by John Moeller and William Rauscher
Early in the film Trainspotting, junkie protagonist Renton dives into ‘The Worst Toilet in Scotland’ to retrieve some opium suppositories. Sliding down the toilet bowl, he passes through a rabbit hole, emerging on the other side in a dreamlike ocean world. The soundtrack to the scene is a drifting melange of pedal steel, plucked strings, and soaring distant synthesizer. With its serene circularity, the music gives Renton an air of grace as he glides around like a dolphin, looking for his heroin.
The Song is Deep Blue Day, by Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, and Roger Eno. Deep Blue Day, like the rest of Eno’s album Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, was composed to accompany footage of the heroic Apollo missions for the documentary For All Mankind. Apollo uniquely merges ambient music, a term Brian Eno created, with the vernacular of American country music. While effectively evoking images of outer space inspired by the NASA footage, Deep Blue Day marries Eno’s austere synthesizer arrangements with layers of ambience that evoke high lonesome country music, filtered references to pedal steel guitar, dusty reverb, and twangy electric guitar.
Previous to Apollo, Brian Eno had been making spatial music for a decade. Eno’s first work, with Roxy Music, was largely textural. He processed the band through his VCS3 synth and provided visual texture with an outrageous glam rock facade. Post-Roxy, Eno released a series of albums that increasingly blended elements of avant garde into pop. These soundscapes formalized as the Ambient Music Series, beginning with Ambient 1: Music For Airports in 1978.
“I thought, what should be space country music? It’s the same kind of idea, it’s a new frontier, we’re breaking into some unexplored territory, it’s all ours, we can roam free and so on. So I was trying to make some new electronic country music with both that feeling of newness and nostalgia that characterizes country music so much.” – Brian Eno
For Eno, ambient music became a new way of expressing space and a new way of relating to music within a particular environment: “I wanted the feeling that you got a strong sense of geographical location when you listened to the piece of music. You felt that it was in dark trees, or over fire island—it was in some landscape, in some environment. It thought it was interesting to make music that offered more choices—music that you could be completely engaged, or that you could move out of. But that would still carry on in the background. I meant background or foreground music—music that would stand in any relation to you.” 
The crosswiring in Apollo of electronic music with country music stemmed from the notion of space as frontier. Eno superimposes the frontier of space onto the frontier of the American west, leveling the Apollo astraunaut with the figure of the American cowboy. “I thought, what should be space country music? It’s the same kind of idea, it’s a new frontier, we’re breaking into some unexplored territory, it’s all ours, we can roam free and so on. So I was trying to make some new electronic country music with both that feeling of newness and nostalgia that characterizes country music so much.” 
With his predilection for exploring within wide landscapes, it’s not a stretch to see Eno the artist as a creative cowboy, exploring the frontier as he sees it. Eno makes the same comparison in a recent interview: “I often think that artists divide into two categories from the musical Oklahoma!—the farmer and the cowboy. The farmer finds a piece of territory, stakes it up, digs it, cultivates and grows the land. The cowboy is the one who goes out and finds new territories. I rather think of myself as the cowboy than the farmer—I like the thrill of being somewhere where I know nobody else has ever been.” 
The pieces on Apollo are melancholic and chilly, in quiet awe of vastness of the universe, evoking cosmic elements floating in a suspended infinity. On Stars, the record’s final track, overlapping layers of hovering synth tones become twinkling orbs, burning and dying out, humming and ascending. A slow parallax drift becomes visible as a whole landscape slowly shifts. Suffused with a sense of exploring uncharted territory, Eno’s Apollo record evokes the frontier spirit, producing the feeling that outer space can be a bit high and lonesome: it’s unbounded, a realm without borders, where a man can be free, and all alone.
As it turns out, it is well-documented that the Apollo astronauts were each allowed to bring one audio cassette tape into space, and often it was outlaw country like Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings that soundtracked those iconic missions. When discussing the Apollo cassette tapes Eno commented, “I thought it was a fabulous idea that people were out in space, playing this music which really belongs to another frontier, in a way, seeing themselves as cowboys.” 
The NASA space cowboys would have had much to appreciate from an Apollo track like Deep Blue Day, with countrified licks from Daniel Lanois’ pedal steel guitar drifting without end through the cosmos.
1. Mike Andrews interview, 1983
2. HARDtalk interview, 1998
3. Brian Eno, Interview for Alfred Dunhill, 2012
4. Mojo Interview, 1998