Reflections from ‘The Planets’ and ‘Sun Rings’

By guest blogger Ken

This week was a particularly ugly and stressful one behind the scenes at ISDC, so I was quite happy to top it off with a local marketing display at the Las Colinas Symphony performance of Holst’s ‘The Planets’ in Irving. I normally have the phenomenal local classical music station, WRR, playing in the background in my apartment (“sounds like a museum”, quoth young Mackenzie), and heard about a triple play of ‘The Planets’ here in the Metroplex – First in Arlington (roughly southsoutheast part), then in Garland (westnorthwest), then tonight in Irving (east of DFW airport in the center). I contacted the offices, and the wonderful Ms. Hawkins took a risk on us doing our space thing at her event.

I couldn’t scare up any Thursday night volunteers, but did make it out to Garland last night to distribute materials before the show, for which Dan showed up. Dan’s one of our NSS of North Texas chapter members who is trying to get a Planetary Society chapter started here in D/FW, and is tied into the sci-fi community. He enjoyed the performance so much that he turned out tonight as well, with a lady friend.

Tonight I decided to stay through the whole thing, though I am well familiar with ‘The Planets’. I’m glad I did, because we got a very positive response from the concert goers, handed out a lot of materials, and the performance was really good (two words – violin hotties). Tonight I went with my recently acquired NASA Academy polo for the display, and the results were interesting.

Normally when I’m doing outreach I get a lot of skepticism, and the science types always like to lay low and try to trip me up on some obscure point or another. Countless times I’ve been asked if I work for NASA, to which I honestly answer that no, I don’t. The best that I can offer is 10 weeks working at NASA GSFC, but technically an independent contractor admistered by a non-NASA company, thought the funding came from the TTO for the DDF analysis I did for them. Once the non-NASA admission comes out, and I’ve got an NSS or ISU polo on, one can watch the skepticism barriers being built in their eyes. It’s as if only NASA has the imprimatur of authority in the minds of the general public.

Something that became evident this evening. Folks take a glance at my chest, see the NASA Academy name, and immediately assume that I speak from authority. It was unbelieveable how easy it was to spin tales of why this stuff is important. I had made sure to bring my little bag of goodies with me, so we could talk about nickel-iron meteorites and aerogel and genuine fake Moon rocks and space blankets and so on, as well as the conference. It’s stuff I often take to displays, so their presence wasn’t a significant factor.

I actually prefer skepticism. The challenge of the constant need to refine arguments to overcome objections is good and healthy. It’s harder, but it helps to make sure that I’m spinning facts and not yarns. Tonight was almost too easy, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with what that says about the state of affairs.

Because if the general public looks to NASA as the sole-source authority of what should happen in space, then we are in for some very difficult times. Because the first question will long remain “If NASA’s not doing it why should I think that you can?”

Also of interest was a performance earlier this week at SMU of ‘Sun Rings’, performed by the Kronos Quartet. I’d heard about the piece a couple of years ago when I just missed a performance at the BAM in my old neighborhood in NYC while at an aircraft finance conference. I kept it on my ‘Keep an eye out for for CD or DVD’ list since, but haven’t found anything. I had also arranged to hand out information on the conference at the SMU performance, and the audience was much, much different. It’s always humbling when you ask someone if they would like more information about an upcoming space conference and they answer “No, not really”. (Artsy university types, what can I say 😉

‘Sun Rings’ was commissioned by NASA a number of years ago, and incorporates sound and imagery from a variety of NASA sources, including the Voyager recordings. Kronos Quartet is known as being rather experimental, and there was no question that was the case here. The Sun Rings Overture is an introduction by voice and sound, with lots of waving of hands over wands mounted on their music stands. I can’t remember if Hero Danger or Beebopterismo is the one that reminded me so strongly of some of the strains found in their “Pieces of Africa” work. There was one with an interesting visual long shot of a satellite orbiting near to a large storm cloud with periodic lightning flashes. Prayer Central was a particularly interesting work, featuring a choral interplay between the Women’s Chorus of Dallas (two words – choral hotties) and the Turtle Creek Chorale that ended in a sussuration of individual voices sending prayers to prayer central. The last spacescape is One Earth, One People, One Love. A haunting melody as one contemplates the blue marble of Earth in the vast void of space. Is one love, one heart really going to be so difficult to obtain?

The muses are something that are seriously underconsidered in the space field. A shame, as if we do want humanity to establish itself beyond Earth, then culture is something that we will bring with us, and it also provides a means for communicating with a larger audience now. Hopefully smaller space companies will learn the tax advantage of giving to 501c3s, instead of the government, to build a larger constituency for the space field. Another something that we’re trying to address at the ISDC, in this case via our Arts in Space program.

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3 Responses to Reflections from ‘The Planets’ and ‘Sun Rings’

  1. Karl says:

    There’s lower brow culture out there. I recall hearing a couple of DVDs of NASA and Star Trek themed music. I bet there’s a lot more where that came from.

  2. Stellvia says:

    ‘Rocket Girls’ – near-future space animation series made with the support and endorsement of JAXA:

    I’ve seen three episodes of it so far, and it does at least make a gesture towards technical accuracy.

  3. murphydyne says:

    Thanks for the tip on ‘Rocket Girls’, although if folks googling it they should not confuse it with the 1993 live-action film of the same name. Action in the sense of soft-core X-rated material. It’s pretty bad, actually, though they did make some effort with the sets.

    I saw that the Japanese DVD is out. I wonder how long it takes to get it in English…

    And I’m pretty much over Star Trek at this point. I’m more interested in the stories of our own Solar system, especially near-future. Which Rocket Girls certainly is. As was Planetes. And Starhunter on the live action side. There’s some stuff out there, but part of the reason that there isn’t more is that the stuff there is doesn’t sell very well. So no one wants to spend on additional stuff that won’t sell well. Oh well.

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