One of my pet peeves with much space-based science fiction has to do with setting. In particular, so many sci-fi novels, short stories, TV shows, and movies of the space-based variety are set in some far off galaxies on imimaginary planets. This doesn’t necessarily make those stories bad, and in fact some are very good (for example, the best sci-fi TV series ever in this reviewer’s opinion, Babylon 5). The reason it’s a pet peeve with me is that it gives a short shrift to our own cosmic backyard, the Solar System, which is chock full of some of the most fascinating wonders imaginable (to be fair, some action of Babylon 5 does take place on Earth, Mars, and near Jupiter).
In the music world, thankfully, there has been an acknowledgement that we live in a most interesting cosmic neighborhood. Gustav Holst was the first to do this with his suite, The Planets, which premiered in 1918. Between then and now, our knowledge of our own Solar System has grown exponentially. This is in no small part due to the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes. These probes were launched in the mid-1970’s and made their way through the Solar System in the 1980’s. Thus, Cailyn has now stepped in to build on both Holst and our expanded knowledge with her musical interpretation, Voyager.
Voyager is an album of 14 tracks, most of which address various celestial bodies encountered in the 1980’s by the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes. Four of the tracks – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune – are Cailyn’s re-interpretation of Holst’s original compositions from The Planets. While these are quite good in their own right, the best tracks on the album are Cailyn’s own original compositions. Seven of these tracks are directed to various moons of the outer gas giants. The track Voyager refers to the probes themselves, while Pale Blue Dot refers to our own planet as seen from Voyager at the outer rim of the Solar System. Heliopause refers to the outer boundary of the Solar System, which both Voyager probes have now passed beyond.
All of the tracks are worthy of mention, but I’ll just mention a few here. Io has some interesting contrast, including one musically volcanic eruption that is representative of that world. Titan is a study in dynamic contrasts shrouded in mystery, much like its namesake, which includes some nylon string guitar on top of heavier rock underneath and an atmospheric ending befitting of the only moon that has an atmosphere. Miranda at times feels like it’s alternating between a rock song and a Beethoven piano concerto, and can be dark and moody. Pale Blue Dot is a mellow and reflective piano-driven piece that hits home perfectly for its subject matter – the photograph of Earth, from one of the Voyager probes, as it was leaving the Solar System. But they are all good.
Although this is primarily a review of music, the packaging of Voyager definitely deserves mention here. In particular, there are notes in the booklet for every track that provide a description of its subject matter. For the celestial bodies themselves, this includes information about the origin of their respective names and physical composition. Reading these track descriptions is a must to get their full impact. They provide food for thought that is not typical for instrumental works. Better yet, they makes this album educational, as well as an enjoyable listen.
This album is best listened to in the dark, and if you want to really get your geek on, pulling up a desktop planetarium or space simulator in an otherwise darkened room and looking at the various planets and moons as their respective tracks play is a good way to go. Or perhaps if you live in an area away from the city lights, it would be a good listen while looking through a telescope. No matter what environment you choose, this album is a very satisfying musical and cosmic voyage that should not be missed.