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Voyager Has Left the Solar System, Taking With it the Sounds of Space

by An Xiao on September 19, 2013

The golden phonograph on Voyage. Image via NASA.gov.

The golden phonograph on Voyage. (image via NASA.gov)

As Voyager becomes the first human-made object to enter interstellar space, it also carries the first human-made mixtape destined for such depths of the universe.  A recent article in Voice of America looks at the gold-plated phonograph record made by Timothy Ferris, who recorded a mix of human and animal sounds for any potential extraterrestrials who may come across the space ship.

There are nearly 60 greetings in a variety of languages, pictures of life, structures and biological systems on our planet, and even a collection of music from around the world, from Japanese shakuhachi to Senegalese percussion to one of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos. It’s an intriguing thought experiment: what would extraterrestrial life think of all this? How would they interpret it?

I wandered over to this Scientific American feature that looks at — er, listens to — the sound of the universe. Sure, you can’t scream in space, but radio signals from the earth and the sun actually have a sound, when translated into human-audible waves. Solar flares and twinkling stars each have specific sounds. And this isn’t just an exercise in synesthesia: auralizing data helps scientists understand the far-away phenomena they’re observing.

Is this Fluxus sound art for space junkies? I’m thinking about Benjamin Patteron’s “Paper Piece,” which was the “newest music” composed of the sound of paper airplanes gliding around the audience. And then there’s George Maciunas’s “Piano Piece #13 (for Nam June Paik),” with the hypnotic sound of piano keys being nailed shut forever. The idea of the aural experiences of a vast and open space that supposedly lacks sound seems dying for a conceptual sound piece. What would a symphony sound like for aliens in a distant land?

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