Right off the bat, Moon Graffiti forces you into panic mode alongside the engineers at mission control. It begins with a reenactment of the worst case scenario – a “moon disaster.” There is a rapid beeping, signalling critical error, and the static message from the astronaut giving mission control a program code that they aren’t familiar with – “What’s a 12-02?” “I don’t know.” and that’s only within the first 25 seconds of the recording. As landing draws near, things begin to sound like they’re looking up. The alarm goes away and communications are clear. But then static grows louder and the alarm returns. The astronaut never sends another transmission. Mission control panics – and you hear a metallic crash, then silence. You know something terrible had just happened. It culminates with a snippet of Nixon’s prepared speech, In Event of Moon Disaster, being read over droning, echoing tones. You can feel the dread.
The audio switched once between narration and reenactment, but one thing that was constant in the first half of the clip was the droning, dread-inducing background music. At times, like around 5 minutes 10 seconds when the astronauts were looking around at the surface of the moon, the music would build. “Magnificent desolation,” Aldrin described it as the music droned and echoed, reflecting the hopelessness of the situation and the loneliness of the moon.
In the story, Aldrin kicked the surface of the moon twice, resulting in a rippling effect, something like water. There was a muffled echo noise that played after the actor indicated that Aldrin had kicked the moon dust and it really did “look” like a ripple in my mind’s eye. It was a really neat effect I think!
There was a point when Aldrin told Armstrong that he “had to see this” (the fuel cell) and the music changed to a higher tempo and the notes started to ascend. Something was building, but what? When the music dropped out as the two astronauts realized they would be stuck on the moon, I could almost feel my heart sink into my stomach.
The rest of their time on the moon is spent in silence. No music. The only sound effects were the attempt at planting the flag. I think if they had added that dreary music from the first half back in, the sense of hopelessness would be lost. They truly were alone, hundreds of thousands of miles from any other person, and they would die alone. The sense of loneliness, vastness, emptiness – can only really be expressed by silence.
When Aldrin begins have an issue with breathing while listening to Armstrong’s story, a series of sound effects play. The ticking of a clock (a reminder that they only had 2 hours of air left), a constantly rising tone (signalling that something is coming), and Armstrong’s story starts echoing as Aldrin’s breathing accelerates. I’d interpret it as a panic attack. When Aldrin shakes him out of it, the effects stop suddenly.
The delivery of the Moon Disaster speech was incredible. (I’ll admit that it always kinda makes me tear up when I read it). It comes after a few moments of silence from the astronauts, who had accepted their fate, and was accompanied by a single droning tone. The speech concludes, and a simple stringed tune plays in minor key, followed by the credits.
The use (and non-use) of background music in this clip was what really set the tone for the story, I think. Like I mentioned above, the music chosen in the first half was dead on for instilling a feeling of dread, like “oh god, we’re screwed, we’ve crashed on the moon and our stuff’s all borked and this is the moon.” As the listener and already knowing Aldrin and Armstrong’s fates in this story, the background music gives another sense of “I already know that you will die here, but you don’t know yet, and I don’t want to be here when you find out.” It’s scary and it’s uncomfortable.
We DO have to be there when they find out that they will die on the moon, and the revelation is presented by having the background music completely drop out when they realize that there is no hope for a return trip, and that the radio is dead. The overall silence, with only the two astronauts communicating through staticky transmissions to each other, creates a sense of isolation on the grandest scale.
The complete silence before Nixon’s full speech is tough to hear. At the end of the Moon Disaster document, there is a small list of protocols that should be followed, and one includes NASA ceasing communications with the doomed astronauts and having a clergyman say a prayer. The clip’s moments of silence between the two astronauts after an existential conversation reminds me of that final protocol.