INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Financial Times JULY 21, 2009 - by Ludovic Hunter-Tilney
BRIAN ENO'S APOLLO, SCIENCE MUSEUM, LONDON
Countless film and television reconstructions have left clear guidelines for the typical Apollo 11 soundtrack. Thunderous orchestral arrangements as the fire-spewing rocket takes off. Awe-inspiring synths as Earth is seen from space. Tense staccato beats as worried faces chew nails in mission control. A harmonic flood of relief as the small step for man and giant leap for mankind are taken.
Brian Eno's 1983 album Apollo was made for a documentary about the moon landing. Characteristically, the pioneer of ambient music eschewed grand declamatory effects in favour of a subtler approach, focusing on a small, seemingly trivial detail of the mission.
Performed at the Science Museum to mark Apollo 11's fortieth anniversary, the score was jokingly introduced by Eno as an attempt to write "zero gravity country music". The inspiration came from the astronauts' choice of country-and-western as their favoured on-board listening. The actual mission unfolded to the good ol' boy cowboy sounds of George Jones and Merle Haggard, not spacey electronics and romantic flights of fancy.
Apollo, a collaboration between Eno, his brother Roger and the producer Daniel Lanois, hadn't been performed live before. Arranged by the young composer Woojun Lee, it was played by Icebreaker, a thirteen-piece group dedicated to contemporary classical music. Woozy country licks were provided by the pedal steel guitar specialist B.J. Cole. Footage of the landing accompanied the music on the Science Museum's vast Imax cinema screen.
There was a strangely downbeat mood to the opening scenes of the rocket's launch. Mournful drones with the odd beep gave the event and its antiquated-looking technology a funereal aspect. A flautist and accordionist added slow hymnal rhythms to the sight of the earth floating alone in space. Thoughts of extinction came to mind, not life.
The tempo picked up with footage of the astronauts on the moon. Warm bass and a relaxed ambient beat gave them a childlike innocence as they bounced along in their outsized spacesuits. Echoing steel guitar motifs added a trippy country-and-western subtext to the planting of the US flag in the lunar soil.
Unlike the Vietnam war that Eno bitterly opposed in 1969, the moon landing was made to seem like a benign act of imperialism, a playful folly conducted by a great power. The gloomy music that struck up again as the astronauts headed back to earth also gave it an air of finality, insinuating that the days of lunar exploration are over. The result, refreshingly, was not so much a celebration of the landing as a commemoration.