Monday, 22 January 2018


Above: Cover of the so-named "Golden Record" (top)
and the record itself (bottom)
In the late summer of 1977, scientists at NASA successfully launched into interstellar space two probes, dubbed “Voyager 1,” and “Voyager 2,” (both of which catapulted high above earth’s atmosphere on September 5 and August 20th, respectively). “On board” these probes was a little gift from Earth – a pleasant introduction of sorts to any potential intelligent life forms that may (or may not) exist within and/or beyond the confines of our vast solar system. It was a simple (by layman’s standards) token of peace: a record, comprised of two 12-inch gold-plated copper discs dubbed “The (Voyager) Golden Record,” which, by scientific standards, was a highly complex collection of sounds recorded here on earth combined with embedded imagery of life on what present day space fanatics call the only planet hospitable to man.

The project, which cost in excess of One billion one hundred forty-five million USD to reach its goal of launching far outwards into interstellar space, borrowed the curated collection of American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist and astrobiologist, Carl Sagan, then 43, which contained sounds of nature such the violent clapping of thunder and the calming tidal waves of the ocean - to the chirping of birds above earth’s terra firma, the various clicks and whistles of whales below sea level - to the gentle whimpers of a human infant, and, dispersed among some rock n' roll songs and greetings in 55 native tongues (including a written message from then-US president Jimmy Carter and U.N. General Secretary Kurt Waldheim), were some of Western (and Eastern) classical music’s most influential pieces – each designated to a country on Earth – according to where each composer was sired - showcasing to any curious extraterrestrial beings the traditions and styles of the music genre according to it’s creator’s home country on Earth.

Some of the standout pieces on The Golden Record include, from Germany, Johann Sebastian Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F, (first mvmt) performed by the Munich Bach Orchestra under the baton of Karl Richter, and in the style of Baroque chamber music. Also featured on the album are Bach's "Gavotte en rondeau" (mvmt. III) from the Partita No. 3 in E major for Violin as performed by the Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux, in the style of Baroque solo violin, and, in a slight switch in categorization, such as was the case with Stravinsky (as we will soon learn), we have, hailing from Canada, the Torontonian keyboard legend Glenn Gould’s renditions of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, (book II, Prelude and Fugue No.I in C major) in the style of Baroque keyboard music.

Above: Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux performs the third movement - the Gavotte en Rondeau" - by J.S. Bach.

From Austria, we have Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s stratospheric aria Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen from the composer's much beloved Die Zauberflöte, as performed by the famous German coloratura soprano Edda Moser with the Bavarian State Opera under the baton of Wolfgang Sawallisch, categorized as Opera, specifically "Classical Opera" - indicative of the genre's so-dubbed "Classical" era.

Above: German Coloratura Soprano Edda Moser sings the extremely challenging "Der Hölle Rache..."  under Wolfgang Sawallish - music
from Herr Mozart's masonic opera The Magic Flute.

As mentioned previously in regard to Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, Russian born composer and conductor Igor Stravinsky is hailed as a Frenchman on the infamous record. This is not much of a surprise, given the work selected for the album: Le Sacre du Printemps, or, The Rite of Spring (in particular, the exquisite and emotionally charged Sacrificial Dance sequence), listed under the category of ballet. Stravinsky's 1913 Parisian premiere at Paris' Théâtre des Champs Elysées
would show to any extraterrestrial intelligent life the pettiness of man, the value of wealth, and the snobbery that innately lurks within all of us. For it was at the May 29 premiere of Stravinsky's ballet in Paris that mankind proved the existence of a vitriolic distinction between the upper and middle classes and the clashing of overzealous egos, progressiveness, and cultural pomposity.

The movement chosen for The Golden Record is therefore quite fitting - the music portraying a young virgin, sacrificed by her peers to literally dance herself to death in a most insane fashion in order to yield bountiful crops come spring - a nod to mankind's cruel nature of out with the old, in with the new, and proving only the strong survive and supersede - often through meaningless sacrifice and at the expense of others. This recording in particular, added to The Golden Record, was conducted by Stravinsky himself: leading the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. It is categorized as Modernist Classical Ballet.

Above: Igor Stravinsky conducts his very own masterpiece: Le Danse Sacrale from his highly polarizing ballet Le Sacre Du Printemps. He
leads the Columbia Symphony Orchestra into a whipped-up frenzy of pagan suffering and sacrifice to expert effect.

Again we re-visit Germany, with works by Bonn native Ludwig van Beethoven (his infamous Symphony no. V, mvmt. I), as performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Otto Klemperer, categorized as Romantic Symphony; in addition to the composer's 1826 Cavatina (from the String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130). Listed as a Romantic String Quartet, both pieces by Beethoven capture Western Classical Music’s so-called “Romantic" era.

Above: the melodious Cavatina from Herr Beethoven's String Quartet XIII, as performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra under maestro
Otto Klemperer.

Now that we have some of the facts regarding this golden treasure, the question remains – just how rare is the record, and, more importantly, can you get you hands on a copy?

The answers to these questions are thus:

The originals are extremely rare: only 12 discs were pressed in 1977, and ten of those twelve records were distributed exclusively to NASA facilities. The other two, of course, are, literally speaking, far out of our reach – soaring high at some 13 billion miles outside of our planet, attached to the Voyager probes. So rare are the records, that Sagan – the curator himself – was refused a copy!

But my, how things have changed: come February 2018, you can get your hands on a copy of the infamous “Golden Record.” Sagan had recorded in 1992 a “digital recreation” of the album, however it was far from a "re-issue." By next month (tentatively – the record launch day here on earth has been pushed back several times since 2016), you, and any of your loved ones will be the first humans outside of NASA to “hear” the record “in the same fashion and format” that an “alien civilization,” if they indeed exist, would have heard it.” This endeavor was made possible by a group of astronomy, music and scientific aficionados at Ozma Records – who pride themselves on presenting to the public introspective, artful and scientific works), and who launched a successful “Kickstarter Campaign”  in an effort to raise enough funds to “re-issue” and remaster the original and highly prized Golden Record. A whopping 10,768 contributors collectively pledged $1,363,037 USD, enough to bring the album to us mere mortals in the form of a two-CD set and a much awaited 3xLP vinyl box set – the latter of which is to be released next month, the former being currently available for purchase. (N.B: Buyers are relegated to purchasing only one copy, so this has all the hallmarks of a limited edition set).

If you are a lover of fine music and a lifetime space geek like I am, you will be delighted to add The Voyager Golden Record to your collection.

Thanks to all who donated to the cause!

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