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by World Music Network September 06, 2012


Voyager Golden Record

Travelling at 15 km per second, Voyagers 1 and 2 are now leaving our solar system and had close encounters with Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus!

'Music was at least a creditable attempt to convey human emotions' Astronomer and space scientist Carl Sagan (1934-1996) 

So what kind of music is on this disc and why did we send it out to the stars? 

The ambition of the Voyager gold discs was much greater than previous project Pioneers 10 and 11, launched in 1971 and 1972 which carried a plaque of drawings of the human body.  The gold disc was sent out to convey the essence of our humanity on a voyage that could last a billion years to unknown civilizations. There are nearly 90 minutes of music and 27 tracks in total, seven of which are classical tracks: three by Bach, two by Beethoven, one by Mozart and one by Stravinsky from the Rites of Spring.Other tracks featured are by artists Guan Pinghu, Willie Johnson and Chuck Berry. Carl Sagan wanted the music to represent different cultures and genres so as the tracks were being compiled the following  question was asked ' what is there about our world culture that we would be proud of?' In his words 'the unity of the human species as viewed from anywhere else is a fact that is essential for the human future.' 

During the scientific research of this project, scientists found the tradition in Javanese gamelan music best describes their aim: 

'A kind of spirit music in the world, continuously but silently playing. When a gamelan orchestra performs, it is merely making audible the present movement of the music of eternity. Perhaps all of the Voyager records can be viewed similarly - as a local and momentary expression of cosmic discourse, an exchange of greetings and music and information among diverse galactic species that has been in progress for billions of years.'  Carl Sagan

Voyager Golden Disc 1

Voyager Golden Disc 2

Sagan and his associates assembled 116 sounds and a variety of sounds from nature (including thunder, wind, birds and whales) and 118 pictures of planet Earth. On the disc there are spoken greetings in  55 different languages including Carl Sagan's son Nick Sagan aged six speaking the final greeting ' Hello from the children of planet Earth.'There are also printed messages by President Jimmy Carter and UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim. 

The image on the right of the page is a representation of mathematical and physical quantities, the solar system and its planets, DNA, human anatomy and reproduction. 

 Instructions on how to use the disc was included before it was launched!

The disc was designed to be played at 16 2/3 rpm  half the speed of the standard record technology of the day. A cartridge and stylus which is depicted in the right-hand image above is placed in the spacecarft with instructions on how to use them. Around the ilustration of the stylus Carl Sagan stated in binary arithmetic 'is the correct time one rotation of the record, 3.6 seconds, the time period associated with a fundamental transition of the hydrogen atom. 'The copper record was enclosed in an aluminium cover with information about the disc and the location of Earth.