Greenwich at sunset. Legs astride the Meridian, one can gaze across to the carbuncle now known as the O2, at the blinking lights atop Britain’s tallest building Canada Tower, at Old Father Thames meandering timelessly amongst the cityscape.
Above it all, fading from yellow through grey-brown to black, the sky. 50 years since the USSR sent the first Sputnik orbiter mission to up there, Fernando Corona’s electronica opus Cosmos was ready for launch.
Fittingly, at the recently opened Peter Harrison Planetarium we would hear – and see – Murcof‘s album 50 years to the day since that bold moment on the space race timeline. Past collected space artefacts, from telescopes to meteor chunks, our path into tonight’s thrilling venue eventually brought us to the planetarium room itself. There we were told to sit as far back as possible on the tilted armchairs.
As the lights dimmed and the expansive, phat synth echoes of Cuerpo Celeste stirred to life, the convex roof lit up with sparkling, twinkling stars. A pulsing beat, giving an impression of motion to counter the echo-laden strings, church organ, ambient tones and sub-bass drones, defined a soundtrack perfectly matched by happenings around our heads.
First of our celestial neighbours to appear, slowly at first, then quicker and quicker, was the guardian of our night, the Moon. Craters, shadowed by the angle of the sun’s rays, became visible, became hidden, then visible again.
Next, lines defining constellation shapes appeared, a centaur here, a scorpion there, before we zoomed almost in three dimensional motion out to our neighbouring planets. From tiny sounds to floor-shaking reverbration, Murcof’s music gave form and personality to them all, from the most innocuous asteroid to the most colossal gas giant.
The vast Jupiter filled the ceiling, sunny side up, before a spin around its circumference zeroed in on the Great Red Spot, cause for a stormy musical interlude. Jupiter’s satellites, places of fascination for Arthur C Clarke in his Space Odyssey series, were introduced. Saturn, with her majestic rings, loomed into sight. Cometa soundtracked the rapid-fire movement of – yes – a comet’s path around our heads as the planets continued their orbits.
A last surge around the outer reaches of the Solar System slingshotted us to within burning distance of the Sun itself, solar flares leaping up like erotic dancers from the ball of yellow’s surface. And then, as Oort played out, a familiar orb of green and blue, swathed in cotton wool-like ribbons, appeared. We were home, and Earth, with the Pacific Ocean returning our gaze, seemed just a little smaller than we’d remembered.
Only at the end did we notice the bearded Corona lurking at the back of the room, from where he’d played the record live. We could have been at an album playback, for it was the interplanetary performance that we’d watched, not the work of a musician at the vanguard of electronica. But there he was, one little man and his technology, striking out towards that vastness which lies beyond. In this decidedly proggy setting the Solar System and our galaxy the Milky Way had been set out and contextualised, soundtracked to music which, like that of Gustav Holst, was written for heavenly bodies beyond our ken. In such a setting, Corona’s music made absolute, timeless sense.