“We’re going to play some chilled out space music for you,” said Owen Connell of Plasteroid to a packed Planetarium Star Theatre on March 15th.
The band launched into their self-titled album. The audience reclined and looked up at the domed ceiling. First, the earth appeared: pale blue dot, getting smaller as we were collectively whisked off to neon nebula and electric-avenue supernova.
As a spectacle, the evening had three stars, the ambient Plasteroid, Skim Milk, a looping act with a fondness for Bach, and the venue itself, the Star Theatre at the HR MacMillan Centre.
It was an inspired alignment, one that Connell had worked to make a reality. Connell had hosted Skim Milk’s Sam Davidson on a recent episode of a Plasteroid’s weekly ambient music podcast and floated the idea of the partnership and the venue.
As Connell told Vancouver Weekly, a few weeks prior to the show, “I want the audience to ask powerful questions like ‘Why are we here?’ To sit around and look at the stars, it directs everyone to their own story.”
Why are we here? Whew, big, metaphysical questions for a Thursday. And the planets weren’t giving any hints. Instead, they rudely showed the dark sides of their moons.
Pythagoras had suggested that the planets give off a heavenly hum in the course of their orbits: musica universalis, like a finger running along the rim of a wine glass. The Pythagoreans speculated that the tenor of life on earth resulted from the movements of Mars, Mercury, and the other celestial spheres. With all the crap going on these days, it seems that at least one planet is out of tune. Maybe we shouldn’t have kicked Pluto out of the band?
It’s entirely possible that some enlightened members of the audience were connecting to the big truths of the universe through the medium of bright lights on a big screen; it is also possible that edibles might have been the rocket fuel for these cosmonauts. The rest of the audience simply enjoyed Plasteroid’s spacy grooves and Skim Milk’s future-fitted classical soundscapes. “This is so relaxing,” one attendee was heard to say, “they should do yoga classes in here.”
Skim Milk took us through the second half of the show. This performance brought together Sam Davidson aka Brasstronaut on clarinet, Tom Wherrett on guitar, James Meger, bass, and Ellen Marple, trombone. Wherrett shone on a solo, which is excellent news for the release of his new project, Lonely Astronaut. Throughout, Davidson weaved soundscapes on his clarinet: “an old instrument”, as he pointed out. He also made use of an EWI, an electronic wind instrument, like a recorder from Futurama, to create an ethereal, layered sound.
For whatever reason, by the second half we had visually come back to earth: the Planetarium’s dome flicking through tropical beaches, ancient temples, and forests. We were then blasted back out into space. The visuals were impressive in scale, but it has to be difficult for the publicly funded Star Theatre to stay one step ahead of 3D glasses at the movies. The space images were a mix of shots taken by the Hubble Telescope and more abstract graphics, pulsating orbs and spinning blue-energy thingies. The whole thing was of dubious educational value. Some attendees may now be under the impression that space is as lit as a nightclub.
Davidson looked to dig a little deeper and connect the dots between the terrestrial and celestial, between the Egyptian temples and the lunar lander displayed on the domed screen. “Does anyone know how old the first instrument is?” he asked. The answer, it turns out, is 40,000 years: a flute, carved from mammoth ivory during the deep Stone Age. Davidson observed that recorded music is only around a hundred-years-old.
Space may be daunting in its expanse but the pace we’re going is astonishing. Now we have a Tesla Roadster in orbit, and the dummy in the driver’s seat has its foot down on the gas.
Why rush into space at all? Once you escape the confines of gravity, it’s really best enjoyed at a gentle coast. Take in the sights. Listen to the ambient grooves of Plasteroid and the expansive talents of Skim Milk. Call ground control and tell them everything is all right.