Find Us – music from the Voyager golden record

Find Us is a miniature I’ve composed using sounds from the Voyager golden record. You can download it free as part of Soulless Party’s album Electronic Encounters – Special Edition.

This year we’ll be celebrating two thirty-fifth birthdays. In November 1977, Columbia Studios released their blockbuster Close Encounters of the Third Kind, arguably the film with the most gratuitous use of the Arp 2500 modular synthesizer. And just a few weeks earlier, NASA launched Voyager 1 and 2, probes which took stunning images of the outer planets before taking a slingshot around Saturn and Neptune to journey out of the solar system. Voyager 2 is now around 11 billion miles from Earth, in the outer reaches of the heliosheath, the bubble of solar wind which envelopes the solar system. It will soon be out of the heliosheath and travelling into deep space.

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In case it’s intercepted, each Voyager probe carries an interstellar greeting message, etched onto a gold-plated copper phonograph record, along with instructions on how to play it. The message includes a wealth of sounds from planet Earth: greetings in 55 human languages, music from around the world, whale song, dog barks, thunder claps and other meteorological noises. There’s also a greeting from the Secretary General of the United Nations and the brain waves of a woman in love. The sounds were selected by a committee chaired by space scientist Carl Sagan.

To mark the anniversary of Close Encounters, musician Kev Oyston (aka Soulless Party) has released an extended version of Electronic Encounters, a free downloadable album inspired by the film. When Kev asked me to contribute a track, I thought about the Voyager launch in 1977 and fondly remembered those TV bulletins with Carl Sagan in 1980 when Voyager 2 made its closest approach to Saturn. This drew me to the Voyager golden record, the inspiration for my track.

In Find Us, I imagine an alien intelligence has found a golden record but doesn’t know how to play it – the music is fragmented, layered and retrograded or the time base and playback speed are wildly wrong, forming an interplanetary musique concrète. Every sound in Find Us comes from the Voyager golden record. The low pad sound at the beginning, for example, is a Georgian choir, played back at a very low speed.

As an aside, Find Us incorporates a fragment of some Renaissance music recorded in the early 1970s by David Monrow. As an Early Music performer, steeped in music of this kind, I couldn’t stop editing the performance in my head, imagining how differently we’d interpret the same music today. Worrying, absurdly, about aliens hearing his four-square ornamentation, I then remembered the golden records may still be drifting through space on the Voyager probes, waiting to be intercepted and played, when the Earth has long been extinguished by the expanding Sun. Forty years of human history will seem insignificant – even the time between now and the Renaissance might seem like the blink of an eye.

Are there any plans to send another record into deep space? What would we put on it today?

‘A billion years from now, when everything on Earth we’ve ever made has crumbled into dust, when the continents have changed beyond recognition and our species is unimaginably altered or extinct, the Voyager record will speak for us.’

Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

Carl Sagan muses on the likelihood of contact with extraterrestrial intelligence and the prevalence of flying saucer myths, 1966.

Sagan in 1974, talking to Patrick Moore about the possibility of alien contact. Here, he discusses the greeting plaque on Pioneer 10 which was launched five years before the Voyager probes.