INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Guardian JULY 22, 2009 - by John L Walters
BRIAN ENO'S APOLLO
This multimedia performance pulled together musical strands that rarely touch, let alone intertwine: devised and composed music; acoustic and electronic; modern and postmodern. Apollo is an ambient album that was made in 1983 by Brian Eno, his brother Roger and Canadian guitarist-producer Daniel Lanois. It's a "library album" of atmosphere, used by film-maker Al Reinert to accompany For All Mankind (1989), a documentary about the moon landings painstakingly edited down from endless reels of Nasa footage. On learning that some of the astronauts took recordings of country music with them into space, Eno included some "zero-gravity country music", with sweet slide guitar sunk deep into long reverberations, a sonic metaphor for the vast emptiness of space.
For this concert, the young South Korean composer Jun Lee was commissioned to transcribe the original Apollo tracks to be played by a stripped-down version of the ensemble Icebreaker, augmented by pedal steel guitar hero BJ Cole and incorporating accordion and pan pipes. The musicians performed to an adaptation of Reinert's film, playing high above our heads on the Science Museum's giant wraparound Imax screen.
Eno, in the second of two lucid talks that prefaced the show (the first came from scientist Professor John Zarnecki), explained that tonight's would be the first-ever performance of Apollo, since the album was pieced together in a studio "the way you make a painting". The score makes little attempt to follow the movie's structure, and many of the tracks can seem slight, in keeping with Eno's aim to make music that works like perfume. Yet with the blown-up, grainy Nasa footage and Icebreaker's diligent musicianship, this "weightlessness" becomes moving and sublime. Apollo's moonstruck ambience has aged gracefully, and Lee's spare, fiercely intelligent orchestration gave it the bloom of youth.