EMP/SFM show is 'Spaced Out,' — and far out
Review: Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum bridges both parts of its name with "Spaced Out," a groovy compendium of LP covers with an extraterrestrial theme.
Special to the Seattle Times
Mel Torme Swings Shubert Alley, sure, but Swingin' On the Moon? Seems unlikely, but in "Spaced Out,"EMP|SFM's exhibition of outer-space-themed LPs from the '40s through 1969, we learn that the jazz singer sent up tributes to both the Broadway landscape and the lunar one.
Both albums were released on the storied Verve label in 1960. But where Shubert's graphic design of out-of-focus lights is understated in the style of Blue Note's beloved covers, Swingin' features a suave Torme against a stark lunar backdrop.
The songs on it, including "How High the Moon" and "Moonlight in Vermont," are more standard than novelty, making the thing a curious artifact from a time when "space was the place" in the American consciousness.
Torme wasn't the only one obsessed: "Spaced Out" shows us conceptions of the infinite that range from silly to sublime, and then impressions of what we found when we finally reached a piece of it in 1969.
The dual cylinders of Seattle Center's dark, curious museum — a playground for local music-history and science-fiction nerds — may have truly fired in unison for the first time. The result blasts anyone with a marginal interest in midcentury music and design into a nostalgic time, full of possibility.
Curator Brooks Peck found the 117 LPs in "Spaced Out" in the collection of Cheryl Pawelski, vice president of A&R at Rhino Records and a longtime figure in the music industry. Their mutual friend, writer Brian Rochlin, mentioned collaborating with Pawelski on a book about them. Her larger record collection numbers over 50,000 pieces.
One of Peck's "Spaced Out" favorites is "The Futuramic Sounds of Don Elliott and His Orchestra," which pictures the tux-bedecked horn player riding a Vespa through the cosmos. Many covers, like Jane Fonda's "Barbarella," seem to show that in the popular imagination, space-age females (like Lady Gaga after them) wouldn't require pants. On Les Baxter's Space Escapade, astronauts toast their antennaed dates at an otherworldly soiree.
"One of the things I really adore about that particular collection of records, as well as some of the older jazz records, is that people were doing hand-lettering at the time," says Pawelski of the clean design of many of the "Spaced Out" pieces.
As for the fantasy elements, "I feel the artwork changed when we landed on the moon," says Pawelski.
"We no longer had to imagine being in space, we had been there."
And still, in "Man on the Moon," Neil Armstrong relates to Walter Cronkite how the rock has "a stark beauty all its own." Being able to listen to his recount as well as view the artwork is a bonus here.
Mod orange lounge chairs are connected to listening stations, where you can sample the theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey," the proto-synthesizer warbling of "Silver Apples of the Moon," "The Martian Hop" (in which aliens "throw a dance for all the human race") by Ran-Dells, and a lost-in-space take on the 1934 jazz classic "For All We Know" by Dick Hyman and Mary Mayo.
"Wasn't that the mystery and wonder of it all?" writes Rochlin in the listening station booklet (designed to look like a 7" sleeve). "It was the unknowing that caused us to unshackle the choke-chain of gravity itself, to reach out into the night and begin to explore the stars."
Interactivity especially makes this exhibit worth visiting. The Beach Boys may have later introduced the ghostly sound of the theremin to pop music, but "Spaced Out" shows where it was first recorded — on Paul Tanner's 1958 album "Music for Heavenly Bodies" — and then offers a real theremin around the corner to play with. Far out.
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