Roving Mars – music by Philip Glass

Roving MarsHaving each lasted well over three years beyond their original planned three-month design life, the two Mars Exploration Rovers are the closest NASA has come, in the first decade of the 21st century, to matching the designed-for-the-short-term-but-built-to-last legacy of the Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. That these two Rovers overcame mishaps and triumphed in the post-Columbia-disaster lull that still stands as the American space program’s lowest ebb is what makes them worthy of their own movie. (Now, we’ll set aside for the moment that the movie was bankrolled by Lockheed / Martin, the aerospace giant that actually constructed the two Rovers for NASA.)

When it came to the music for this low-key documentary about a couple of little robots who could, an inspired choice was made. I don’t really count myself a die-hard Philip Glass fan, but I’m not sure who could’ve done a better job of scoring a Mars Rover movie. With the film’s emphasis on engineering and scientific brilliance, Glass turns in a perfect series of tunes whose musical intricacy matches and melds with the mechanical intricacy of the subject matter. There’s more than a little bit of sentimentality here and there, but Glass wisely avoids pouring on the musical equivalent of anthropomorphizing. His music depicts the Mars Rovers as plucky, determined, patient little machines, and gives them more character (without giving them too much character) than any press release NASA’s ever issued on the subject.

4 out of 4The highlight is easily “Spirit Vs. Opportunity”, but singling out one piece of music above the others isn’t to imply that there are any that I really didn’t like. Bringing things to a close is a selection of Icelandic rock act Sigur Ros’s patented brew of alternative rock and world music. Roving Mars is a good example of well-judged music for a film that requires a certain sense of wonder.

Order this CD

  1. Opening Titles (3:21)
  2. Robot Geologist (2:06)
  3. Origami Spacekraft (1:20)
  4. Spirit And Opportunity (0:49)
  5. Eyes, Hands, Wheels (3:31)
  6. So Much Of Our Hopes (0:36)
  7. 7 Months After Launch (2:52)
  8. Unfolding (2:17)
  9. Sediments (3:59)
  10. Landing (3:41)
  11. Opportunity Vs. Spirit (5:23)
  12. Floating In Space (2:00)
  13. Life Itself (2:02)
  14. Glósóli performed by Sigur Ros (6:16)

Released by: Lakeshore
Release date: 2006
Total running time: 40:13