A triumph in understatement to accompany one of the greatest achievements of mankind, ‘Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks’ was possibly the most accessible of all of Brian Eno’s ambient works.
This was partly thanks thanks to its comparatively short tracks and use of conventional instruments like guitar and fretless bass alongside a newly acquired Yamaha DX7.
Working Daniel Lanois and his brother Roger (on what was to be his first recording project), Brian Eno wanted to convey the feelings of space travel by reacting against the uptempo, newsy manner of space travel presented by most TV programmes of the day with its fast cuts and speeded up images.
‘Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks’ is perhaps best known for the hovering aural sedative of ‘Deep Blue Day’ which was used in the infamous toilet scene from ‘Trainspotting’. Other notable tracks included the cosmic Americana of ‘Weightless’ and ‘An Ending (Ascent)’ featuring a drifting but dramatic church organ-like passage that acted as the blueprint to the intro of U2’s ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’. Meanwhile the tingling floatation of ‘Under Stars’ became a ubiquitous staple on a plethora of chill-out compilations.
Originally called ‘Apollo’, the film itself featured a collage of 35mm footage from all the Apollo missions to depict a single moon landing with real-time commentary but no narration. However audiences gave it a lukewarm response, so the film was revamped to include interviews conducted by Reinert with thirteen of the Apollo astronauts.
Sharing their recollections of the missions, there was additionally narration from Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins and Jim Lovell, commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13. For its 1989 release, the reworked film was titled ‘For All Mankind’.
To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon, ‘Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks’ is released as an extended edition with a bonus album containing appropriately 11 new instrumental compositions that reimagine the soundtrack to ‘For All Mankind’.
These new recordings see the two Enos and Lanois working collectively as a trio for the first time since 1983.
Beginning with ‘The End Of A Thin Cord‘, it captures the movement of the moon around the earth in a gloriously spacey sound sculpture.
As can be expected, the Lanois directed ‘Capsule’ chimes with guitar alongside organic keys but at the other end of the cosmos, Roger Eno’s ‘Waking Up’ and ‘Under The Moon’ capture a beautiful simplicity in their gently treated reverberant rings.
While ‘At The Foot Of A Ladder’ drifts with mechanical percussion looming gently in the background, ‘Clear Desert Night’ is deeply rooted in ‘Under Stars’ as synthetic wafts merge with gentle three note signals. Then there’s the starkly minimal ‘Over The Canaries’ which recalls the sleepy hush of ‘Neroli’.
With the return of Lanois’ six string, ‘Last Step From The Surface’ captures the preparations for the journey back to earth in a melancholic yet joyous mood while ‘Fine-grained’ presents a surreal take on Country and Western.
The gorgeous ‘Strange Quiet’ does as the title suggests before the closing ‘Like I Was A Spectator’ appropriately reflects the feelings of being a lunar astronaut with modern classical overtones as heard in the John Foxx side-project GHOST HARMONIC.
‘For All Mankind’ offers a soothing disconnection into the unknown even without any visuals. Following the accessible but otherworldly ethos of its classic parent album, its dreamy soundscapes and aural clusters stand up on their own, providing an escape to help both relax and remember.
‘For All Mankind’ features on the extended edition of ‘Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks’ released on 19th July 2019 in double vinyl LP and 2CD formats
Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photo by Shamil Tanna
16th July 2019