feed the organ that believes in the spirit of being kind,
hands and mind are mine to give to you.
We don’t need the robots to work for us,
if someone else sweats, then I have not gained your trust,
remember we bleed from underneath an armour pretending to save us time,
hands and mind are mine to give to you.
Our debut at the Crick Live Music Symposium:
Photos from the Crick Live Music Symposium:
We would love to hear your feedback about our songs, the interactive elements, and our vision. Feel free to talk to us after our set at the Crick Institute’s Live Music Symposium on Friday, 29 September 2017, or leave a comment below!