Mark Robert Henderson
2024 / Clever Little Rodents
Review by Kathy Parsons
Astra Perdita, subtitled "Four Piano Vignettes for Those Lost Exploring the Stars," is a fascinating EP by Mark Robert Henderson. Performed by pianist Roxana Frizzi, the album also includes "found sounds" from the various space missions and clips of children's voices. Quoting Mark Henderson: "[The music] aims to be very ethereal and poignant as it commemorates four major space exploration tragedies: Soyuz 1, Soyuz 11, Challenger and Columbia." If I had to put this music into a single category, I would call it "Contemporary Classical," but it actually has elements of several different genres. Sometimes very dark and mournful and sometimes more powerful, there are even some light-hearted moments (but not many!). It's a very dramatic work, and Henderson gives a lot of insight into the music on his Facebook page. The solo piano sheet music for the project is also available - currently for free if you sign onto Mark's mailing list.
Astra Perdita begins with "Soyuz 1," with the explanation/subtitle: "Vladimir Komarov (unable to orient his craft towards the sun) takes one last, sighing, look at Earth to reflect upon his caprice before starting his final descent." In 1966, Komarov became the first human to die in the pursuit of space exploration, and the music is dark and powerful after a "prelude" of sounds from space. The second track, "Soyuz 11," honors the 1971 mission and is subtitled: "It was 40 seconds between loss of cabin pressure and the cardiac arrest of G. Dobrovosky, V. Volkov, and Patsayev. To date they are the only humans to die above the Karman line." The piece begins with a recording of frantic voices and then a short, slow and mournful piano elegy. "Challenger" very effectively expresses the feelings of loss and helplessness many of us experienced when Challenger exploded in 1986, killing all seven of the astronauts aboard. Again quoting Mark Henderson: "The third track on Astra Perdita is dedicated not only to the explorers we lost during the Challenger mission, but to the school children who were left accidentally traumatized by watching it live at school." An interlude follows with the voices of children expressing their feelings about seeing this tragedy happen. The last piece is named for "Columbia," "which tragically disintegrated during re-entry due to a wounded shuttle wing. This piece is written from the point of view of the ship's computer, desperately trying to get the attention of the shuttle and ground crew, calling for help and warning everybody of the imminent outcome." Very somber with a strong sense of foreboding except for a short, playful middle section, it's a very powerful and dramatic work. The final track is the "Full Program," the same music played as one continuous piece without breaks between the segments.
Astra Perdita is different from anything else I've heard or reviewed, and I'm very grateful for the experience. The recording is available in several configurations: singles of each track, the full program (12 minutes), and the complete package which contains the tracks separately plus the full program. The recording can be streamed or downloaded on Amazon, and is also available on many streaming sites including Spotify.
February 10, 2024