As much as David Attenborough’s latest nature masterpiece Blue Planet II has shown that on our own planet there is still lots to discover and explore, for many – and I include myself here – space is the final frontier.
Humans have always had wanderlust. From climbing trees to grab at the stars to landing on the moon; to sending satellites to the Sun to the two Voyager probes leaving our Solar System; to the Hubble Telescope and its replacement the James Webb Telescope, exploration and the gathering of knowledge are two of humanity’s greatest attributes.
The achievement of such adventures into the unknown is usually done hand-in-hand with creativity, especially in joining up existing technology with new and exciting advancements. Thanks to Operation Paperclip the Americans advanced Werner von Braun’s V2 technology with improvements and inventions of their own such as staged rockets and the computer.
This marrying the old with the new is the foundation upon which Hannah Peel builds her imagination.
Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia was originally released in September on My Own Pleasure, and it features analogue synthesisers and a full colliery brass band. At the opposite end of the musical instrument spectrum, they are the perfect choices to celebrate humanity’s curiosity.
The concept of the album is of Mary Casio, “an unknown, elderly, pioneering, electronic musical stargazer and her lifelong dream to leave her terraced home in the mining town of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, to see Cassiopeia for herself.”
Opening track Goodbye Earth is as dramatic as a launch from Cape Canaveral. Synthesisers build the tension towards lift-off, and when the full force of the brass band starts up you know that you are leaving the grip of Earth’s gravity. As the song reaches its coda with one minute remaining you can envisage Mary Casio gazing upon the stars for the first time outside of the atmosphere and seeing them unencumbered for the first time.
The warmth of the brass band is demonstrated exquisitely on Sunrise Through the Dusty Nebula – it encapsulates the beauty of space. When Peel’s vocals begin you know that that is the moment Casio has seen the light of a star, perhaps our own Sun, peek through the building blocks of galaxies in an explosion fo celestial brilliance.
Deep Space Cluster is the first track to treat the synths and the brass band as equals in musical prominence – and the sound is as extensive as the title deserves.
Andromeda M31 (the name of the Milky Way’s closest neighbouring galaxy and its Messier number) is the song that captures the literal otherworldliness of space. Littered with communications from space missions and atonal swirls of electronica, layered with elongated brass notes, it represents the majesty of space and how little we know about it.
Proceedings take a more relaxed turn with Life on the Horizon, an ambient piece that in its languid way extrapolates the vastness of the void into music.
The brass takes centre-stage again in Archid Orange Dwarf. Here, Peel has utilised the unique sound of the brass band to create an upbeat and uptempo track with intricate melodies and riffs. The electronic background being used to enhance rather than dominate.
The album closes with The Planet of Passed Souls. Using a recording of her own father as a chorister, blending in the big sound that only a brass band can make, and perhaps the most memorable riff you’ll hear this end of the universe. it is a triumphant end to a triumphant journey for you, the listener, and for Casio as she reaches her destination: Cassiopeia.
As far as the year has gone, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an album with as much imagination as this. Here, Peel has demonstrated such creativity and skill that if anyone ever dares to redo or update the seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey then she should be at the top of the list to do the soundtrack for it.