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Astronaut, rocker perform 1st original duet from space and Earth

by Elizabeth Howell, Contributing writer

Astronaut Chris Hadfield (left) performs from on the International Space Station while Barenaked Ladies frontman Ed Robertson sings with his bandmates and a youth choir in Toronto, Canada, for the first Earth and space duet of an original song. (CBC Music)
Feb. 8, 2013

— An astronaut and a rock singer recorded an original song together and released it on Friday (Feb. 8) as the first duet of new music performed simultaneously in space and on the ground.

A rocket launch and the beauty of the planet Earth are the subjects of the song, which was performed in space by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, while accompanied by Canadian singer Ed Robertson, the frontman of the band Barenaked Ladies, and others on Earth.

The song, called "I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing)," focuses on the experience of a person in space missing his loved ones on the Earth below. The lyrics include, "If you could see our nation from the International Space Station, you'd know why I want to get back soon."

Hadfield and Robertson began co-writing the song when Hadfield was still in training in Russia for his five-month mission on the space station. Next month, Hadfield will be the first Canadian to command the orbital complex when the Expedition 35 mission begins.

A duet from longtime friends

Hadfield and Robertson first met more than a decade ago when Hadfield gave the award-winning Barenaked Ladies band a tour of Mission Control in Houston.

The duet, which was mixed in Toronto earlier this week, included other members of Barenaked Ladies as well as the Wexford Gleeks youth choir from Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts. Hadfield performed from the cupola, which is an observation deck on the space station.

"Welcome to the cupola. I'm ready to play a little music," Hadfield said clutching a guitar, in a video of the recording that was released Friday.

"Indeed, your scenery looks a little nicer than ours," said Robertson, responding from the studio.

A close-up of the custom guitar pick that astronaut Chris Hadfield is flying to the International Space Station. (Larrivée Guitars)

Hadfield then proudly showed off his guitar pick, to which Robertson quipped: "I know, yours matches your mission patch."

As the collaborators sang, Hadfield periodically looked up through the cupola's windows to gaze out at Earth. On one occasion, he did so right after singing, "Pushed back in my seat, look out my window — there goes home."

Despite the distance between the collaborators, Robertson wrote the work of writing the song mostly went smoothly between himself and the orbiting astronaut. The exception came when they were finalizing the chorus.

"It's a line in the chorus that I wrote, 'If you could see our nation from the International Space Station.' Chris always felt that it was a real mouthful, and it is a real mouthful, but that's what's cool about it," wrote Robertson on a blog for Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC), Canada's national broadcaster.

'Chris always felt that it was a real mouthful'

"[Hadfield's] alternate was 'From way up here on this space station.' So I said, 'You just sung the exact same number of syllables and haven't changed the meaning of it. You just didn't say 'International Space Station', which is this awesome place where you actually are, so I really want you to sing that line," wrote Robertson.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield performs his portion of the song "I.S.S." ("Is Somebody Singing") from the station's cupola. (CBC Music)

Hadfield is reportedly working on making enough songs for an album — in between his other duties on the station. He performed another new song from orbit in December titled "Jewel in the Night."

When the album is ready for release, Robertson already has a suggested title for Hadfield.

"How about, 'Turns Out in Space Lots of People Can Hear You Scream?'" he offered.

Hadfield isn't the first musical astronaut to perform while on board the space station. In April 2011, NASA astronaut Catherine "Cady" Coleman collaborated with Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson on the ground to play the British rock band's song "Bourree" over a satellite connection.

Coleman played the flute during the performance, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of humanity's first spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961.

Listen to Hadfield's and Robertson's space-to-ground duet by playing the video above (right) or by clicking here.

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I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing)

Video credit: CBC Music