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Poet and composer inspired by the solar system

Two major artistic talents - a poet and an electronic music pioneer - join forces tomorrow for a new solar system-inspired ‘sound journey’ called Edge

stars, solar system, night sky, stargazing, astronomy
stars, solar system, night sky, stargazing, astronomy

Katrina Porteous, the poet, and Peter Zinovieff, who helped to give Pink Floyd, David Bowie and others their distinctive sound, will give the inaugural performance of Edge in Centre for Life planetarium in Newcastle.

Part of the British Science Festival, which starts in the city today, Edge represents an exhilarating marriage of art and science.

Katrina, who lives in Northumberland, says Edge began as an idea for radio about two years ago when the BBC was looking at the possibility of staging a festival about the Earth and space. It never actually happened.

“But by that time we were very keen to make the piece so we looked around for venues and it was a friend of mine who suggested the planetarium,” says Katrina.

“By the time we went to speak to the people there, they were putting together ideas for this festival.”

So Edge, having acquired a platform, became part of the British Science Festival, running in Newcastle until September 12 with a dazzling array of talks and events.

Katrina is one of the region’s most potent creative forces, president of the Northumbrian Language Society and writer of a succession of poems for radio. One senior BBC producer described her as “extending the boundaries of the genre”.

This project certainly extends a few boundaries, taking the cosmos - and the apparent chaos within - as its theme.

“It’s a journey through space in words and music,” explains Katrina.

“It features four moons of the solar system, each representing one of the primary elements - water, fire, earth and air.”

Those moons are: Io, “a moon of Jupiter and a totally chaotic place”; two moons of Saturn, called Enceladus and Titan, “each of which, in a different way, could conceivably support primitive life”; and our Moon, “a dead world which paradoxically plays a role in the continuation of life on Earth”.

Katrina - after much research - wrote the words to bring these alien worlds to life while Peter Zinovieff composed the computer-generated music using sound data collected on the Apollo, Voyager and Cassini-Huygens space missions.

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft was launched in 1997 and went into orbit around Saturn in 2004. Dividing into two, the probe Huygens subsequently touched down on Titan, the first successful landing in the outer Solar System.

Katrina says of her collaborator: “Peter Zinovieff lives in Cambridge and I’ve been a family friend for a long time.

“We made a piece together called Horse (recorded for BBC Radio 3 at its Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead in 2011) and decided we’d like to make another piece.”

Peter, born in Britain in 1933 to aristocratic Russian immigrants, is what Katrina calls “a crossover sort of person, an inventor, scientist and composer who has two main claims to fame.

“The first is that he was one of the people in the 1960s who dragged electronic music out of the Stone Age by using computers. I believe he’s a candidate for being the first person to have a home computer anywhere in the world - in the early 1960s.”

His VCS3 synthesiser was used by Pink Floyd, Bowie and a host of performers.

But his second claim to fame, according to Katrina, is in the field of classical music. He wrote the libretto for Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s acclaimed 1986 opera, The Mask of Orpheus.

Performing Edge live - with Katrina and an actor taking the two spoken roles - will be an act of daunting precision.

Katrina says its “formal architecture” mirrors the movement of the tides, its title reflects her “passionate belief that poetry and art and science are all part of the same thing” and its success depends on all the elements gelling perfectly.

A third creative force is planetarium supervisor Christopher Hudson who has arranged a visual display to accompany Edge, which is to be recorded by the BBC for Poetry Please on Radio 4.

Performances of Edge will take place in the Centre for Life planetarium tomorrow at 4pm and 5pm and on Monday at 1.45pm. Tickets, at £3, can be booked on 0191 243 8223. Find more information and a link to the British Science Festival programme on www.life.org.uk/whats-on/edge

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