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One Billion Year Old Run-off Groove

Thirty years ago today the US Government launched Voyager 1, a spacecraft designed to provide data on Jupiter and Saturn. By now scientists expected Voyager to be damaged or lost, yet it is still zooming through space, more than 10 billion miles out and transmitting data.  As a concession to perhaps a two-way exchange, astronomers Carl Sagan and Frank Drake somehow convinced NASA to bolt a gold-plated copper phonograph record to the outer hull of Voyager. Archival life expectancy of the disc – one billion years. Here’s the disc itself, along with its cover:

The theory proposed was that beings with two hand-like appendages, regardless of their stage of scientific development, would be able to extract sound. Like earth in a billion years, regardless of our stage of scientific development, with nothing more than an old bicycle wheel, a rubber band, a nail, and a cone of paper, the vinyl version of “Johnny B. Goode” will still resonate.

The disc is a twelve-inch LP, cut at half-speed, so meant to be played at 16-2/3 rpm, encased in an aluminum jacket and packaged along with a stylus and cartridge. Now here’s the fun fact, related to yesterdays blog on run-off groove messages: the album’s producer Timothy Ferris thought it would be neat to scratch a message in the run-off grove, so he added, “To the makers of music – all worlds, all times.” When NASA noticed that the writing was not on the specifications sheet, the disc was rejected as a “non standard part.” Typical fight ensued, Sagan and his team won out, the record was go.

The content of the disc attached to both Voyager 1 & 2 consists of greetings, photos, text, natural sounds and an hour and a half of music. The audio is listed below, but clicking here will take you to a page where you can actually see and listen to everything on the disc.

Greetings in : Sumerian, Arabic, Urdu, Italian, Ila, Akkadian, Romanian, Hindi, Nguni, Nyanja, Hittite, French, Vietnamese, Sotho, Swedish, Hebrew, Burmese, Sinhalese, Wu, Ukrainian, Aramaic, Spanish, Greek, Korean, Persian, English, Indonesian, Latin, Armenian, Serbian, Portuguese, Kechua, Japanese, Polish, Luganda, Cantonese, Dutch, Punjabi, Nepali, Amoy, Russian, German, Turkish, Mandarin Chinese, Marathi, Thai, Bengali, Welsh, Gujarati, Kannada, Telugu, Oriya, Hungarian, Czech, and Rajasthani.

Sounds of the earth: Volcanoes, Earthquake, Thunder, Mud Pots, Wind, Rain, Surf, Crickets, Frogs, Birds, Hyena, Elephant, Chimpanzee, Wild Dog, Footsteps, Heartbeat, Laughter, Fire, Speech, The First Tools, Tame Dog, Herding Sheep, Blacksmith, Sawing, Tractor, Riveter, Morse Code, Ships, Horse and Cart, Train, Tractor, Bus, Auto, F-111 Flyby, Saturn 5 Lift-off, Kiss, Mother and Child, Life Signs (?), and a Pulsar.

Music :
* Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F. First Movement, Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, conductor. 4:40
* Java, court gamelan, “Kinds of Flowers,” recorded by Robert Brown. 4:43
* Senegal, percussion, recorded by Charles Duvelle. 2:08
* Zaire, Pygmy girls’ initiation song, recorded by Colin Turnbull. 0:56
* Australia, Aborigine songs, “Morning Star” and “Devil Bird,” recorded by Sandra LeBrun Holmes. 1:26
* Mexico, “El Cascabel,” performed by Lorenzo Barcelata and the Mariachi México. 3:14
* “Johnny B. Goode,” written and performed by Chuck Berry. 2:38
* New Guinea, men’s house song, recorded by Robert MacLennan. 1:20
* Japan, shakuhachi, “Tsuru No Sugomori” (“Crane’s Nest,”) performed by Goro Yamaguchi. 4:51
* Bach, “Gavotte en rondeaux” from the Partita No. 3 in E major for Violin, performed by Arthur Grumiaux. 2:55
* Mozart, The Magic Flute, Queen of the Night aria, no. 14. Edda Moser, soprano. Bavarian State Opera, Munich, Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor. 2:55
* Georgian S.S.R., chorus, “Tchakrulo,” collected by Radio Moscow. 2:18
* Peru, panpipes and drum, collected by Casa de la Cultura, Lima. 0:52
* “Melancholy Blues,” performed by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven. 3:05
* Azerbaijan S.S.R., bagpipes, recorded by Radio Moscow. 2:30
* Stravinsky, Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Igor Stravinsky, conductor. 4:35
* Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue in C, No.1. Glenn Gould, piano. 4:48
* Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, First Movement, the Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, conductor. 7:20
* Bulgaria, “Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin,” sung by Valya Balkanska. 4:59
* Navajo Indians, Night Chant, recorded by Willard Rhodes. 0:57
* Holborne, Paueans, Galliards, Almains and Other Short Aeirs, “The Fairie Round,” performed by David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London. 1:17
* Solomon Islands, panpipes, collected by the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service. 1:12
* Peru, wedding song, recorded by John Cohen. 0:38
* China, ch’in, “Flowing Streams,” performed by Kuan P’ing-hu. 7:37
* India, raga, “Jaat Kahan Ho,” sung by Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar. 3:30
* “Dark Was the Night,” written and performed by Blind Willie Johnson. 3:15
* Beethoven, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130, Cavatina, performed by Budapest String Quartet. 6:37

Yes, launched in 1977, the year punk and hip-hop exploded. So remember, scientists are not cultural harbingers or the best folks to DJ your next party.

Timothy Ferris wrote a nice story about the recording (“The Mix Tape of the Gods”) in today’s New York Times. “Murmurs of Earth” a book by Sagan et.al., chronicles the making of the disc. It was originally published in 1978, and reissued in 1992 by Warner New Media with a CD-ROM replicating the Voyager Golden Record.

By the way, Wikipedia has a wicked list of films and TV programs that mention or plot-point the recording.