Sounds From Our Solar System - Planetarium

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Composer Nico Muhly was commissioned by Muziekgebouw Eindhoven to compose a new work in 2011.  Rather than go at it alone, Muhly gathered a few friends to help write a spectacular soundscape about the solar system.  The group included guitarist Bryce Dessner from The National, accomplished beatmaker James McAlister, and indie darling Sufjan Stevens.  The composition was premiered later that year and was followed with some sporadic live performances, but it was not until 2017 that a proper album was released.

The album is a soaring collection of sounds that incorporate 17 tracks lasting 75 minutes.  The work certainly takes time and commitment to listen to in full, but Stevens felt the vastness of the composition was necessary to fully grasp mankind’s obsession with “the exterior of here”.  Through the album, the collaborators seek to present the spiritual and existential journey of what Stevens says is man’s endless search “to help us understand our purpose here and to sort of create a sense of order.”


Stevens admits that many of his lyrics are “word salad” but Muhly celebrates this concept, explaining that “the vagueness of some of the lyrics . . . offers a million possible interpretive strategies that cannot be wrong.”  The songs make numerous references to Greek and Roman mythology along with astrology, creating a great overview of mankind’s historical search for meaning by looking towards the stars. Unfortunately, the album does not provide the full experience that the live shows provided, but the music video to the track “Saturn” gives a glimpse of the multimedia performance provided at the premiere in 2011.

In a similar fashion, Verdigris Ensemble will be utilizing visuals along with music to give a full sensory artistic vision of space.  By collaborating with the UTA Planetarium, our performance of Kile Smith’s The Consolation of Apollo will take on deeper meaning for those in attendance.  Smith’s composition takes on the deeper meanings of man’s place in the world through the text of ancient philosopher Boethius and pairs it with the awe and wonder of the transcripts of Apollo 8 astronauts.  The experience will be unlike any other you have experienced and we hope you are able to join us for this once in a lifetime performance.

This post is part of our Choral Astronaut series, written by Jonathan Greer. Verdigris Ensemble presents Consolation of Apollo on April 14, 2018 at 4:30 pm at the University of Texas at Arlington Planetarium.  Kile Smith takes the direct transcripts of the Apollo 8 mission and sets it to choral music. For more information, please visit

Sam Brukhman