Carl Sagan’s Intergalactic Mix Tape Could be Reissued on Vinyl

A team of California science geeks is attempting a vinyl reissue of the gold records launched into space 40 years ago on the Voyager spacecraft.

A team of California science geeks is attempting a vinyl reissue of the gold records launched into space 40 years ago on the Voyager spacecraft. (Photo: Courtesy of Lawrence Azerrad/LADesign)

Somewhere out there, billions and billions of miles from Earth, two Voyager spacecraft are hurtling towards the back of beyond at a rate of more than 35,000 miles per hour. They were sent into outer space in 1977 to take pictures of Jupiter and Saturn — but also in the hopes that maybe, somewhere beyond our solar system, aliens might spot the craft and wonder “Who the heck made those?”

Should that happen, each craft holds a copy of a golden record that included, among other things, human greetings recorded in more than 50 languages, sounds peculiar to Earth, and a selection of greatest musical hits as selected by a team of scientists led by astronomer, astrophysicist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carl Sagan.

Now a California-based team has launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce a vinyl version in time for the 40th anniversary of the Voyager launches in late August next year.

David Pescovitz, co-editor and managing partner of the tech news website Boing Boing, and a research director at the nonprofit Institute for the Future is leading the effort. 

Pescovitz says “In a time when we spend so much of our lives in mediated experiences, we wanted to create something beautiful and tangible that embodies the spirit and magic of the original golden record that right now is 13 billion miles away from this planet. With the other one right on its tail.”

The hard work was done in the 1970s

The original records are gold-plated copper disks, packaged inside aluminum cases, designed to survive for a billion years. Just a dozen copies were made, and even fewer are available for public perusal at places like the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

The records on the Voyager spacecraft contain sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth - minus the yucky bits like war and famine.
The records on the Voyager spacecraft contain sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth – minus the yucky bits like war and famine. (Photo: Courtesy of Lawrence Azerrad/LADesign)

How do you decide what to put on an album for the consumption of an unknown life form?  Dr. Sagan, who died in 1996, called it a “bottle cast into the cosmic ocean.”

He had a lot of help, including from the creative director of the project, Ann Druyan, who later married Sagan.

Dr. Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images as well as about 90 minutes of music, ranging from Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry, to selections like a 2,500-year-old Chinese folk song called “Flowing Stream.”

Sagan wrote a book about the Golden Record, called Murmurs of Earth, which is considered definitive. But a complete copy of the compilation you can hold in your grubby hands has not been issued since a CD-ROM in 1992 by Warner News Media.

“This was intended as a gift from humanity to the cosmos,” Pescovitz says. “But it’s also a gift to humanity: a reminder of what we can do when we are at our best. That reminder is perhaps more necessary and relevant today than it was even then.”

Collecting the music and photography rights constitutes the biggest challenge. Pescovitz teamed up with Timothy Daly, a manager at Amoeba Music in San Francisco, and Lawrence Azerrad, a graphic designer who has created packaging for Miles Davis, The Beach Boys, Wilco and others.

“This was one of the more utopian endeavors of humanity,” says Azerrad, noting the golden record left out the ugly bits of human experience, like war and famine.  That may have something to do with the record’s enduring appeal.

“In a lot of ways, it embodies a type of thinking much harder to find in today’s world.  We’ve kind of lost that aspiration to look at who we are as a human race.”

Jon Lomberg, design director for the Voyager Gold Records, sports one of the many t-shirts inspired by the project.
Jon Lomberg, design director for the Voyager Gold Records, sports one of the many t-shirts inspired by the project. (Photo: Courtesy of Jon Lomberg)

Golden Record Take Two

Pescovitz and company aren’t the only ones inspired by the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Voyager launches.

Jon Lomberg, the design director for the original project, is spearheading another, this one to be crowd-sourced. Called One Earth, the idea is to transmit the message to New Horizons, another NASA spacecraft headed out of the solar system. “The whole world has changed so much since the 1970s,” Lomberg says. Why not put out something that reflects the ways we have changed since then?

Carl Sagan’s Intergalactic Mix Tape Could be Reissued on Vinyl 26 September,2016Rachael Myrow

Author

Rachael Myrow

Rachael Myrow is KQED's South Bay arts reporter, covering arts and culture in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties. She also guest hosts for  The California Report and Forum, files stories for NPR and hosts a podcast called Love in the Digital Age.

Her passion for public radio was born as an undergrad at the University of California at Berkeley, writing movie reviews for KALX-FM. After finishing one degree in English, she got another in journalism, landed a job at Marketplace in Los Angeles, and another at KPCC, before returning to the Bay Area to work at KQED.

She spent more than seven years hosting The California Report, and over the years has won a Peabody and three Edward R. Murrow Awards (one for covering the MTA Strike, her first assignment as a full-time reporter in 2000 as well as numerous other honors including from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Radio Television News Directors Association and the LA Press Club.
Follow @rachaelmyrow

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