Here’s a fun release that will make a fine souvenir for those quick enough to procure one of the 33 existing copies. The Moon is a half-hour soundscape comprised of samples from the Apollo 8 mission, from ignition to return, enhanced by subtle yet dramatic music from Robert Heel. The album joins such stellar recordings as Machinefabriek’s Apollo, while easily topping such well-intentioned but poorly executed concept recordings as Public Service Broadcasting’s The Race for Space.
The difference between The Moon and The Race for Space is found in the execution. Each recording uses public domain samples, but Public Service Broadcasting drenches the history in dance beats, while Heel uses his textures and beats to underline the sense of wonder and achievement. For those who were around in 1968 ~ on Christmas Eve, no less ~ the tape is a beautifully concise way to relive something that has since been lost. During the space race, it seemed that anything was possible, and the sky was literally the limit. For those born later, the tape provides an access point to a pivotal moment for all humankind: the first crew to see the earth from space, to travel around the moon and to return safely. With space budgets now severely cut, we may never again know such times.
Heel alternates between ambient and electronic backgrounds, most successfully on tracks such as “Orbit”, the first track in which the beats appear, and in “Earth from 20000 Miles”, in which the subtle waves undergird the wonder of the moment. The only sonic stumbles arrive in the center. On “Moon-Clack”, the samples recede for a few minutes, returning as loops; at this point, we miss the dialogue. And on “Schritte Auf Dem Mond”, we hear Neil Armstrong reporting from Apollo 11, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” The track would have been more effective at the end (or perhaps excised and saved for later), as the final two pieces are the lovely instrumental “Behind the Moon” and “Re-Entry”, which returns to Apollo 8. But these are minor quibbles. Hearing this soundscape, one hopes for more: beginning with the tragedy of Apollo 1, peaking with the triumphs of 11 and 13 and ending with the bittersweet, final mission of Apollo 17.
The packaging is of special note, including a booklet and a mission badge, enclosed in a silver foil wrapper inspired by astronaut packets. It’s the sort of thing one might have sent away for in the 1960s, and it’s a marvel that it’s available now. We can see it selling in droves at the Kennedy Space Center, and hope the Center is given the opportunity to make this document known to a larger audience.