I returned to Caledonia Skytower’s Poetry of the Planets because when I first previewed it at the start of April 2017, Jupiter and Mars had yet to open. This has now changed, with Cale recently completing both and opening them to the public, completing her “suite” of seven settings inspired by Gustav Holst’s famous suite, The Planets. Given this, and the fact that Bringer of War and Bringer of Jollity (the names of the planets were only added to the suite’s movements after their 1918 premiere) are perhaps the two most well-known pieces from the suite, a return to visit them seemed entirely appropriate.
Bringer of War, as one might expect takes us to the remnants of a campaign somewhere in the out reaches of Roman’s empire. From the landing point of the army’s camp, complete with banners and tents, visitors can follow the path down to the battlefield itself, where fires burn and the heaviness of death hangs in the air.
It’s a setting entirely in keeping with Mars and its role as home to the Roman god of war, dark and foreboding. However, my own view of Mars is biased, being shaped by the images of Mars returned to us by the probes we’ve sent there: the winding depths of Vallis Marineris, the fractured chasms of Noctis labyrunthus, the towering peaks of the Tharsis volcanoes and the great cone of Olympus Mons. There is a grandeur to Mars as we know it today which I feel brings a new meaning to Holst’s piece; one less threatening, but more majestic than might have previously been the case. Which is not in any way to negate Cale’s vision, but rather demonstrates how our perceptions of the suite can be as much influenced by the planets as the music can influence our thinking about the planets.
Bringer of Jollity takes visitors to a marvellous crystalline maze, filled with columns reflecting and refracting light, through which a path runs, leading visitors between the columns to a set of golden steps. These in turn provide the means to climb up to a ballroom. One again, the theme of Holst’s piece is marvellously interpreted. It is not heard to image the passageways of the maze filled with the laughter of children as they chase one another up and down them, seeking whatever secrets the hallways might hide. Meanwhile, the ballroom offers a place of adult happiness among the dances – and dance itself might be said to reflect the beat and tone of the movement, with the almost eternal dance of Jupiter’s cloud system forming a backdrop.
Poetry of the Planets has a supporting website, and visitors to the installation are invited to submit poems, haikus and even short stories (up to a maximum of 2,000 words) inspired by one of more of the settings, for publication on the website (authors retain the copyright on their work). Submissions can be made in-world via note card at any of the mail boxes within the installation, or directly to Cale herself.
Also, Poetry of the Panets will feature in the May 22nd instalment of Designing Worlds, and the show will be embedded in the Poetry website. The installation itself will remain open until the end of May for those wishing to visit or re-visit. As I noted in my preview, it is an inspired idea, bringing together fable, mysticism, music and words – and a wonderful means by which we can immerse ourselves in Holst’s suite.