Alert 747: Suspected Nuclear Test - A journey to uncover facts and create dialog through humanistic creative production. This February, Stanford University Libraries (SUL) highlights a special collection, Vela 6911 by Victor Gama, with an exhibit on display in the Green Library South Lobby from February 3- March 9, 2015. Vela 6911 is a multimedia musical piece created by Victor Gama, an Angolan composer and designer of contemporary musical instruments for new music. This exhibit offers a glimpse into this vast collection of research, images, video content and musical scores that reside in the SUL Archive of Recorded Sound. It also supports and coincides with the March 6th live performance of VELA 6911 by Gama, the Stanford University New Ensemble and special guests from Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). Information about the concert is at the Stanford Events Page.
Vela 6911 is a musical dialogue inspired by a diary of a South African Navy officer, Lieutenant Lindsey Rooke, who took part in a secret atmospheric nuclear weapons test conducted in 1979 off the coast of Antarctica. The test, detected by a US satellite called Vela, was the validation of the Apartheid military power that engulfed the whole Southern African region in a ‘cold-war’ conflict in the late 70s and 80s. The text of her diary is her account, on board one of the ships to the test site. It reveals someone in conflict over a love for nature and the military mission she was on, which left a trace of devastation, death and radioactive contamination in one of the most pristine and protected environments on earth. There is a talk, "The Vela Incident", in conjunction with the exhibit and concert at the Center for African Studies on Feb. 25th in Encina Hall West, room 202.
The idea to compose Vela 6911 started at Stanford in 2010 when Gama was a SiCa Arts Visitor at the Humanities Center. Valuable contributions during the research phase of this project were provided by Stanford University Libraries and specifically by librarian, Regina Roberts. The piece was subsequently commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and premiered at Harris Theater in 2012. It was presented at the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon in 2013 and in Luanda in 2014. Vela 6911’s video component was shot in Antarctica by Gama in January 2012.
In 2013, Gama gifted all of his Vela 6911 research and production content materials to the Archive of Recorded Sound (ARS) at Stanford University Libraries. This collection features 507 videos, 3,093 high-resolution photographs, 600 research documents, scanned original scores and performance information. A team from the ARS and Digital Library Systems and Services, the information technology arm of SUL that provides digitization, digital preservation and access systems and services, are collaborating on the VELA 6911 accession; it serves as a useful case study and will inform pioneering approaches in support of the preservation and use of contemporary, media-rich research collections.
This multi-faceted collaboration also represents the important role of libraries in the cycle of research, access to historical insight, creative output, and thinking through contemporary issues and challenges.
The performance of this piece by the Stanford New Ensemble with Gama and special guests from CCRMA is a unique opportunity to make this archival collection come alive.
[To maintain confidentiality, informant names have been anonymized.]