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Thursday 4th January 2001
Michael Omer Interview by Associated Press

British composer writes piece inspired by radio waves from the stars
By Steven C. Johnson Associated press writer - Interviewed by phone from Latvia
AP report released on the wire 04.01.2001:

RIGA, Latvia (AP) _ British composer Michael Omer has written an orchestral piece based on the buzzes, bleeps and clanging sounds that a Soviet-era telescope in Latvia makes as it receives radio waves from outer space.

Omer said in an interview Wednesday that he was inspired to write the one-movement composition after hearing television and radio reports about the telescope, called Little Star, by the British Broadcasting Corp.

The BBC reports included recordings of the vibrating sounds the telescope's antennas make when they detect radio waves.

"Little Star Began to Sing," written for string orchestra, will premiere at the Guildhall School of Music in London on Feb. 3, Omer said.

Before Latvia regained independence following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the 600-ton telescope was the centerpiece of a top secret military base in a forest on the country's Baltic Sea coast.

Soviet forces used it to monitor satellite communications between the United States and Western Europe. When Russian troops left the country in 1993, they tried to disable it.

But in recent years, a small group of Latvian astronomers managed to partly restore the telescope to view far-off stars and galaxies. They say it's among the most powerful radio telescopes in the world.

Omer, who has also written music to commemorate the ill-fated 1986 voyage of the U.S. space shuttle Challenger, said his 15-minute piece reflects the story of Little Star.

"It begins eerily, with high-pitched harmonic squeaks inspired by sounds the telescope makes, and it includes a quite violent section to mark its Soviet period," he said by telephone from London, where he lives.

Astronomers have struggled to raise money from the Latvian government to fully restore the telescope. They say they only have money to operate it three weeks a year.

Juris Zagars, an astronomer who helped revive the telescope, said he hopes Omer's music will focus attention on Little Star's plight.

"It's something really incredible," said Zagars, speaking about Omer's composition from the telescope facility. "I hope it will help change opinions in our governing circles about the importance of what we're doing."

Zagars said he hopes to convince city authorities in nearby Ventspils, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) west of Latvia's capital, Riga, to stage a fund-raising performance of "Little Star Began to Sing."

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