Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks consists of music written for a documentary film about NASA's Apollo missions, which landed several humans on the moon between 1969 and 1972. The film was originally titled Apollo, and initially consisted of footage from the moon missions without narrations, but due to lukewarm response from test audiences, the film went through several edits, incorporating commentary from the astronauts and ground crew, and was finally released in 1989 as For All Mankind. The original soundtrack for Apollo was released in 1983, however, and subsequently took on a life of its own. Composed and performed by Brian Eno along with his brother Roger and guitarist/producer Daniel Lanois, the album interprets the vastness and weightlessness of space in a variety of different ways. Eno wanted to avoid the sensationalism of the television broadcasts and news reports of the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, instead preferring to express how he imagined actually being in space would feel. This turns out to be a much wider range of moods than one might think. Pieces like "Matta" and "Signals" are dark, haunting, and strange, with bizarre noises evoking the presence of alien life forms. For the most part, however, the album suggests that space is comforting and safe rather than cold, isolating, and unknowable. Lanois' steel guitar adds a cosmic country flavor to the music, keeping it human and somewhat down to earth, and transferring the wide-open feel of the desert into outer space. "Deep Blue Day" and "Weightless" are slow, detached waltzes conjuring images of a Western-themed lounge on a spaceship -- relaxed and unworried, but with a slight tinge of homesickness. On the other hand, the truly sublime "An Ending (Ascent)" is like the realization of space as one's true home. Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks is easily one of Eno's best and most accessible ambient albums, and an ideal starting point for anyone new to the genre.
[In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, a remastered Extended Edition of Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks was released. Instead of scrounging up outtakes and leftovers or attempting to "reimagine" the original material for the reissue's second disc, Brian Eno reunited with Roger Eno and Daniel Lanois for the first time since the original album's sessions and recorded an album's worth of new material. For All Mankind perfectly re-creates the cosmic country atmosphere of the original, with tracks like "Capsule" and "Last Step from the Surface" sounding like sequels to "Deep Blue Day" et al. While the music is tranquil and gorgeous, it's clear that this music was created from a much different perspective than the trio's first collaboration. Eno's liner notes express concern for the future of humanity in the face of climate change, and the music reflects a much darker outlook. Rather than the optimism and zeal for discovery of the Apollo era, this music is informed by the sobering realization that for all the scientific progress the human race has made, we're destroying our environment, and we need to unite in order to address this problem and ensure humanity's continued existence. Given all of that pretext, the music itself isn't quite as heady, but there is an underlying disquietude that sets it apart from the original album.]