17.1.16

The Sounds of Earth





Instead of our usual ritual of my reading books to him at bed time Sam and I have been watching Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" together. I have never seen it it before and it has turned out to be a truly mind-boggling, stupefying and utterly humbling experience. I'm almost ashamed to say that I never knew, or really digested, that Earth is wedged between Venus and Mars; that Venus has an average surface temperature of 440ºC; that Mars' average temperature is -55ºC; that the Soviets were the first to visit Venus successfully.

The Americans, however, seem better able to express the human dimension of the Cosmos: putting a man on the Moon, successfully landing on and and finally providing pictures of Mars, producing iconic photographs like "The Blue Marble" the "Pale Blue Dot" which encapsulate the fragility and wonder of our lonely planet and concocting such luminous gimmicks as Sagan's golden "The Sounds of Earth" LP which is aboard Voyager 1 as it now hurtles out of the solar system.

There has been a queer synchronicity to our watching this against a foreground of Brit Major Tim's spacewalking and David "Blackstarman" Bowie's demise. Bowie's "Space Oddity" was for him a typically capitalist cash-in on the American moon landings. It was a market-targeted novelty record the mould of "The Laughing Gnome" but one aimed at the US market and putting his career into orbit. However, this is not to deny the sincerity of his emotions around space. Bowie was hardly alone in his generation in being spun out by the majesty of the cosmos as revealed by NASA.

Space was once the staple of Rock and Pop, most especially through the seventies and nineties. There are too many to motes mention obviously but: Sun Ra's entire oeuvre, Joe Meek's "Telstar", The Beatles "Across The Universe", The Byrds "Mr Spaceman", Tangerine Dream's "Alpha Centuri", Kraftwerk's "Space Lab", The Police "Walking On The Moon", The Icebreakers meet The Diamond "Planet Mars Dub", Underground Resistance, The Martian and probably a thousand Techno and Electronica tracks. It was a thoroughly healthy obsession in my opinion, but one which is certainly on the wane.

In terrestrial terms the two currents which are most threatening to our global stability - the disgraceful threat to our atmosphere and the detestable worldwide nationalism (the spectre behind both immigration and the meaningless cultural clash between west and east) could be, if not assuaged, at least be tempered by our lifting our eyes to the stars.