Solar Soundbaths, Futuristic Funerals & Disappearing Moonlight: What We Learned At The Tour De Moon Festival

Following its takeover of Newcastle City Centre last weekend, we round up our top takeaways from the immersive arts festival ahead of its Southhampton dates.

IMAGES Courtesy of Tour de Moon

How does imagining the Moon as a new world give us space to consider culture, the environment, publishing, art, community, and politics in different ways? That was the question being answered at Tour de Moon this weekend, the immersive arts festival taking over cities across the UK this summer. Having started the tour in Leicester, last weekend saw the Moon Convoy arrive in Newcastle for a weekend filled with space-themed fun before heading to Southampton for the final stop on its mission.

Tour de Moon is the brainchild of Dr Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian, whose CV includes founding the tuition-free charity University of the Underground and NASA’s International Space Orchestra, and has worked alongside Noam Chomsky, Pussy Riot and Kid Cudi. In 2021, Nelly’s design studio was selected to host one of 10 major creative projects commissioned as part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, which is taking place across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in 2022. 

Catalysed by global pandemics, Nelly sees the moon as a symbol for human life on Earth – both in the cyclical patterns history is stuck on repeating and in its transformative power as a guiding force through darkness – and uses this metaphor to underpin the vast number of initiatives, events and performances the festival encapsulates. The festival has united the best minds across the UK and beyond in science, the arts and nightlife culture to provide the facilities to breed new ways of thinking and imagine alternative futures.

One such topic of conversation during the weekend’s events was the increasing interest in therapeutic wellness tourism – that’s the travel associated with the pursuit of improving one’s physical and inner wellbeing – and its dramatically rising appeal among privileged vacationists. Lives increasingly spent with labour exercised at a laptop screen and leisure enabled by streaming platforms, excursions to untouched nature are on the rise, with some deranged billionaires already having made their maiden voyages outer space.

But more than merely a future that imagines humans inhabiting the Moon, Tour de Moon hopes to plant the seed for the next generation of leaders, thinkers and makers, and ensure these seeds are blown as far afield as possible. Ahead of the festival’s Southampton schedule, we reflect on what we learned from the Newcastle event.

The Moon is becoming less visible

One of the festival’s many initiatives is Moon Press, intended to be an intervention into publishing, creating space for writers, thinkers and artists to draw connections between the environment, humans and outer space. The ‘moon zine’ exists as a printed and online publication released every month in line with each full moon. 

In one of its print editions, Ephemeris – referring to the astronomical text that positions the celestial bodies in the sky seen from Earth – explains the dangerous future we face without regulation of light pollution.

“Studies have revealed that 60% of Europeans and almost 80% of North Americans cannot see the Milky Way because of the effects of artificial lighting. Overall, our galaxy is rendered invisible to over one third of global populations,” writes contributing author Bethany Rigby in the zine’s article, ‘Darkness Vacations At The Lunar Poles’.

This is a culturally significant loss – as Bethany explains, not only does it prevent viewers from reading the constellations, be that for navigation or ancestral storytelling, but it also prevents the philosophical connection to our place in the universe that only staring up into a deep, endless expanse of unknown can do. Facing increasingly dangerous political systems and a climate emergency, feeling connected to our surroundings, one another and the environment has never been so vital.

Noise-punk has the power to heal trauma

A standout from Moon Cinema came from trans queer Kapampangan and Desi Muslim performance art duo Mirrored Fatality, sharing their rituals, altars, and medicine through DIT (Do It Together) experimental and healing noise-punk. The duo’s short film, EARTHBODY(S), is an immersive journey about how we are stripped from our ancestral lands and pushed into cities suffering from COVID-19, food apartheid, the police state, and environmental racism.

Combining performance art, music, spoken word, film, photography, painting, drawing, upcycled garments, anti-imperialist education, and healing justice, the pair’s intentions were for QTBIPOC to embody their rage and holistic healing to “disrupt the isolation from existing in a white supremacist capitalistic apocalyptic world towards collective liberation.”

“We shot the film across many different locations including footage from our artist & farming residencies at Buttermilk Falls Residency, Earthlodge Center for Transformation, Star Route Farm, Esalen Institute, Isis Oasis Sanctuary, AADK Spain, Calafou, Star Route Farm on Indigenous land and our mirrored fatality tours across Turtle Island, Asia, and Europe,” they explain. “We acknowledge that we are currently in a global pandemic and climate crisis that disproportionately affects the lives of poor, incarcerated, disabled, undocumented, Black, Indigenous, Trans, Queer, and People of Color folks. We want to acknowledge all the access we have had to create this portal from technology and the resources benefiting from imperialism, colonialism, colonization, and native lands we live on today.”

Your inner-child can unlock your greatest ideas

What if the Moon had landed on Earth? What if the Moon was a psychedelic inflatable playground; a lunar landscape on which to play Moon Games? Collaborating with astrophysicists, sports groups and youth organisations, Tour de Moon has created all of this for its attendees.

The soft-play games zone for adults is unique in its design as a space typically reserved for children, borrowing from the colours and shapes of 1980s video games and films to evoke a sense of childhood nostalgia. The games themselves, designed as inflatable, interactive elements scattered around a life-size playing board, include asteroids, moon rocks and planets each weighted at ⅙ of the Earth’s gravity as it is on the Moon. 

The games take place under a deep blue light, reflecting the hue that light appears in from the Moon. The immersive, joyful atmosphere is to encourage its adult participants to engage with their inner-child to inspire their problem solving and community-building instincts, and reconnect with the sense of wonder.

Reimagined soundbaths can be tools for new thinking

At both the Moon Experiences and on the Moon Convoy, Tour de Moon offered “an immersive audio experience” titled Loss><Gain. Also known as a soundbath, Loss><Gain utilised soundscape speaker systems as a foundation from which to create fully immersive 360° installations as a new paradigm for how audiences engage with music in a space. 

The creative collaboration was led by veteran Sound Designer David Sheppard and long-term Sigur Rós manager John Best, working alongside a cooperative pool of visual designers, lighting engineers, producers, and creative consultants. Building upon Best’s previous experience creating live soundbaths around the world with Sigur Rós, and Sheppard’s long history of work on immersive gallery sound installations, Loss><Gain is a full-surround experience both visually and sonically. 

The festival worked with a variety of artists to tailor bespoke compositions for the experience, including works from classical musician Oliver Coates and EDM DJ Rival Consoles along with hit makers Jarvis Cocker and Kae Tempest

Traditionally, soundbaths have been used in various meditation and wellness practices and involve laying on the floor while someone gently taps a gong against a bowl. Tour de Moon has reinvented this format with Loss><Gain, while still encouraging listeners’ bodies to enter a state of deep relaxation that can relieve stress, reduce anxiety and open our minds to new ways of thinking.

The Moon can help us rethink grief, loss and birth 

At Moon Experiences, repurposed disused buildings have been transformed into surreal and unusual theatrical spaces, home to the festival’s up-and-coming playwrights and their commissioned works. The works explored three themes – celebrations, communication and arrival – with the playwrights considering these human experiences in new and unique ways.

For the theme ‘celebrations’, the playwrights focused imagined what these celebrations could look like from the perspective of the Moon, focusing on five key events – birth, ritual, funeral, birthday and ‘moon-trimony’. 

For birth, theatre trio Girls Next Door explore this through lunar and human perspectives, breaking down the clear distinction we typically make between them and allowing viewers to celebrate much larger timescales than our own. “We were thinking a lot about our theme, ‘birth’, and how we can adapt this to our audience of young women,” the troop reveals. “We wanted to explore interesting birth stories and the twists and turns that can come with this in a modern-day society.”

Meanwhile for funeral, the performance questions what our lives could look life without our solar anchor and its stabilsing gravitational effect on the Earth. The piece also dissects how we celebrate and commemorate the passing of this lunar body in a moment of transition, questioning societal practices of grief and our understanding of death as an ending. This play asks what could the future of funerals look like when seen as a celebration of life and when mourning is understood as an act of care.

For more information on the events & to get free tickets for Southampton 10th-13th June head to DICE.

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