- The Golden Loaf, The James Webb Space Telescope Launch
There are terms for the sensations experienced by those who have traveled to space. Coined by author Frank White in 1987, the Overview Effect is a cognitive shift that astronauts such as Michael Collins and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin have felt after witnessing Earth from outer space. In 2020, anthropologist Deana Weibel came up with a similar term, the Ultraview Effect, whereby astronauts feel intense awe while looking upon vast, open star fields.
There is a sense of both the Overview and Ultraview effects on the new album by the Golden Loaf, fittingly titled The James Webb Space Telescope Launch. The project, a side hustle for Burlington aesthete and massively productive musician Matt Hagen (the High Breaks, Savage Hen, San Mateo), is a one-man score of NASA's Christmas Day launch of the JWST, one of the most ambitious endeavors in the history of space exploration.
"To me, the JWST represents our passion, willingness and ability as a species to push further a greater understanding of deep space," Hagen wrote on the Golden Loaf's Bandcamp page. "And even if we don't know what's out there, the inherent thrill to observe beyond the naked eye is humbling and exciting."
Hagen compiled more than 40 minutes of audio and dialogue from NASA's live broadcast of the launch and fashioned them into eight "songs" — though the album feels more like a continuous score. As various talking heads describe the stages of the telescope's launch and separation from its Ariane 5 rocket, the album evokes the educational soundtracks of the '80s. The beats are Casio-esque, and the synths beep and blip in such a way as to bring to mind William Shatner's infamous meltdown in Airplane 2.
The overall effect is both fitting and, eventually, charming. While "Carefully Watching Telemetry," a nine-minute track featuring NASA experts saying things like "all parameters normal, four minutes of powered flight remaining," isn't exactly a single, Hagen's score is intriguing — and, for the Gen X crowd, nostalgic.
The moment "Trajectory Plot" kicks off the recording with its faded-in, twitchy beat, it's hard not to flash back to the teacher rolling in the TV/VCR combo, ready to hit you with an episode of "NOVA" or "The Voyage of the Mimi." That specific retro-futuristic sound of what the '80s thought we'd jam to in 2022 permeates the album, perhaps vindicating all those educational scores after all.
As the technicians at the spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, celebrated during "Webb Separation," the record's vibe changes subtly. Stabs of synthesizer and an increasingly dancy beat move in as humanity sends its spyglass to the stars.
Hagen channels wonder into his compositions and lets the scientists do the talking. The final track is a six-minute message from NASA administrator Bill Nelson. "This telescope is a time machine that is going to take us back to the very beginnings of the universe," Nelson says. "We are going to discover incredible things that we never imagined. The impossible becomes possible."
Listen to The James Webb Space Telescope Launch at thegoldenloaf.bandcamp.com.