In 1977, NASA launched the two Voyager spacecrafts with gold-plated records featuring sound collages showcasing the diverse culture, nature and industry of planet Earth – from Chuck Berry to Bach, industrial machinery to volcanic eruptions. The “Golden Record” project, led by author-astrophysicist Carl Sagan, was an optimistic attempt to communicate with extra-terrestrial life – or anyone else who may stumble upon the discs (and figure out how to play them).
Nearly 40 years later, the records – hand-etched with the greeting, “To the makers of music – all worlds, all times” – are still drifting in their search for interstellar contact. But BBC Radio 3 has compiled some of these disparate sounds into an hour-long digital playlist, available to stream at their website.
The mix begins with an introduction from 1977 UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. “As the Secretary General of the United Nations, an organization of 147 member states who represent almost all of the human inhabitants of the planet Earth, I send greetings on behalf of the people of our planet,” he says. “We step out of our solar system into the universe seeking only peace and friendship – to teach if we are called upon, to be taught if we are fortunate. We know full well that our planet and all its inhabitants are but a small part of this immense universe that surrounds us, and it is with humility and hope that we take this step.”
Also included are human greetings in 55 different languages, with a blend of music and field recordings spanning all corners of the Earth, including blues pioneer Blind Willie Johnson, composer Igor Stravinsky, Australian aboriginal songs and the hum of planes and trains.
Along with the sprawling audio, Voyager housed 118 photographs and, according to a NASA report, the “brain waves of a young women [sic] in love.” The “Golden Record” project team wanted to include the Beatles’ forward-looking anthem “Here Comes the Sun,” but were denied because the band didn’t own the song’s copyright.