From Ether

Powerhouse Museum, April 12 

Chris Hadfield resThe familiar made unfamiliar can be both disquieting and invigorating. Part of one’s mind loves to make sense of what it encounters, while the imagination relishes the chance to run wild. The photographs that Chris Hadfield took while commanding the International Space Station exemplify this, and in From Ether their potential to catalyse the imagination was amplified by Andrea Keller’s accompanying score.

Hadfield’s extraordinary images of our planet were grouped thematically –deserts, oceans, cities by night, etc – with a movement of Keller’s suite underscoring each.

Although many were not dissimilar to the map-like view from a high-altitude aircraft, others were more akin to abstract or even cubist paintings, with the subject matter obscure. At first I thought captions may have been sensible, but that would have killed off this delicious sense of disorientation, enhanced by the music.

Predictably Keller opted for floating, drifting, elongated notes to compound the photographs’ magic, majesty and eeriness, her piano, keyboard and electronics joined by Phil Slater’s trumpet and Geoff Hughes’s guitars. Thankfully, however, she did not settle for an entirely ambient score. As we watched the world’s cities glowing by night like gemstones, for instance, she used funky keyboard and wah-wah guitar to imply nightlife. More significantly she confronted the inevitable traces of existential anguish, and if you want to express these musically, Slater is your man. In truth much of the music would have been no more than pleasantly ornamental were the trumpet not there to blast us with doubt and desolation.

Among the images burned into the memory were river systems that looked like veins in an anatomical diagram, the blazing colours of the deserts and infinite shades of blue, green, white and a silver of the oceans, seas, lakes and rivers.

Perhaps most striking was that our suffering and fleeting joys could be reduced to patterns of such beauty. You could almost credit the involvement of a deity, and certainly a senior astronaut who happens to be a brilliant photographer.