The first code I had a go at was
Voices from Moon from 2011. It looked easier than the other coloured line codes, and the title would seem to have been giving a big clue as to what might be involved. I was thinking 'Moon Landing' from 1969. The code runs to nine pages and here is the first of them:

Reproduced thanks to the understanding of the One Million Years Foundation.

I reckoned that Voice from Moon would be in American English. So I set to work. I started by working out which one-letter words must be 'A' and 'I'. And I was just about to start working systematically through the two-letter words when I took a wild stab at the first word. 'HOUSTON'. The fact that the second and penultimate letters were the same - two blue lines (easier to see in the above repro than the ones below) - which might be 'O', fitted in with where two blue lines cropped up further down the page. Especially at the beginning and end of two-letter words (such as 'TO', 'OF' and 'ON').


I tried not to get over-excited. I realised that the delightful process of working out the message was a gift from On Kawara. A process that I recorded with a set of photos in the hope that this would be rewarding in ways that I couldn't predict. I tried to keep to a system of discovering a letter and going through the whole document marking in that letter. But occasionally I would identify a word spontaneously and then I could not help jumping ahead of the systematic decoder in me and printing it on the paper.


The word 'tranquility'.

The phrase 'Sea of Tranquility'.

'Fantastic', sure enough!

'The eagle has landed', oh yes it has!


'YOU'VE GOT A BUNCH OF GUYS ABOUT TO TURN BLUE. WE'RE BREATHING AGAIN THANKS A LOT. THANK YOU YOU'RE LOOKING GOOD HERE. A VERY SMOOTH TOUCHDOWN.' A sea of tranquility with everyone breathing in and out as if they had an unlimited supply of oxygen. 'VENTING THE OX'? Oh yes. They had to vent the ox in order to have access to that limitless sea of tranquility.

Now there are another eight pages of
Voices from Moon, but I thought I would leave the decoding exercise there. I can tell you the word 'BUZZ' doesn't turn up. Nor 'MAGNIFICENT'. One page contains the words 'TRANQUILITY', 'TRANQUILITY' and 'ARMSTRONG'. Another contains 'TRANQUILITY', COLLINS and 'DESCRIPTION'. The last contains 'UNINTELLIGIBLE', 'CRATERED', 'THOUSANDS OF LITTLE CRATERS' and 'DIFFICULT'. I guess On realised at that point it was time for him to stop too.

What version of the Moon Transcript was On using? Well, Anders Delbom sent me the following clipping which is what appeared on the first page of
New York Times on July 21, 1969. It would seem that On Kawara just focussed on the words spoken, hence 'Houston' was the first word to be coded.


Much larger parts of the transcript were printed over page 4 and 5 of that day's New York Times. Funnily enough, On's 'I READ' file for the day doesn't include any of this material as such. But then he did include the whole of that day's New York Times in a specially made cardboard box that goes with the size 'H' Date Painting JULY 21, 1969. Note the column on the left.


As I said at the top of this essay, the code was made in 2011. Why then? Well, in 2012 a book was published.
On Kawara: Date Painting in New York and 136 Other Cities. This is its cover:


Here is the contents page, which I marked up as part of a separate exercise. Note 'Voice from Moon'.


I can't help think that it's significant that this book, full of reproductions of Date Paintings from 1966 to 2011, contains the nine pages of Moon dialogue as well as photos of On Kawara's studio back in 1966, the year he began making the Dates and covered the walls of his enormous studio with 243 Date paintings. Sure, there are also three essays selected by On Kawara. But that Code - which would have taken him days of concentrated effort to do - and those photos of his studio, represent two amazing things that stayed with On Kawara though the days and the years. That first year of Date Painting… That long weekend when he Date Painted all day and night trying at one with the astronauts. Let me put it this way. On about the fifth page of his meticulous coloured line work, I envisage this voice coming into his head:

Voice from Moon:

"On, Tranquilty Base here. The Eagle has landed."

"Roger, Tranquility. I copy you on the ground. You've got
a Japanese guy about to turn blue. I'm breathing again. Thanks a lot."

"You get back to your Date Painting, On. What we're doing up here is a small step for man. What you're up to in New York is a giant leap for mankind."

I am smiling happily as I take the blue coloured pencil from the rack of five colours and makes two neat marks with it, one above the other.


Then I take the black pencil and make a tick. And follow it up with a tick from the orange pencil. Which giveses me:


And I leave it at that.


Here is the code if anyone wants to take it further.

A: Black/blue
B: Green/orange
C: Red/red
D: Blue/green
E: Red/green
F: Black/orange
G: Green/red
H: Blue/red
I: Orange/green
J: No examples on page one. Either Blue/black or Orange/blue. See Z.
K: Black/green
L: Blue/orange
M: Orange/orange
N: Red/orange
O: Blue/blue
P: Orange/red
Q: Red/blue
R: Green/green
S: Green/black
T: Orange/black
U: Black/red
V: Green/blue
W: Two Vs (The method by which 25 symbols stand for 26 letters).
Y: Black/black
Z: No examples on page one. Either Blue/black or Orange/blue. See K.