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.