Voyager 1, which is moving away from Earth at a rate of almost a million miles a day, is carrying some precious cargo, at least from a human’s perspective. It’s currently 11 billion miles away from us and is transporting the most important messages we have to give: our sounds, our language, our music. It’s known as The Golden Record, and this mixtape will continue to travel long after we lose the capacity to track it.
Of course, the most beautiful, emotional sounds we can make, chords and lyrics and intonations that speak to the very depths of us, may be noise to some other being. But, still, there is the possibility that we may be familiar in some way to alien creatures.
The intro, in English, states that we are seeking friendship, and that we have at least an inkling as to how fucking small we are in relation to the universe. The chance that a being who receives this could decipher English, or any of the 55 languages included in the greeting is so slim it seems laughable. But still, we yearn to communicate, and as the tape states, “It is out of humility and hope that we take this step.”
After the different language greetings come the “whale greetings,” followed by a track called “The Sounds of Earth,” which is wholly fascinating in itself. It includes those magical sounds of water: droplets, a rushing river, a thunderstorm. If there is another creature out there that could listen to this, water is the language they most likely would understand. It is the core language of life.
There are waves and seagulls mixed with machines and motors. There are frog croaks and wolf howls, but the sound that made me tear up a bit was a heartbeat. Is there another heartbeat in the universe? Is there some other slab of electrified protein thumping away, with tactile sensations and a whirling brain flushed with “why?”
The totality of the audio information lasts 5 hours, and within it on are 90 minutes of music that starts with Bach, and ends with Beethoven. In between B&B is music from all over the world, including many traditional songs. The U.S. contributes a Navajo track along with Chuck Berry, Louis Armstrong, and Blind Willie Johnson.
The knowledge that this information, organized in this specific and familiar way that rustles and nurtures us to our core, is billions of miles away from us, and will continue to travel out in this space we could never touch, is comforting in a way. It’s basically impossible, but maybe someone, some being out there, will hear us, will feel us, will think “Yes, this is what it is to be us, too.” But it’s about something else, too.
In relation to the observable universe, to all that “is,” we are nothing. Our presence is so meager it doesn’t round up when the universe is estimating, but our own personal worlds are so large we can’t even touch the edges of our own consciousness before our electrified vessels short out. We do not need to be large, it is complicated enough being this small.
Our hope for communicating just with each other, these other beings on the planet, is also very small. We close up, we are afraid, we find it hard to trust. When get through to another human being, it can feel like traveling across impossible galaxies. It can feel as monumental as it is intimate. When we see or hear or read a piece of art that connects with us, it feels like a private whisper to our souls. And this is what this mixtape is: a communication from humans 37 years ago to us, now, on Earth in 2014 (or in whatever year you’re listing to this) It just had to travel 11 billion miles to get here, to your ears.
The music starts at the 34 minute mark: