Mojo JULY 24, 2009 - by Danny Eccleston


I can't be the only one in whom the fortieth anniversary celebrations of man on the moon has occasioned a vast melancholy. While you could easily depict the space race as a propaganda bar-brawl between two now-discredited ideologies, history isn't owned solely by its authors. Besides, I'm not so much mourning the spirit of space exploration - unfashionable or unaffordable, or both, in 2009 - as the inner child who built Airfix lunar modules and sat transfixed by the Kermit-like Carl Sagan and his (I now recognise) somewhat specious Cosmos.

Thanks to the space race, I grew up with a romantic vision of humankind as ants crawling bravely up the chequered tablecloth of our peripheral galaxy, and it was (let's say it) better than a vision of humanity as wharf-rats devouring each other in a sump filled with their own detritus. Besides, without "man" reaching for the stars on a regular basis - the Voyagers, Skylabs, Salyuts, even Shuttles and Beagles - and the almost-permanent presence of marimba-thrashing space loon Sir Patrick Moore, what is it exactly that kids get served on Newsround these days? Knife crime? Aqua-hobbit Tom Daley? Celebrity knife crime with Tom Daley?

Al Reinert's trippily paced documentary, For All Mankind, belongs to a previous era of space nostalgia. Although made in 1983, it waited until 1989 - Apollo XI's twentieth birthday - for release, and the music commissioned for that film, written and performed by Brian Eno, Roger Eno and Daniel Lanois, actually emerged first. At Tuesday's celebration of Apollo XI's anniversary, London's Science Museum screened footage from the film in their I-Max cinema (usual fare: 3D Monsters From The Deep), accompanied by a live performance of Eno's soundtrack, re-arranged by Korean composer Woojun Lee and performed by crack post-classical combo Icebreaker.

Eno's deployment of Lanois's twangbient electric guitar, a reference to the Country & Western tapes taken into space by the Apollo astronauts, is central to his piece. Its spacey reverberations fit the vast canvas, but it also connects with the idea of an expanding American frontier, a ghostly crosstalk between generations of US pioneer. At Tuesday's Science Museum show, Lanois' guitar role was taken by pedal-steel avatar BJ Cole, a musician who has taken his instrument into FX-enabled art-rock territory with Björk, Spiritualized and others. It is not the only aspect of the music that has been improved in the new version, and Cole's delivery of Eno's lilting themes has a liquid quality that makes Lanois' originals sound somewhat coarse or, more charitably, pre-space-age, by comparison.

The Eno redux wasn't the only music commissioned for the Science Museum's event. As space cadets milled in the Making Of The Modern World gallery (climactic exhibit: Apollo 10's actual command module) awaiting entry to the cinema, they were treated to the laptop/glitch texturescapes of Douglas Benford and Iris Garrelfs. Whilst on a cerebral level, there was much in this music to provoke a regular "ooh, that's interesting", it took Icebreaker's deft and soulful playing of Lee/Eno's Apollo score to underline what was lacking. This remains some of the most effortlessly melodic music Eno has ever made, and even without the heart-leap visuals of Saturn V clearing the tower or the shells of rocket stages falling away toward a distant planet Earth, or the somehow-wise, still ash plateau of the moon, Deep Blue Day and An Ending (Ascent) have a searing, magnetic quality that never pales.

Between them, Eno, Lee and the Science Museum have delivered an imaginative coup de théâtre - almost worthy, you might say, of humankind's own giant leap. Far out.