Review: Sleeping At Last – Astronomy, Vol. 1
We have gathered here today to talk about the latest release from Sleeping At Last entitled Astronomy, Vol. 1. For those unfamiliar with Sleeping At Last, it’s a one-man project by Ryan O’Neal that he began in 2011. His work has been featured across numerous television shows, movies, and documentaries. On Friday, May 1st, Sleeping At Last released a collection of songs written about astronomical events and discoveries. Check out our review of Astronomy, Vol. 1 after the jump.
Beginning on August 17, 2017, Sleeping At Last released the first in a series of songs inspired by current astronomical events. The first piece was written about the solar eclipse that was about to happen on August 21st. This was a huge event for North America and many people traveled across the country for optimal viewing; I myself flew from California to Atlanta to be able to see a higher percentage of totality. Here are some details about the project in Ryan’s own words:
Astronomy is a series of new, mostly instrumental music inspired by upcoming astronomical events. Each year, I’ll secretly choose which upcoming observable events in space I’d like to write songs for and without much warning, a song will release on, or near, the date of upcoming astronomical events! The idea behind these songs (in addition to the fun I’ll have writing more space music) is to write a soundtrack of sorts for each of these unique and beautiful events going on in the known universe around us. (Plus, I loved the idea of the release dates being determined by the universe!) My hope is that these new pieces of music will celebrate, document and explore the most interesting of observable astronomical events!
This very first piece of music, titled: “August 21, 2017: Total Solar Eclipse” was inspired by this fast-approaching Total Solar Eclipse. The length of the song is exactly the length of the longest duration of totality – 2min:40.03s! As of right now, “Eclipse” is out everywhere music is available and I hope you’ll consider adding it to the soundtrack of your Solar Eclipse experience on Monday!!
Sleeping At Last is constantly coming out with themed music, from his Enneagram series, to the works of Atlas I-III, to a series of cover albums, and all of it is breathtaking. Without further ado, here is the review of Astronomy, Vol. 1.
Track By Track
- August 21, 2017: Total Solar Eclipse – this track features a twinkly piano and ethereal space noises, as well as a choir singing notes of an indistinguishable language. The song swells to intimate perfection at about 1:24 and then drops back down to pure, swirling instrumental.
- September 15, 2017: Cassini – the Grand Finale – this song pays tribute to the end of Cassini’s mission exploring Saturn, and its “death” upon entering the atmosphere upon passing between Saturn and its rings. To my surprise, the song itself hearkens back to several of his songs off Atlas I. There’s a stirring cello rendition of “Earth,” an airy piano verse from “Venus,” more cello for “Jupiter,” and a wee bit of “Saturn” itself. Per Ryan (via his podcast), this mirrors the trajectory Cassini took to eventually arrive at Saturn. The whole song is overlaid with clips from Mission Control. I wasn’t sure at first, but Ryan confirms in the podcast that this is the actual audio from the launch of the Titan IVB that took Cassini to space in 1997. This all leads us into…
- Saturn – this song was actually my introduction to Sleeping At Last. A friend sent it my way several years ago, having randomly stumbled upon it herself, and knew I would like it. (She was right. She always is.) I loved it so much that I instantly went and purchased every piece of music of his that was available at the time. “Saturn”, to me, has always conjured the imagery of someone saying goodbye to a loved one, one who has imparted so much knowledge and wisdom. The song reminds you that no matter how hard it is to say goodbye, it’s amazing to have even existed at all. The first several minutes of the song are purely instrumental, a solo cello that slowly build into layers, leading into a a distant-sounding, echo-y piano. Its place on this album seems quite appropriate, as a follow-up to the Cassini farewell, its final resting place becoming one with the atmosphere of Saturn.
- December 13, 2017: Geminid Meteor Shower – piano and strings give the impression of stars bouncing off each other, spinning and dancing. It reminds me of the “Define Dancing” scene from Wall-E. The piano almost has an old-timey feel to it, as though it too has been floating through space for millennia. Crystalline piano wire, warbling sustain pedals, melodies that traverse from ear to ear.
- January 31, 2018: Super Blue Blood Moon – this song makes me feel a little bit sad. A tad melancholy. I’m not quite sure why. It feels lonely, somehow. I always wonder if our moon is lonely. It’s so far away from the Earth, and so large, and so alone. Fun fact: compared to the planet it orbits, the moon is the largest satellite in our solar system. The other planets with moons vastly, hugely outweigh their satellites. They also have more than one! Even Mars has two moons. Can you imagine moonrise on Mars? Maybe it’s a lot like Tatooine’s poetic sunrise, but in negative.
- June 30, 2018: Pds 70b (Birth of a Planet) – if you’ve ever wondered what a galaxy would play as a lullaby to its nursery of stars, look no further. Warm and caressing, but also with a bit of a beat toward the middle, against a backdrop of solar wind. (There’s a star nursery in the Orion Nebula, and the energy from the stars creates winds that travel at approximately five million miles an hour.) Good morning, children. Time to be stars.
- July 27, 2018: Total Lunar Eclipse – for our lunar eclipse, we’re met with a series of almost music-box like melodies, which are joined shortly thereafter by ghost-like vocalizations. This is a very short track, but I’m left with the feeling of watching an eclipse from the hood of a car on the edge of a forest, miles away from civilization, lit by nothing but starlight.
- August 12, 2018: Perseid Meteor Shower – a bit of Spanish guitar for the Perseids? I am on board with this interpretation. The plink of fingers on strings is the nonstop rush of comet trails overhead, a tail of fire that lets you know the atmosphere is doing its job. The Swift-Tuttle comet that showers us with these particles has a 133-year orbit around our sun, and yet we get a fine showing of fireballs every single summer here in the Northern Hemisphere. How’s that for amazing?
- October 30, 2018: Kepler – Goodnight – the Kepler Space Telescope was retired this day after nine years of operation. This bouncing, cheerful salute to a telescope that allowed us to map the discovery of 2,662 exoplanets is well-deserved. It sounds almost like a tiny dance upon a marimba; the sound of stars flashing across its great mirrored eye as it orbits the sun, even in death. The next time Kepler will be at its closest to the Earth is in 50 years.
- December 17, 2018: Farout – I’ll just let Ryan describe the events behind this one. “This new, lil piece of music was written in tribute to the very recent discovery of the most distant Solar System Object ever observed, which astronomers perfectly nicknamed”Farout” – a small, pinkish dwarf planet located in the outer reaches of our Solar System. The planet is roughly 310 miles in diameter, so this song is 3 minutes and 10 seconds in length.” This is a beautiful track, one of my favorites of the Astronomy series so far. Does anyone remember space whales? Those beautiful pieces of art that originated in the 70s?And then in the 90s were subsequently splashed upon everything from notebooks to binders? Space whales! This song makes me think about space whales, and how beautiful they’d be if they were real.
- February 13, 2019: Opportunity – Mission Complete – we all remember this moment: when the Opportunity rover died. Opportunity, originally planned for a simple 90-day mission, ended up lasting for 14 years and 46 days. The robot endured heavy dust storms in 2018 and entered hibernation; NASA had hoped to revive it, but after 1000 attempts at contact, and despite the entire planet Earth willing it back to life, NASA declared it to be officially dead. This song ends quite dramatically, and sadly, with the main instrumentation cutting out in a fashion not unlike a lagging VOIP connection. The song then falls to its death with a percussive slide.
- April 10, 2019: Powehi – Image of a Black Hole – this is another moment in our collective consciousness I don’t think any of us will ever forget. Where were you when you saw the first image of a black hole– ever? And the accompanying image of Dr. Katie Bouman, sitting next to a laptop, looking positively gleeful. I felt the same way. What a time to be alive. It has since been dubbed Powehi, which is Hawaiian for “embellished dark source of unending creation.” If you could stand on a precipice of a black hole, and look down into its literal unending darkness, what else would you see? Maybe you’d say something like, “My God, it’s full of stars.” Or maybe, just maybe, you’d hear this song guiding you home. Fun fact: the rumbling sound at the beginning and end of the song “is the actual image of Powehi converted into sound via software.” For more fun facts about the making of the song, check out Ryan’s blog post about it.
- January 30, 2020: Spitzer – Final Voyage – this one is a tribute to the Spitzer space telescope, which was retired at the beginning of this year. Per Ryan’s email newsletter, he did a similar trick with this song as he did with Powehi regarding turning an image into sound. He also uses bits and pieces of audio from Spitzer’s launch on a Delta II rocket. Spitzer was unique among the space telescopes in that it saw in infrared. This would not only allow it to see things that the other space telescopes could not, but even things that other infrared telescopes on the ground cannot see due to interference from the atmosphere. One of its most noteworthy observations was the youngest star ever seen, recognized from the hot spot at its core. This song is the only one not fully instrumental. Barely rising above the background, Ryan repeats, “Invisible made visible,” a tribute to the way Spitzer found things nothing else is capable of seeing.
I’m a huge space fan. I saw the documentary Hubble nine times at my local museum. I drove all the way across New Zealand to its Dark Sky Preserve and went to the Mt. John University Observatory in the middle of the night to see the stars. I love music that makes me feel the way the stars do. I wrote this review during my first listen to most of these songs, and thus wrote down my first reactions. I’ve never reviewed an instrumental album before, and it was a little difficult to describe things without being repetitive. (Hence why you are also getting hit with a lot of space trivia!) But I have been in love with Sleeping At Last for several years now. I felt like it’s high time I make an effort to point as many people in his direction as possible.
I’ve never been particularly religious (and by “particularly” I mean “at all”, lol). But man, Sleeping At Last‘s music is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a spiritual experience. I can’t describe what it is. All I know is that when I listen to Sleeping At Last I feel like I can reach inside myself and see my soul staring back at me. Whenever I need to feel, I listen to his music.
Please, do yourself a favor and check out Sleeping At Last. If you’re anything like me, “Saturn” is an amazing gateway. Once you’ve done that, get yourself a copy of Atlas I, situate yourself in a dark, cozy corner of your bedroom, and fall in love with the music.
You can find Sleeping At Last‘s music wherever you usually listen to music.