INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
NPR JUNE 12, 2012 - by Tom Huizenga
ANALOG FOR ASTRONAUTS: AN AMBIENT CLASSIC REIMAGINED
When producer, composer and multimedia artist Brian Eno began his series of ambient music projects in the late 1970s, something about those serene, spacious soundscapes resonated deeply with me. I nearly wore out my vinyl copies of Music For Airports, The Plateaux Of Mirror and Music For Films.
Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks, from 1983, is another such masterwork of evocative tranquility. Eno, joined by his brother Roger Eno and Daniel Lanois, created a soundtrack for the film For All Mankind, which documented the Apollo space missions.
Now that gently buoyant, primarily synthesizer-based music lives on in an arrangement for more traditional instruments by Woojun Lee. Apollo, released on June 26, is performed by Icebreaker, the twelve-member UK ensemble.
The album, recorded live, grew out of a series of performances the group gave accompanying NASA footage at London's Science Museum in 2009, celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the lunar landings.
It seems the Apollo astronauts were fond of country music, and on the original album, Lanois' pedal steel guitar rings out on a few tracks. Eno joked that they were making "zero gravity country and western." On the new recording, it's BJ Cole's pedal steel that soars with melody on Deep Blue Day, and floats like so much crystalline space dust on Weightless.
The new album can't quite match Eno's depth of field - the vastness of space on the original is palpable - or his otherworldly intonations, from whizzing gizmos to odd grunting that sounds like some giant space creature's anguished mating call.
But Lee and Icebreaker's new instrument choices are creative. The insistent three-note descending theme in The Secret Place, originally a reverberant synth tone, is replaced by breathy panpipes. And in the excellent An Ending (Ascent) II, the simple repeated melody, so infused with yearning, is beautifully rendered with a blend of flutes, accordion and Cole's searching pedal steel.
This isn't the first time Eno's electronic ambient music has been beefed up with traditional instruments. The new music collective Bang On A Can (on whose label, Cantaloupe Music, this new album is released) recorded a successful conventional-instruments arrangement of Eno's first ambient record, Music For Airports, in 1998. And similarly, Maxim Moston recently created a gorgeous orchestral arrangement of William Basinski's The Disintegration Loops for the tenth anniversary of September 11.