Explore A Magical, Musical Trip To The Marvellous Moon

By Jo Phillips

If we reminisce about mankind’s initial missions to the Moon, our thoughts naturally gravitate toward the fiery brilliance of the mightiest engines ever constructed. A spectacular blaze propelled the Saturn V rocket, the vessel that initially carried explorers Armstrong and Aldrin to the lunar surface in 1969. It may seem now like an everyday occurrence but indeed at the time it was not just groundbreaking but for most people unbelievable that man could step onto a destination so far away. But still, man’s missions to the moon look to open new ideas at every rare opportunity; even to the point of taking music to the moon. Find out more from Steve Thompson on his part in this magical journey here in Explore A Magical, Musical Trip To The Marvellous Moon

Band imges  Dave Curlee 

Steve Thompson on 1201_Alarm’s Moon-bound music album

When you hear of a rocket blasting off into Space, you may not consider that it is being taken further than the eye can see.  Now, in the year 2023, we see a renaissance in lunar exploration, distinct from past missions, as it involves not humans but rather robots, scientific endeavours, and, quite surprisingly, artistic contributions such as music.

Well, this is the story of Steve Thompson and his ensemble, 1201_Alarm, and how their music is poised to become the first-ever album destined for the Moon’s surface, a celestial canvas for artistic expression, ready for Moon colonists to revisit in the future.

In 2010, Steve Thompson embarked on a highly unusual musical journey that would ultimately reshape his artistic path. Thompson had always harboured a deep fascination for electronic music, which led him to acquire a laser harp, a relatively rare instrument worldwide.

This choice set the stage for a series of performances in London where Thompson found himself sharing the bill with a diverse array of fellow artists, including comedians, musicians, poets, dancers, and, unusually, scientists.

This vibrant atmosphere of the green room with its eclectic mix of talent shaped Thompson’s experiences. Fast forward to 2016, and he formed his own musical ensemble, 1201_Alarm, embarking on a mission to create an album inspired by the realms of science, technology, and human endeavour.

The resulting album, Hello_World, represented his inaugural full-length release with a fresh group and a new artistic venture. It comprises twelve tracks, each drawing inspiration from prominent figures in the scientific, academic, and intellectual communities.

Individuals, he felt, who blazed trails in their respective fields. Thompson set forth a formidable challenge for this project: to prove that music inspired by science need not be detached or mundane; instead, it could celebrate the noble pursuit of knowledge and the sheer joy derived from curiosity.

Prologue and Hello_World, the opening two tracks, lay the groundwork by introducing a recurring theme that evolves throughout the album, reappearing in a transformed guise towards the conclusion.

Magical elements on the limited vinyl edition feature a double groove on side 4, where the needle reveals excerpts from interviews conducted by Thompson with either Dr. Aleks Krotoski or Professor Winfried Hensinger.

Dr. Aleks Krotoski, host of the BBC Radio 4 show The Digital Human, and her exploration of the interaction between humans and technology was a driving force behind the album’s thematic content.

Professor Hensinger, renowned for his work in creating new technology, lent his support to the project and even used one of the tracks as the soundtrack for a video on his research.

The track Flim Flam was inspired by the late magician James Randi, a highly respected figure in the world of magic and scepticism in the United States. Randi’s relentless exposure of fraudulent faith healers and individuals claiming supernatural powers was a testament to his character.

Left to right, Alastair ‘Titch’ Walker, Tamar Osborn, Steve Thompson, Emma Bassett and Ben Handysides.

The composition opens with an idyllic setting, resonating with the sounds of a summer day, before transitioning into a surreal and dreamlike world reflective of Randi’s incredible illusions.

The track Surely, You’re Joking takes its name from the book by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, a legendary figure in the scientific community. Aside from his ground-breaking work in quantum computing and quantum electrodynamics, Feynman was known for his unconventional hobbies, that including playing such things as the bongo drums.

Composed as an upbeat and lively piece featuring a full, vibrant big band augmented by special guest appearances from various scientists across the UK.

The track Qbit delves into the perplexing world of quantum physics, with a Qubit (the basic unit of information in quantum computing ) representing a fundamental unit of quantum information.

Although challenging to grasp, as it can exist in multiple states simultaneously, Thompson sought to illustrate this phenomenon through an unusual audio effect discovered by Diana Deutsch, where listeners, using headphones, can hear words that were never spoken.

Through a combination of saxophonist Tamar Osborn’s spoken syllables, edited to create subtle differences between the left and right audio channels, the track produces eerie and unexpected words as the brain fills in the gaps.

Pripyat serves as a poignant tribute to the people of the town bearing the same name, located just outside Chornobyl, Ukraine. Reviewing the tragic aftermath of the 1986 nuclear disaster as a powerful warning about attempting to control the immense forces of nature.

The track is constructed with synthesizers generating eerie arpeggios and a metallic Hang drum (made of two convex sheets of steel glued together) playing repetitive patterns. The tenor sax introduces a recurring motif, occasionally interspersed with a short trombone interlude. Titch, the trumpet player, seizes the opportunity for a solo, opting for the mellower tones of the flugelhorn (similar to trumpets and cornets) to convey the sombre subject matter.

The composition Flow emerged after an interview with the late Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a distinguished psychologist known for his theory of the “flow state.”

Csikszentmihalyi explores the idea that people are happiest when fully engaged and absorbed in an activity, a state often referred to as “in the zone” or “in the groove.”

So for this track, Thompson created a piece that challenged the band to achieve their own state of flow, recording it in a single take without prior rehearsal.

The entire project yielded numerous moments of flow and became a source of immense pride. The album’s reception within the scientific community was so enthusiastic that it has been selected for a unique journey. A spaceship, set to launch from Earth in the coming year, will deposit the album gently on the Moon’s surface, awaiting the arrival of future lunar colonists who will undoubtedly find joy in this musical offering.

To commemorate this historic moment, 1201_Alarm will release their second album, aptly titled Moonshot Please visit www.1201-alarm.com/.

Tickets to the launch event are available here for Tuesday, 14 November

Hello_World is available for streaming on various music platforms, while a limited-edition double vinyl, featuring a double groove on side 4 and limited to just 250 copies, can be found in select record shops while supplies last.

If you enjoyed reading Explore A Magical, Musical Trip To The Marvellous Moon why not read Going Out in a Blaze of Glory Here

With thanks to Steve and Georgina

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