Vinyl for Aliens? Now Earthlings Can Listen Too!

Vinyl for Aliens? Now Earthlings Can Listen Too!

March 06, 2018 | Music

Over four decades ago, NASA sent probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 out into deep space to capture images of our solar system’s far planets and outer reaches. Both probes have finished their photo-taking missions and are currently hurtling through interstellar space. Soon their transmissions to Earth will gradually cease.

NASA scientists, not ruling out that some extraterrestrial being may discover these probes in the cold expanses of the galaxy, came up with a surefire way to tell the aliens about Earth and its lifeforms: the Golden Records.

A NASA committee chaired by Carl Sagan (yes, that Carl Sagan) spent almost a year deciding what to put on the phonograph record. The committee’s goal was to try to best squeeze the essence of all of Earth’s history and lifeforms onto a 12-inch gold-plated copper record (no pressure, Carl). In addressing this challenge, Sagan turned to music and sound, as they can convey the complexities of humanity the way words never can (especially if an alien has no idea what words are). How will the aliens know how to use this golden record? NASA designed a gold-plated aluminum jacket explaining how to use a stylus to play it.

Designed to be played at 16-2/3 revolutions per minute, the record opens with greetings in 55 different languages, ranging from ancient Akkadian to the modern Chinese Wu dialect. Once the aliens are sufficiently greeted by humankind, the record transitions to a series of sounds found on Earth: volcano explosions, dogs barking, cars revving, babies laughing — just your run-of-the-mill Earth noises. The natural sound preamble gives way to the heart of the record: a 90-minute selection of music from around the world. Running the gamut from Bach to Peruvian panpipes to some Chuck Berry rock-and-roll, these aliens are sure to get a well-rounded education in world music!

Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in 2013, with Voyager 2 following not too far behind (well, in space terms, that is). As of 2018, the golden records float over 13 billion miles from Earth. For over 40 years, NASA has not released copies of the golden record on vinyl, but in 2016, label Ozma Records launched a Kickstarter to experience the recording the way it was “meant to be played.” David Pescovitz, Ozma co-founder and editor/managing partner of the website Boing Boing notes the vitality of their project: “The golden record is a great reminder of our place in the universe and also that our future is really up to us,” he remarks in the Kickstarter video.

Ozma’s Kickstarter initially asked for $198,000 to fund the project, but quickly blew past that goal, raising nearly $1.4 million with nearly 11,000 backers. Twenty percent of the net proceeds will go to the Carl Sagan Institute. From those numbers, it looks like the public really wanted in on that vinyl for aliens. Rising to the demand, Ozma opened up vinyl sales beyond their Kickstarter backers, and you can order the vinyl and box set on their website.

For $98, the stunningly packaged box set includes three translucent golden vinyls of containing all the audio on the Voyagers’ records, an artsy-looking book containing the images that were encoded in analog form on the original golden records, a digital audio download card and a fine art print. (We think the box set would look fantastic next to a Crosley turntable, if we do say so ourselves.)

We’ll never know if an extraterrestrial actually listens to those golden recordings on the Voyagers. But out there, deep in interstellar space, there are glimmering records that remind the universe of the beauty of the Earth and its soundtrack.

Jason Lee Menard
Jason Lee Menard

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