Electronics and the depiction of space
This evocation of complex cultural narratives about historical and technological change that we chose to introduce into the Museum with the concerts inevitably relies on the specific characteristics and conventions of the chosen music. The first aspect to note is that Apollo is the work of an artist firmly identified as working in electronic music. It is relevant to this discussion that in the same period that we were developing the concert, electronic music was one candidate theme for a major new gallery: the impact of electricity and electronics on society was selected as a valuable exemplar of the interaction of technology and culture. In other words, not just space technology, but also the devices and history of electronic music – which have since been explored in the museum’s temporary exhibition Oramics to Electronica – are important themes for us. At the concert, in addressing both together, we gestured toward the existing interplay between space exploration and the conventions of its aural representation.
There is no evidence that with Apollo Eno saw himself as composing a member of the genre “space music”, any more than he aligns his work with “New Age”. Eno’s term is “ambient music”, a category that he has employed since 1978:
An ambience is defined as an atmosphere, or a surrounding influence: a tint. My intention is to produce original pieces ostensibly (but not exclusively) for particular times and situations … . Whereas the extant canned music companies proceed from the basis of regularizing environments by blanketing their acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncrasies, Ambient Music is intended to enhance these. Whereas conventional background music is produced by stripping away all sense of doubt and uncertainty (and thus all genuine interest) from the music, Ambient Music retains these qualities. (Eno 2004)
“Space music”, by contrast, is a listener’s category describing “music that evokes a feeling of contemplative spaciousness” (Wikipedia 2013). That feeling may be a side effect of much music, but it is not, with Apollo, an authorial intention.
Brian Eno: The Lost Day, from On Land
For Apollo, Eno and his collaborators depicted space by developing the sonic language of place previously heard on his On Land released in the previous year, 1982. Apollo shares some of the qualities of that record, notably the “organic” drone textures produced by slowing recordings and elaborate studio manipulations. Interviewed about On Land, Eno argued that
One of the big freedoms of music had been that it didn't have to relate to anything – nobody listened to a piece of music and said, “What's that supposed to be, then?”, the way they would if they were looking at an abstract painting; music was accepted as abstract. I wanted to try and make music which attempted to be figurative, for example by using lots of real noises. So on On Land, a lot of the sounds don't come from instruments but stones, chains and wood, all sorts of things which make the complex noises that real things make – because most instruments make extremely focused noises. (Gill 1998)
He noted of Apollo that with “so many processings and reprocessings – it's a bit like making soup from the leftovers of the day before, which in turn was made from leftovers” (Prendergast 1989).
And, in speaking of the representation of space, he has said:
I started to think in terms of very big interstellar spaces. There’s no sound in space, but we always imagined that there would be enormous long echoes. And it just so happened that around that time technology had reached the point where you could make enormously long echoes. So the sound of space in everything you hear now involves enormously long echoes. (Eno 2009)
In this, we may note that the spatial assumptions of composers may project distinctly earthly acoustics onto outer space. But the aural quality was produced by the new technology of digital delay lines acquired by recording studios from 1971, when the Lexicon/Gotham Delta T-101 Digital Delay was introduced. Referring to the cassettes taken by the astronauts on the missions, he stated:
I had this idea of “zero gravity Country Music”. It was the idea of taking all the terms and conventions of Country Music and stretching them to galactic distances so that every echo became incredibly long and the notes became very long and big; the rhythms were slow and heavy and dark. (Eno 2009)
Eduard Artemiev: M6 from Solaris
It would be misleading to suggest that Apollo is entirely sui generis, as it evidently has much in common with other aspects of the sonic representation of space. Apollo is part of a tradition of science fictional representation of space using various kinds of electronic drones; another distinguished example is Eduard Artemiev’s score for Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Solaris, realized using the Russian ANS synthesizer (Smirnov 2011: 226-234). Tarkovsky favoured the use of electronic sound because “electronic music has exactly that capacity for being absorbed into the sound. It can be hidden behind other noises and remain indistinct; like the voice of nature, of vague intimations … . It can be like somebody breathing” (Tarkovsky 1989: 163). We may note at this point that his version of Solaris, unlike Stanislaw Lem’s source story, is more about inner than outer space. Artemiev’s score may in turn be placed in comparison to the microtonal choral cluster chords of Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna used in Kubrick’s 2001. Once again, it is also worth alluding to the associations that both performers and listeners made between “spacey” subjects and the kinds of music enabled by the new electronic instruments and recording techniques, including, for example, Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples of the Moon from 1967, realized using Don Buchla’s voltage controlled synthesizer design (Pinch and Trocco 2009: 142-4).
Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, Roger Eno: An Ending (Ascent) II, from Icebreaker’s recording of Apollo