Long, long ago in a far away galaxy, I directed the OBU Planetarium.
My favorite show during my time there was Starstruck Tonight, which interweaved science and art, astronomy, poetry, mythology and human creativity, all in a 40-minute survey of the winter sky.
In a future post, I’ll reconstruct the text of the show. But it would be even better if I could make available an audio file to listen to again, a soundtrack one might take outside under the stars. Needless to say, this show captures as well as I could in such a short span all that enchants me about the beauty of the night. But more than that, the narrator is Candace, whose voice is the sweetest and most beautiful sound in all creation. And the readers of the interspersed quotations include Rachel and Hannah, perhaps a year or so younger than pictured above, or in the photo below:
You decide: is this a Star Wars Cantina, or a Planetarium birthday party?
Can you count the Princess Leias?
So recovering and posting the soundtrack of Starstruck Tonight is something I’ve longed to do for a decade, but it’s not a technically trivial task. The show was recorded on ADAT tapes, as shown above. Session tapes hold the voice takes, and one is the master soundtrack. They look like SVHS tapes, which they are, but they are digital rather than analog recordings. They hold only audio, unlike video tapes. This was back in the era when a 200 MB computer hard drive seemed expansive, and each ADAT tape offered about 6 GB of digital storage!
To produce the show, instead of literally cutting and scotch taping reel-to-reel tape containing the various takes of the program, I stood in front of two synchronized ADAT decks, punching the Mark In and Mark Out buttons to splice the takes into the desired sequence, as shown in the above photo of the right side of a Fostex RD-8. The editing process took about a week, which seemed amazingly efficient at the time but would require less than an hour today in GarageBand. For our ADAT decks, we used Fostex RD-8s, each of which then cost $3,500 at a discount. (RD-8’s from the era of R2-D2; hmmmm. Their co-mingling in our planetarium proves they must be related.) This past Christmas, my parents and sisters pooled together and gave me an RD-8 they found on eBay for much more than such an obsolete piece of equipment should run, but in its day it was a glorious machine. Here’s my setup in our family room now:
A fiberoptic cable pipes 8 channels of ADAT digital audio from the Fostex RD-8 into the Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 audio interface (sitting on top of the Fostex RD-8). A firewire cable then carries the audio from the Saffire to my MacBook Pro running Logic Studio. Obtaining a Fostex RD-8 is just the first step; there remain many things that may yet go wrong. The first test was to format a new tape, to determine if the heads of the RD-8 needed cleaning – an expensive and difficult operation. The “dAtA” LED readout in the picture above was shot during formatting, and with great relief I can report that the formatting worked, so the heads appear to be okay. It still may be that the Starstruck Tonight tapes have aged beyond recovery, but my prayer is that, finally, due to the generosity of my family with this Christmas gift, those voices from the past will live again! In a few weeks, if successful, I’ll post the text and soundtrack for Starstruck Tonight.
“The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”” (Ezekiel 37:1–6)
Gallery of photos, including pictures of the installation of the planetarium. See also the Liberal Arts Planetarium powerpoint presentations for an explanation of the academic mission of the OBU Planetarium during my tenure.