Record Created for Extraterrestrials Now Available for Everyone

Earlier this month, we were all finally been able to see what Pluto looks like thanks to NASA’s New Horizons interplanetary space probe. Now, also thanks to NASA, we can all listen to the only album that has thus far physically traveled beyond Pluto–The Golden Record.

Written By

Frank J. Oteri

Frank J. Oteri is an ASCAP-award winning composer and music journalist. Among his compositions are Already Yesterday or Still Tomorrow for orchestra, the "performance oratorio" MACHUNAS, the 1/4-tone sax quartet Fair and Balanced?, and the 1/6-tone rock band suite Imagined Overtures. His compositions are represented by Black Tea Music. Oteri is the Vice President of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) and is Composer Advocate at New Music USA where he has been the Editor of its web magazine, NewMusicBox.org, since its founding in 1999.

The cover for the Voyager record and the record

The gold-plated Sounds of Earth Record containing Laurie Spiegel’s realization of Johannes Kepler’s Harmonices Mundi and its gold-aluminum cover (left). Photo by NASA (Public Domain). A copy of this record was sent into outer space on both the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts in 1977. The cover was designed to protect the record from micrometeorite bombardment and also provides a potential extra-terrestrial finder a key to playing the record. The explanatory diagram appears on both the inner and outer surfaces of the cover, as the outer diagram will be eroded in time.

Earlier this month, we were all finally been able to see what Pluto looks like thanks to NASA’s New Horizons interplanetary space probe. Now, also thanks to NASA, we can all listen to the only album that has thus far physically traveled beyond Pluto–The Golden Record. The Golden Record is a 12-inch gold-plated copper disc filled with images and sounds that was created in order to share highlights from our world with extraterrestrials. (It’s arguably the ultimate listener outreach initiative.) A copy of the record was sent into outer space in 1977 along with a cartridge and needle for playback on both of the Voyager space probes. But now the entire contents of the record can be readily accessed and enjoyed by any sentient being with an internet connection. Although each of the individual tracks have been available online as separate sound files embedded on various NASA pages for years, NASA has finally grouped them together in one place on SoundCloud for a complete album listening experience.

In addition to the 115 images from Earth that are encoded in analog form on the Voyager Golden Records, there are a broad range of recordings of natural and urban sounds, spoken language, and approximately 90 minutes of music from many different cultures and eras. The only new music composer included on the Golden Record is Laurie Spiegel, whose electronic realization of Kepler’s “Music of the Spheres” was featured in the “sounds of the earth” section rather than the “music” section. The only other living American composer featured is Chuck Berry, whose hit 1958 rock and roll song “Johnny B. Goode” was the most recent popular music inclusion on the 1977 playlist. (Carl Sagan, chair of the committee in charge of programming the record, also wanted to include something more up-to-date–a track by the Beatles. Though the members of the band reportedly liked the idea, their recording company EMI turned down the request even though the potential revenue losses due to interstellar copyright theft had yet to be–and to this day still haven’t been–determined.)

The Voyager Golden Record:

Here’s just the music on the Voyager Golden Record:

And here’s just Laurie Spiegel’s contribution to Voyager:

Laurie Spiegel on NewMusicBox:

The transcript of the entire conversation with Laurie Spiegel for NewMusicBox is here.

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