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Apollo: For All Mankind, Brighton Dome Concert Hall, Church Street, May 1 and 2
In 1982, not long after Brian Eno had finished pioneering the sampling technique he used on David Byrne’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, a Texan called Al Rheinert approached him to compose a soundtrack to a film he’d created.
As the only person alive to have viewed every inch of the six million feet of film that captured every bit of every Apollo mission – a process which took him two years – Rheinert was as maverick a man as Eno.
Eno’s Apollo album, a landmark work in ambient music, and Reinert’s idyllic documentary vision of the space mission, For All Mankind, were the results.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing last year, the two pieces were combined in their first ever live arrangement at London’s Science Museum.
The fruits of that union and performance now come to Brighton Festival.
Eno says Apollo: For All Mankind will be a wonderful sonic surprise for two reasons. It is an orchestral version by young Korean composer Woojun Lee, who is only 22, and it is scored for an unusual set of instruments played by British music innovators the Icebreaker ensemble.
Icebreaker founder member James Poke agrees. “The interaction when live music and video are brought together and when a studio album that was never written to be played live is re-imagined for that arena make this project fascinating.
“Icebreaker has a specific instrumentation and a distinctive sound. Getting BJ Cole has been crucial, too. We don’t have a pedal steel guitar and BJ is one of the world’s finest.”
Part of the reason Apollo became such a revered record was in the way Eno took the spacescapes from 1975’s Another Green World and arranged them with Daniel Lanois’ laid-back pedal steel guitar.
The recording engulfs the listener and captures the feel of space travel and weightlessness, making it perhaps Eno’s warmest record ever.
Capturing that rich sound to honour the record’s feeling was paramount for the Icebreaker ensemble, who originally formed from a group of York University students and alumni friends in 1989 to play a Dutch music festival they’d organised to honour their hero, the radical composer Louis Andriessen. Adding their distinctive sound to the performance was another priority.
“It’s probably the more abstract ambient tracks that divert furthest from the originals,” says Poke. “Matta for example, and Signals has its own flavour.
“It is a studio album, so it’s very difficult to transcribe to a score in a conventional sense. For us, it’s been about taking some of those sounds and trying to present the same feeling with the instruments we have; to colour it through our bigger palette.”
The ensemble are all classically-trained and employ pan-pipes, saxes, electric violin and cello, guitars, percussion, accordion and keyboards, as well instruments for which there is no classical canon such as bass guitar.
After having chosen Woojun Lee to arrange – Poke says his application was terrible and his practical experience limited, but the resulting music was mesmeric – Eno took a hands-off approach, leaving the arranger and the ensemble to follow his vision. They have fitted his 50-minute album to an edited version of Reinert’s film which has been relieved of its spoken word component.
The results should, if nothing else, be fascinating.
* Starts 9pm, tickets £10 to £18.50. Call 01273 709709