Moon Landing Music

We love a good anniversary.  50 years ago this weekend, man walked on the moon.  From Bandcamp to bookstores to cinemas, the celebration is now in full force.  In this article, we cover nine new musical options ~ perhaps you’ll find a score for your very own moon party!

Rhian Sheehan‘s score to CAPCOM GO! The Apollo Story (NSC Creative) sounds triumphant from start to finish, a contrast to the composer’s more nuanced solo works.  But that’s okay; we want to feel proud of what we as a species have accomplished, to share in the joy now as the world did back then.  One of the more compact releases on this list, CAPCOM accomplishes its goal: to remind us of heroism, of ideals, of a time when “for one priceless moment … all the people on this earth (were) truly one.”


A few more film scores fall in the modern composition category as well.  Chris Roe‘s Armstrong is brand new; the film is narrated by Harrison Ford, but the music conveys complex feelings with great efficiency.  Again we hear the soaring strings, the sense of striving, the feeling of accomplishment.  But there’s also time for nuance (“She Was So Young”), introspection (“A Quiet Life”) and even trepidation (“Space Race”).  The electronic touches remind us that synth music was just coming into vogue at the time, and was associated with everything futuristic.  The score is released on Milan Records, who not coincidentally also released Matt Morton‘s score to Apollo 11 earlier this year.  That one is a little more somber, emphasizing the uncertainty of the launch following so many setbacks, even deaths; and the pressure of competing with the Russian space program in the heart of the Cold War.  Hard electronic tracks such as “Liftoff and Staging” Imply that the mission might not succeed, even though we all know it will; this deepens the appreciation of the eventual triumph.  Then there’s First Man, which made only a quiet splash in cinemas last October; Justin Hurwitz‘ score, however, won awards for its reflection of difficult emotions and its refusal to use obvious tropes.

It’s only fair to mention Brian Eno‘s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, which also began life as a film score (1983’s For All Mankind) and is now re-released in a remastered edition with a bonus disc by the original team of Brian and Roger Eno and Daniel Lanois.  This influential album has contributed an invisible, imagined sound to the moon, more akin to a space walk than a moon landing, amplifying the sense of isolation the astronauts must have felt so far from home.  Fun fact:  “An Ending (Ascent) was also included on the soundtrack to 28 Days Later!

Another ambitious new release is Jeff Mills‘ Moon: The Area of Influence, which ventures beyond the Apollo mission to reference the wider symbolism of Earth’s first satellite.  Over the course of the LP, Mills calls attention to light, lunacy, tides and sleep; the moon casts a wider shadow than we might think.  While his trademark techno is firmly in space (beginning with highlight “Stabilizing the Spin”), there’s also an ambient sheen to the production, with tracks such as “Sleep-Wake Cycles” and “Peaks of Eternal Light” toying with expectations.  Earlier works “Approaching the Moon,” “Woman in the Moon” and “A Trip to the Moon” were just prelude; this is Mills’ moon opus (Axis Records).

Italian composer Olivia Belli has just released Four Moons, a piano-drenched EP that concentrates on the four phases of the moon, lending them a new age sheen.  The new age movement revolves around the celestial, but the moon came first, and she gives it its due.  Tender strings sing of “the Lady,” while light synths imitate the pinging of the capsule.  Meanwhile, Nottingham’s Pat Keista mixes genres on the diverse E11EVEN, which includes hints of ambience, modern composition, electronics and even a bit of rock, sometimes within the same track (the 14-minute highlight “Alla Luna”).  While it swiftly branches out to other planets, the release is another fine example of lunar inspiration.


And finally we have Cities & Memory‘s Space Is the Place, a compilation which weds recordings from NASA and the European Space Agency to a wide variety of musical approaches.  The field recordings are as old as Sputnik and as new as the ISS (Eshaskech‘s sparkling opener “Star Gazer ISS”). Roberta Fidora‘s glissandos in “Huygens” sound like falling stars, a contrast to the rhythmic beats and closing wordless vocals.  For the preliminary story, check the newscast soundscape of Sherman and Field‘s “We Have Lift-Off” and Things Being Various‘ charming, bucolic “That’s the Kind of Information We Like to Have.”  But be prepared to branch out.  Scott Wilson‘s quarter-hour “Machine Futures” is the most Eno-esque, leading off a string of four ambient pieces.  Then Andy Lyon breaks the tranquility with the static-charged techno of “Enceladus,” while Simon Woods‘ bizarre “One Step” uses foreign language as a commentary on unfamiliar rhythms, finally falling into place with the famous (albeit stuttered) English quote.  (Is that a Yamaha DX-7?)  The tapestry is rich, the colors bounteous.


We were sad to hear that India had cancelled its scheduled moon launch last week, but we have high hopes for a rescheduling.  1969 was a tumultuous time in the world, and so is 2019.  A fresh dose of the Overview Effect might remind us that we’re all in this together: a fragile species living on this beautiful blue-green planet.  Happy Moon Landing Anniversary, everyone!  (Richard Allen)

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