May 23, 2017

Astrotunes.

Startrails.

Star Trails over Las Cienegas, Arizona. (Photo by Author).

Astronomy is often a solitary, contemplative activity. Sure, our passion for the night sky can have some communal facets, such as star parties and the like, but ultimately, we all find ourselves at one time or another alone under the skies. I believe this type of outward reflection is vital to a well rounded perspective, and necessary in today’s fast paced world. For this reason some astronomers I know abhor the idea of bringing any background music at all into the field, preferring instead to let the “music of the spheres” do the talking. Others like the enhancement that music can bring for the very same reason. We here at Astroguyz would contend that you can indeed have both, at one time or another. Of course, music, like politics and bad movies, is very much a matter of taste; we probably wouldn’t blast Metallica at a busy star party or at a crowded campground. Still, when astronomy takes you out to the remote wilds, you can convince yourself that you’re the only soul in the universe. Music can add another dimension to that. Don’t worry, we won’t rehash the tired old choices of 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Dark Side of the Moon; our intent is to reveal some progressive, hidden musical gems to stargaze by. Nor will we jump on the “What’s on our Ipod” bandwagon. Of course, classical music is always a natural choice, and could well be a post of its own.

telescope.

Scope+Sky+….Tunes? (Credit: The Ford Astronomy Club).

What follows is a short list of some of our star gazing faves (play list tested in the field!) that are worth digging up;

Björk: Icelandic diva Björk Guðmundsdóttir has a voice and arcane style of her own. I have fond memories of watching a circumpolar Hale-Bopp from my apartment living room window in North Pole, Alaska, lights out and Björk playing in the background. Any of her albums are good, but I would especially recommend Telegram, which is her effort at her earlier album, Post, re-envisioned.

Nine Inch Nails: Say what? That earache of a group my teenager melted his brain on in the ‘90′s? Believe it or not, a careful selection of NIN can prove to be very spacey in an ominous sort of way. Give the album The Downward Spiral a listen through.

Evanescence :Very haunting music, to say the least. Play the first two albums the next time you’re out in the field. Your kids will be amazed that you could be so hip…can their minds successfully contain both concepts at once?

Pink Floyd: OK, I know we said we wouldn’t be predictable. But did you know that there’s more to Pink Floyd than Dark Side of the Moon? Wish You Were Here, Animals, and UmmaGumma are all suitably cosmic. Of honorable note is Echoes, a 20 minute plus opus which once occupied the entire flip side of the LP (remember actual records?) Meddle back in days of yore.

Rush: Every techno geek was first exposed to rock via Canadian icons Rush. The early to middle era prog-rock albums are the most suited to astronomy; start at Caress of Steel & 2112 and work your way forward to about Power Windows. Of special note: Cygnus X-1 off of A Farewell to Kings.

Tool: Progressive Metal lives! Tool is a thinking man’s metal. I’ve heard them blasting from the car stereo of more than one amateur astronomer… their companion band, A Perfect Circle, is of the same vein. Triad off of Lateralus is classic Tool.

Sonic Youth: Ultra-hip New York City rockers Sonic Youth are also given to producing a soaring, 20 minute opus or two. Again, mix all of their trippiest stuff for best results. Sonic Youth can range from extremely melodic to radical dissonance, so consider yourself warned. Some highlights are; The Diamond Sea (off of Washing Machine) and the entire albums of Sonic Nurse and the Destroyed Room. Real Mars Volta stuff. Listen if you dare!

Gregorian chant: Are your ears bleeding yet? Some Gregorian chant would definitely sooth the cosmic soul. The first album by the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos is a definite star gazing staple.

Star Wars Soundtracks: So hokey, they’re just plain fun! People sometimes forget that the music really made the films… Darth Vader’s movement from the Empire Strikes Back is one of our faves. Lucas wisely stuck with John Williams to score the prequels, as well!

Apocalyptica: A Finnish cello quartet, this foursome moved from covering Metallica tunes on their first album to their own full length originals. And your kids thought cellos weren’t cool!

Requiem for the Americas: I bought this largely unknown album way back in the early 90′s, and its periodically made it on my stargazing play list ever since! Worth digging up in used music stores or Amazon, it features tributes to Native American culture from, among others, Suzanna Hoffs, Jim Morrison, and more!

Hamza El Adin: One of the few Arabic albums in our stash that isn’t kiosk dance music. Hamza is the master of the Oud. The music is as forlorn and spare as the desert…a perfect accompaniment for a night of astro-imaging!

Johnny Cash: One of the country western greats. Johnny makes the cut because of the expansiveness of his work. The poetry of his music sings true to the soul. I was especially glad that Rick Rubin managed to get American Recordings I-V out of him right before he passed on. Hey, Johnny even does a NIN song!

Hendrix: Of course, everyone knows that Hendrix was an alien anyway. Were else could he have come up with such out of this world riffs? Electric Ladyland was one of his best.

The Doors: I almost forgot one of the quintessential best; every teenager diagnosed with angst goes through a Jim Morrison phase. I listened to nothing but the Doors all of 1992. Ok, at 24, I was a late bloomer. But The End off of the self titled first album is a great star gazing tune!

…And the number one thing NOT to play at any astronomical gathering? How about the aptly named Spaced Out,  William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy’s ill fated journey into musical career-dom?  This also works well to keep your house free of vermin!

So there you have it; feel free to experiment with these tunes on your next run out, and mention any of your own. Of course, some of you may prefer to simply observe in silence; we do the same from time to time. We promise not to park next to you in the dark and blast out Tool. But if used properly, we feel music can sometimes enhance the viewing experience. And hey, it’s better than listening to WWV time signal broadcast into the wee hours!


Tool + A Rising Moon…

Comments

  1. WorldbyStorm says:

    Hawkwind? BTW, like the template! :)

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