I heard *Astronautica* on January 27, 2021.
It was a new piece, a commission by Voices of Ascension, works by nine contemporary female composers setting texts by female astronauts, or adapted from texts by the astronauts. The performance consisted of performances by three female singers, Lindsay Kesselman, Hai-Ting Chinn, and Kirsten Sollek, called the Trio Triumphatrix. There was lots of artfully assembled video footage interspersed with film of them, sometimes behind them, sometimes surrounding them. It was first class use of video in an online concert and added a great deal to the experience. The video elements were created by and managed by Chinn, the middle singer in the trio, who also wrote two of the pieces.
The pieces were mostly written a cappella, all expertly composed for the three voices, fully exploiting the range of effects you can have with three female voices. The three singers were extraordinary, each singing with their own unique juiciness but blending together beautifully when they sang together. I was especially impressed with their ability to cleanly sing dissonances. They leaned into the dissonances without making a big deal out of it.
One exception to the a cappella situation was the Bora Yoon piece, which used a lot of electronic effects. Her piece also incorporated the singers acting or using movement in a way that wasn’t done as fully with the other pieces. The other pieces often opened with an audio recording of the astronaut whose text was being used - - Yoon took this further and wove the audio into the piece itself. I’m a fan of Yoon and was most excited to see and hear her piece. It was no surprise that her piece was the most fully formed, the most beautifully thought out.
The next piece was another highlight, “How Many Tampons,” written by Hai-Tin Chinn, the center voice in the trio and video creator. Chinn used foot-stomping and hand-clapping in her piece. The tampon story: how could I not have heard this story before? Sally Ride was the first American woman in space in 1983. She made a one-week solo flight and the all-male NASA team had thought about sending some tampons up in space with her. She got into space, found the tampons, and saw that they had packed ONE HUNDRED TAMPONS. No one had thought to ask her about it. The men of NASA: geniuses and total dumb asses.
Chinn did another piece later on about the bathroom on the spaceship. She wrote the piece to match up remarkably well with the video of Sunita Williams giving a tour of the toilet and explaining the process, so she was singing instead of speaking. It was a riot, and adorable.
The Jennifer Jolley piece, “her speed left the winds behind,” was the most gorgeous. Luminous, ecstatic music, a joy to hear. The final piece, “We Need Earth,” featured fascinating video clips of life on earth. Because that’s, of course, where we spend most of our time! The whole project was fascinating and surprising. Not what I might have expected from Voices of Ascension, which made it all the more delightful.
Renée Favand-See - First Flight
Kamala Sankaram - The First View
Elaine Lachica - It’s hard to explain
Bora Yoon - SPACEWALK
Hai-Ting Chinn - How Many Tampons
Jennifer Jolley - her speed left the winds behind
RaShonda Reeves - A Day With Mae
Jane Sheldon - against the very very blackness of space
Hai-Ting Chinn - Orbital Outhouse
Gilda Lyons - to know about space
Renée Favand-See - We Need Earth