Dear Earth: Send More Chuck Berry
September 5, 2007 12:29 AM   Subscribe

The Golden Record: Hear what the aliens will hear.
30 years ago today, a collection of images and sound recordings engraved on a record was launched toward the stars. The playlist covers an amazing collection of music, and has been called the Mix Tape of the Gods.
posted by Hadroed (70 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Contributions from the USA include Chuck Berry, Louis Armstrong's Hot Seven [audio requires Real Player], and the excellent Blind Willie Johnson (previously on MeFi).

Canada is represented by Glenn Gould, whereas Russia, France and the US can fight over who gets to claim the version of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, from a record that might have the greatest album cover of all time.
posted by Hadroed at 12:29 AM on September 5, 2007

Other previous MeFi threads on the Voyager missions:
Earth 1977, explained to an alien

Voyager at 90 AU
posted by Hadroed at 12:30 AM on September 5, 2007

I could listen to the stuff from this record all day, and I think I'll do just that.
posted by Hadroed at 12:32 AM on September 5, 2007

Surely this...
posted by Poolio at 12:33 AM on September 5, 2007

Great post...
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:47 AM on September 5, 2007

Very cool.
posted by eyeballkid at 12:51 AM on September 5, 2007

I sure hope the aliens have a spare record player laying around.

And that they know the exact speed to play it, too.
posted by Avenger at 12:58 AM on September 5, 2007

Given today's limitations (say, 1 DVD-R at 8.5 GB), what would you include and how would you instruct the recipient on accessing the information?
posted by carsonb at 1:00 AM on September 5, 2007

I hope the aliens are smarter than me. The third pane of that second link-- the one that explains mathematical definitions, copywright Frank Drake-- I'm getting the three dots... and the number three... but what are these damn line thingies that equal both!?

Ok, just looked at the next few frames.
I hope aliens like math.
(and Chuck Berry)
posted by conch soup at 1:10 AM on September 5, 2007

And that they know the exact speed to play it, too.

From what I've read, they recorded everything at half the normal speed (16 2/3 rpm?) to double the available recording time. So even most folks today with turntables couldn't play it properly.
posted by Hadroed at 1:11 AM on September 5, 2007

The story told by Carl Sagan's widow Ann Druyan, who managed the recording project with him, was the most romantic thing I've heard in a long long time. You can listen to her talk about it and about them here on Radio Lab (my recently-discovered favorite new radio show).
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:15 AM on September 5, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'd forgotten how utterly, utterly beautiful that Beethoven String Quartet (number 13) is. What a terrible disappointment the aliens would face if they thought it came from a planet full of people like LVB.

Great post. Really, really great post. Thanks.
posted by bunglin jones at 1:26 AM on September 5, 2007

"Hello from the children of planet Earth."

Okay that gave me goosebumps.

CarsonB: "Given today's limitations... what would you include..."

I'm not so sure I'd do what we did on Voyager today. First off, the odds of any alien race ever encountering Voyager are about as good as you winning the lottery ten times in your lifetime. Or maybe twenty, Actually, comparatively speaking, you really should buy a lottery ticket.

Secondly, IF an alien race encountered the record, provided they could figure it out, we have no idea their intentions. I'm not presuming they'd be a war-faring race, nor would I pretend to know they'd be peace-loving. Maybe they're into basket-weaving. We have no idea. Maybe it'd make them smile, frown, or do something with their apendages that'd denote a need to excrete waste deposits. We haven't a clue.

This was an attempt to send an olive branch ahead of ourselves, and a hope that long after we cause our own extinction, there'd be some record of our existence in the cosmos. That's all very noble and all that.

I think it may be a better idea in the future to wait until we can sense the target of our communication, before we start talking to them.

Besides, any recording meant to chronicle the important achievements of mankind which doesn't have The Ramones in it, is simply not up to date.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:37 AM on September 5, 2007

Space: Above and Beyond fan, Zachsmind?
posted by Snyder at 1:53 AM on September 5, 2007

If we tried to do this now the RIAA and MPAA would slap DRM on it and make the aliens send back the licence agreement before they could listen to it.
posted by markdj at 2:41 AM on September 5, 2007 [8 favorites]

Great post, thanks alot. Though what a horrible fucking music track I playing some balancing game on Newgrounds?
posted by zardoz at 2:44 AM on September 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Kudos to Hadroed for a great FPP, but the aliens are lucky they won't have to deal with the flash interface for the playlist. They would probably think human entertainment consists of watching lines of text go flying by.
posted by the number 17 at 2:56 AM on September 5, 2007

I can't believe there's no corporate sponsorship on it. WTF? Surely it would be more representative to have the "Sounds of the Earth, bought you by Starbucks" or "Images of the World, in association with Visa for all your payment solutions."
posted by rhymer at 2:57 AM on September 5, 2007

Isn't this the one with the intro from Kurt Valdheim?
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 3:17 AM on September 5, 2007

"So we should talk to them before we talk to them. Got it.

And LOOK at them. LISTEN. Maybe SMELL. I dunno. I don't recommend touching without their permission, but maybe we'd take that first look at them - first impression of the aliens - and realize that Chuck Berry was a bad choice - Jimi Hendrix might be more their style. Or Chuck Mangione. Or maybe they'd be more impressed by Andy Gibb. We won't know until we meet them.

Just seems kinda forward and presumptive of us. There IS still the possibility, however remote it may be, that we are ALONE in the universe in the most literal sense. That there's no sentient life aside from us. So making that record was essentially going up to the grand canyon, shouting "hello!" and listening for an echo. Who wouldn't do that, given their first visit to the Grand Canyon? Still. It's stupid.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:23 AM on September 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Brilliant post. That's my listening for today sorted.

There is a moment in an early X-Files episode - I think it's in the second series - where Mulder chats to a US senator and they discuss the fact that the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 is the first piece of music (as opposed to other sounds) that any alien finding the probe would hear. What a wonderful place they would think the earth is, says the senator.

I still think about that scene whenever I read about the Voyager probe, or whenever I listen to the Brandenburg concertos. Strange, the power that a cheap, popular TV series can retain on your imagination a decade on.
posted by greycap at 3:42 AM on September 5, 2007

Seems to me since we're the ones out there exploring and looking for life, we're the ones who ought to introduce ourselves.

So if you and a small party were living out in the wilderness of a hostile land you had barely explored with no clue as to who or what was out there in dark, would you be shouting at the top of your lungs and sending up smoke signals?

Yeah, we can assume that a race so technologically advanced as to be able to reach us would be peaceful. And I'd sure like to think that. But I'd like to think a lot of things that ain't true. Seems like an awfully big gamble for what basically amounts to a symbolic gesture.

It's kind of moot, anyway. They'd find us from stray communications long before they'd find a probe.
posted by Roman Graves at 4:08 AM on September 5, 2007

Thanks Hadroed

I knew this must exist somewhere on the internets.

I think UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim must have been listening to "Bobby and Betty go to the Moon" before he recorded his greeting.

To my ear it sounds too similar to Professor Von Tulo's Lunar Party speech to be a coincidence.
posted by carbon at 4:23 AM on September 5, 2007

Wonderful post. Thanks very much. Now, does anyone know how to slow down the text as it zooms by? I'm trying to listen to some items 10 or 11 lines down but can't land on them. Still, what a wonderful collection.
And I don't think it's really meant to start a dialogue with aliens. It's a record of humankind before we destroy ourselves.
posted by etaoin at 4:40 AM on September 5, 2007

what would you include?

8.5G of Goatse will probably guarantee that they never ever come this way.

Unless they are a bunch of alien ass freaks.
posted by chillmost at 4:42 AM on September 5, 2007

"Voyager is more like a friendly greeting card tucked inside a sealed bottle, tossed into the ocean."

Big ocean.

"What would you suggest we do instead, Zach? Should we say hello, or stay silent?"

We should meet our conversation partner before we start talking to them. It's impolite to start a conversation with someone before they've had a chance to meet you.

"It's kind of moot, anyway..."

Agreed. They will judge us on Honeymooners and I Love Lucy long before they notice the bottle we threw out in that big ocean - IF they ever notice the bottle.

The disc on the probe was perhaps a sincere gesture on our parts, but also a hollow one.

Provided of course we don't cause our own extinction (which is MUCH more likely than our ever achieving peace, or meeting extra-terrestrials, or **** ever getting laid), centuries from now we will look back on that as an example of our naivette and vanity, and I hope we will laugh at ourselves good-naturedly. I'm doing that now, but then I do that most of the time.

"****" is a name of someone else in this thread who is NOT me and is NOT you, but that YOU think never gets laid. This is Do-It-Yourself-Comedy.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:54 AM on September 5, 2007

Awesome. I'm scrolling through all the music, listening. It's joy.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 5:07 AM on September 5, 2007

ZachsMind, my take on the Voyager record (I remember reading about its development in real time) is that nobody seriously considered it an introduction to actual aliens. It was much more a chance to look at ourselves, from an outside perspective, and it was much more of a message to the human race than to anybody else.
posted by localroger at 5:14 AM on September 5, 2007

I'll bet this baby would fetch a few bucks on ebay.
posted by Artaud at 5:25 AM on September 5, 2007

Among the number of Voyager Metafilter threads, Bravocharlie's within-two-years-and-dead-on-topic Voyager's Golden Record especially makes this a very Brady double post.
posted by y2karl at 5:37 AM on September 5, 2007

I hope they remembered to include information about what atmosphere to play it in for maximum effect.
posted by Sparx at 5:41 AM on September 5, 2007

I'm sorry but I have to agree with Karl on this one.
posted by wheelieman at 5:44 AM on September 5, 2007

localroger makes an important point.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:49 AM on September 5, 2007

greetings aliens: We earthlings are just like any other species. We put our pants on one apendage at a time. Of course, once our pants are on, we make Gold Records!
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 5:51 AM on September 5, 2007 [7 favorites]

So this is just in case the Vogon Construction Ships have a hard time finding us?
posted by Optamystic at 5:53 AM on September 5, 2007

I apoligise for not reading your posts before reading this one, y2karl
posted by carbon at 5:57 AM on September 5, 2007

I think the speed at which any extraterrestrial being would play the record, assuming they figured out how to play it, would depend on their audible frequencies and their metabolism.

So, we might be greeted by some tiny, jumpy aliens speaking perfect english at six thousand words per minute, 12 octaves above the range of the human ear, or by large, whale-sized creatures lowly moaning english at one word per day. It's kind of strange to think about.
posted by tehloki at 6:00 AM on September 5, 2007

Given today's limitations (say, 1 DVD-R at 8.5 GB), what would you include and how would you instruct the recipient on accessing the information?

pr0n, and lots of it. No instruction needed.
posted by NewBornHippy at 6:08 AM on September 5, 2007

By the way, the directory listings are open:
posted by pjdoland at 6:14 AM on September 5, 2007 [10 favorites]

You know, its a good thing Carl Sagan didn't go to AskMe for advice on what to include on his Mix Tape of the Gods. And that whole part about NASA rejecting the disk on the grounds that it was a nonstandard part is just silly.
posted by Sailormom at 6:39 AM on September 5, 2007

But is it wise to provide aliens with this kind of information?
posted by PHINC at 7:05 AM on September 5, 2007

The humility and eloquence of the 'Greetings from the Secretary General of the UN' is seven shades of awesome.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:23 AM on September 5, 2007

The disc on the probe was perhaps a sincere gesture on our parts, but also a hollow one.

Given that the chances of this record ever encountering anyone/thing at all are, quite literally, astronomical, of course the project was a gesture: a glorious, romantic, naïve, hopeful gesture by a few humans at a particular historical moment.

Voyager was a scientific project; but the Voyager record was an art project.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:35 AM on September 5, 2007 [3 favorites]

Thanks pjdoland, thats what I've been looking for!
posted by Yer-Ol-Pal at 7:37 AM on September 5, 2007

If you ever have a chance to visit the Griffith Observatory in LA, don't miss their exhibit on the contents of Voyager's message to other life forms, including an intriguing photo collage representing the diversity of human life on earth and samples of human endeavors. NASA has links to the individual images.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 7:48 AM on September 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

We should have included our flavour.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 7:53 AM on September 5, 2007

We should have included our flavour.

Um, no. (They might like it.)
posted by LordSludge at 8:41 AM on September 5, 2007

Thank you, Hodroed, and thank you pjdoland.

I'm enjoying listening to these at the moment.
posted by djgh at 8:56 AM on September 5, 2007

Thanks for that link foxy. Is this a photo of a meet-up?
posted by patricio at 8:59 AM on September 5, 2007

I've been looking for this for years. Thanks!
posted by pantufla at 9:37 AM on September 5, 2007

But is it wise to provide aliens with this kind of information?

Are you looking at the images of the various systems in the human body and thinking it's a perfect diagram of "how to butcher a human"? Because that's the first thing I thought.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:48 AM on September 5, 2007

That shakuhachi piece is amazing.
posted by sciurus at 9:54 AM on September 5, 2007

They're going to kill us anyway. Our television broadcasts show us murdering ourselves in various ways and have been streaming out from the planet now for a long time--they'll just assume it's how we greet each other. Or if they figure out that we despise each other, they'll just wipe us out to save us the trouble. And if not that, they'll realize that in the majority of examples of our species running into visitors from space (as illustrated by our entertainment) we try to eliminate the visitors, which might make them a bit defensive.

On the other hand, we gave them Chuck Berry, so there is that.
posted by maxwelton at 10:16 AM on September 5, 2007

...assuming they figured out how to play it

From the NASA website:
    Each record is encased in a protective aluminum jacket, together with a cartridge and a needle. Instructions, in symbolic language, explain the origin of the spacecraft and indicate how the record is to be played.
I'm assuming this is the "how to play" diagram etched into the surface of the record itself.
Now...if I'm looking at this right, the instructions seem to be relying on the numerical codes that are revealed in some of the images on the record. order to know how to play the record, you need the numerical codes that are on the record...but to get the numerical codes that are on the record, you need to know how to play the record, etc. etc.

Hope I'm wrong about that...
posted by Thorzdad at 10:27 AM on September 5, 2007

Am i morbid but wouldn't a freeze dried baby or fetus say a lot more about humans than just a record or some drawings. It would be a real sample with real DNA. Whether that remains in tact is another story.

As for what we would include today. Well, sending them a DVD seems like a technical problem. How can we easily transcribe how digital optical media works? The old analog stuff pretty much guarantees that they'll get it to work. If we did go that route it woudl make sense to send the genome as well as the sample. They could grow their own humans and put them in some controlled habitat if they were truly interested in seeing what we are like.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:37 AM on September 5, 2007

The only album in history to go Gold the very day they made it
posted by richlach at 11:11 AM on September 5, 2007

Is there a place to purchase this on CD?
posted by eatdonuts at 11:17 AM on September 5, 2007

Oh, wow- I'm sort of half-doing a really bizarre rock 'n' roll space musical based on this concept. A bunch of erstwhile astronauts stumble upon a deserted planet and find only one of these records playing on a makeshift turntable. On the way back to earth, they realize that the planet was inhabited by microscopic, hive-mind bacterium- which start inspiring the astronauts to rock out. I'm so glad I can listen to the record now! Thanks, Hive Mind!
posted by 235w103 at 11:39 AM on September 5, 2007

The aliens would have killed us if we set them up with the Spice Girls! If Sammy Davis Jr. was alive today...there'd be a
Sammy and the Spice Girls albums. So consider yourself lucky you alien bastards!
posted by doctorschlock at 11:42 AM on September 5, 2007

Marvellous post. Thank you.
posted by interrobang at 11:45 AM on September 5, 2007

"They could grow their own humans and put them in some controlled habitat if they were truly interested in seeing what we are like."

Unless.......*gasp!* That's already happened! ...It sure would explain a lot.

But seriously, the aliens aren't coming back, after we shot down their craft at Roswell, remember?
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 12:03 PM on September 5, 2007

Thorzdad, the instructions are meant to be based on basic physical constants and the dimensions of the record and case IIRC. Including part of the instructions in the image set is for verification that you're decoding it correctly.
posted by localroger at 12:07 PM on September 5, 2007

For the record, and I'm not diminishing Chuck Berry AT ALL. Quite the contrary.

The Magic Flute
El Cascabel
Cranes In Their Nest
Melancholy Blues
Beethoven's Fifth
a night chant by the Navajo
Russian bagpipes
Rite of Spring

I'm just sayin'... objectively, or perhaps subjectively speaking, this is some amazingly good shit. Even if we're the only ones who will ever hear it. Chuck Berry is in awesome company here.

I mean okay. Maybe this was us giving ourselves a dress rehearsal. Playing what if. Maybe we put millions of dollars into a project where we send a space probe out like it was a message in a bottle not expecting it to really get seen. What would we do if aliens popped by one sunny Sunday morning and said, "so you're humanity huh? show us what you got."

This disc is the ultimate throw down. This is our best foot forward. For better or for worse, this disc represents the sum total of what makes humanity unique, special, fun, and worthy neighbors to have. Bloodshed and bad manners aside, we're really not all that bad.

I mean, any species that can generate someone as precious as Valya Balkanska surely can't be all wrong.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:02 PM on September 5, 2007

I apoligise for not reading your posts before reading this one, y2karl

What you really need to apologize for is your proofreading.
posted by y2karl at 3:03 PM on September 5, 2007

Someday if we inhabitants of Earth blow ourselves up, it still makes me smile that somewhere out there in space is a record of our existence...and it contains Chuck Berry.
posted by rfbjames at 11:33 PM on September 5, 2007

It figures that a record label had to spoil the party. From Wikipedia:
Sagan had originally asked for permission to include "Here Comes the Sun" from the Beatles' album Abbey Road. While the Beatles favoured it, EMI opposed it and the song was not included.
posted by philoye at 1:50 AM on September 6, 2007

Hadroed, why didn't you include the Navajo contribution in your list of contributions from the USA?
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:56 PM on September 6, 2007

I'm listening to CBC Radio One's Quirks and Quarks right now, and they are playing a segment on the Golden Records! For anyone interested, this episode is archived on the website here. (Last segment before the end of the show.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:59 PM on September 8, 2007

"EMI opposed it and the song was not included"

Well finally a decision by a major record company I can agree with. ...I kid. I'm a kidder. I know EMI's reason was entirely economic. They knew they'd never get a return on their investment cuz any alien that's gonna pick that probe up out in space is not then gonna rush all the way back to Earth just to buy something from a music store.

Blackbird maybe, or Come Together. I Am The Walrus never gets old. Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da almost matches Chuck Berrys' timelessness. I mean out of all their songs, they pick Here Comes The Sun? Come on!

Don't get me wrong, I love Beatles music, but none of their stuff holds a candle to what's currently on the golden disc. Really. I challenge you to find a single one of their songs that is as haunting and hypnotic and delicious to the ears as Valya Balkanska's contribution.

Let's be real. Bach. Stravinsky. Blind Willie Johnson. The NAVAJO! Beethoven. Louis Armstrong. Glenn effin' Gould, man! The Beatles didn't belong on the golden record. The Ramones shoulda been on it, but the Beatles didn't deserve it. It's elementary.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:42 PM on September 8, 2007


"The Los Angeles Times received "angry letters" from readers that accused NASA of wasting taxpayer money to send obscenities into space."

You have GOT to be kidding me!
posted by ZachsMind at 3:53 PM on September 8, 2007

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