A Star Gazing mixtape…

The bulk of this was actually written back in August but it’s taken me until now to actually complete the process, mini-gift and all. Hope you enjoy…

Friday August 13th 2010

There are many things I co/sho/uld have been doing today.

I could have sorting the technical arrangements for my Ethics of Progress gig in a tent at the Green Man Festival next week. Maybe even checking that I can remember all the ideas and words I’ll need to share with the people who join me for it.

I could be writing words for the (as yet unwritten) “pre-show” for Mission To Mars that goes into rehearsals in 3 weeks time. Or going through lists of actors because we haven’t found someone to play Stefan yet. Or looking (again) at annual budgets and business plans to work out which parts will develop (be cut) in order to achieve the minimum 10% reduction we’re all being asked to model for. Or

Instead, I’ve decided to allow myself some room to think. And to write this. Because…

…since we’ve been writing and making this show to “inspire children about science, space travel and the wonders of the solar system” I’ve been learning a lot. About gravity, escape velocities, black holes, distances between planets in our solar system, how our Moon came to be our moon, what stars are made of, what an EVA is , how long it takes to get to the International Space Station, how long it takes to get back from the ISS, how long it takes to get to the Moon, how long it takes to get to Mars, that Mars is a World of Wonders and so so many other things besides.

And I’ve also been looking at the sky more than I ever have.

Last month I found this tool that tells you when the ISS is next going to be flying over your house. I stood out on an awesomely clear night and watched in giddy wonder as a bright bright star flew across the entire horizon of the sky, passing directly above me. Except it wasn’t a star, it was a space ship – just 250 miles above my head travelling at 17000mph. With six people inside it. I’d never seen it before. And never really realised it was… well, real. More than an idea. More than videos of astronauts on Youtube. The incredible human achievement that is and how inspired I was (am) by it.

And last year when I was on tour with The Moon The Moon, I bought a beautiful book from the Baltic in Newcastle – One Hundred Year Star Diary by the artist Alec Finlay and Professor Ray Sharples of the Kielder Observatory. It chronicles when major astronomical events are due to happen and gives you one page for each year until 2108 to write your observations. I’m looking forward to passing it on to my children and them in turn to theirs to complete the hundred pages – a tiny fragment of human history in the huge scheme of things.

The Diary is the reason I learnt (last year) about the annual August Perseid shower and so last night I sat (plugged into my mp3 player set to shuffle) in a deck chair in my back garden, and watched the sky fill with shooting stars. And I thought about how when I was a kid I used to go fishing with my brother and my dad and how you had to wait for the fish and how the waiting and the being with the people you were fishing with was the best part of the experience.

But I had no-one to wait with last night in my deck chair – everyone else in my house was asleep. But this is 2010 and so actually I did have loads of people to sit and have a conversation with. I’m aware there’s a potential conversation here about ‘liveness’ and physical proximity and social media that some people might want to have here but, frankly, it’s not one I’m particularly interested in having. Not here and not now in any case. Suffice to say that I like Twitter and I like the conversations that happen there and other people don’t and that’s fine. What’s important to me here and now is that I had fun having that conversation last night.

While I listened to music and stretched my eyes I got involved in a conversation about mix tapes.

And really it’s this that has spurred me to think about and write all this today. If you’ve stuck with me this far, thanks… and there’s a wee gift for you that I’m working towards…

It was all spurred by @hannahnicklin who’d made her first mix tape yesterday which wasn’t really a mix *tape* because it was all digital but still had the *ethos* of a tape through Andrew Dubber‘s lovely idea at Mixtape For You. Here’s a small selections of parts of that conversation

@hannahnicklin “so are mixtapes about what you like and want to share, or about what you think they’ll like? Or both?”
@AlexanderKelly “some stuff that you’re sure they’ll like, some stuff that will impress them that you like plus one song with VERY SIGNIFICANT LYRICS that they will of course pay more attention to”

@DanRebellato “There’s a speech in my play that tries to describe the perfect mixtape…”

@hannahnicklin “are instrumentals risky?! The beginning of side B was a 7 minute electro instrumental track…”
@DanRebellato “Surely depends on genre. Electronica – forgivable. Prog – less so. Tho they overlap treacherously.”

@carolinepiggott “Our bag of tapes was almost given away to the church jumble sale. I had to search them out from piles of jumble.”
@untheatre (me) “have you still got a machine that will play them?”

And I realised that for all the mix tapes I’d made and given to people, I’d only ever actually received one in return. Playlists and CDs yes and thinking about it tapes of whole albums, but only one actual mix tape which was from Chris Goode back in 2000ish. Which is in my loft somewhere because I’ve no way of playing it anymore and even if I did I wouldn’t want to risk mangling it. Like a proper antique!

And the shuffle was really doing an amazing job choosing songs about or with references to space and stars and… and I had a really good time chatting with everyone and being idle and alone and yet connected (to myself, the universe, some of you) for a couple of hours.

And so I wanted to share some of those songs with you that shuffle served up to me. All songs included were listened to on the night of my star gazing*, I’ve just done a bit of ordering and crossfading.

I’ve uploaded two ‘sides’ that can be listened to at Soundcloud each as close to 45 minutes as I could get. There’s very little ‘new’ here – it’s a mixtape to soundtrack an idle couple of hours watching shooting stars. A small but carefully created gift to anyone of you who might like to listen. Tracklistings below.

Hope you enjoy.


Star Gazing (Side 1)
1. Operating Room – Foxes in Fiction
2. Only Waiting – The Aliens
3. Coffee & TV – Blur
4. Intergalactic – Beastie Boys
5. I Would Be Your Slave – David Bowie
6. You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me – Julie London
7. Knickerbocker – Fujiya & Miyagi
8. Brand New Sun – Jason Lytle
9. Voyager – Daft Punk
10. Lovely Allen – Holy Fuck
11. Wonderful – Principal Participant
12. Harmony 2 (Piano) – Spiritualized

* I have to admit a wee cheat here – tracks 10 and 11 on Side 1 weren’t shuffled up to me on the night. But they’re part of the pre-show music for Mission To Mars, either of which are normally what’s playing when the show ‘starts’ and so I felt it was justifiable to include them for their space related-ness. And I do love them so. I’d also like to apologise for the amateurish beat matching I attempted with Voyager and Wonderful – it really was accidental and they just happened to be the exact same speed and fitted when I placed them together in Audacity. Forgive me?

Star Gazing (Side 2)
1. Mic Check – Cornelius
2. Goodbye – Asobi Seksu
3. Paper Planes – MIA
4. Lonesome Words – Gruff Rhys
5. No Sunlight – Death Cab For Cutie
6. Your Star Will Shine – Stone Roses
7. Picnic By The Motorway – Suede
8. Apples And Pears – Slow Club
9. Haze Coasting – Universal Studios Florida
10. Mars Sparkles Down On Me – The Wedding Present
11. White Chalk – PJ Harvey
12. Do You Realize?? – The Flaming Lips
13. Quantum Theory – Jarvis Cocker

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