The Voyager Golden Record Finally Finds An Earthly Audience For 40 years, the record's interstellar message to extraterrestrials remained mostly unheard by human audiences — until a Kickstarter campaign brought a new vinyl box set to the public.
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The Voyager Golden Record Finally Finds An Earthly Audience

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The Voyager Golden Record Finally Finds An Earthly Audience

The Voyager Golden Record Finally Finds An Earthly Audience

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today a reason to open your mail. Over the past few weeks, more than 10,000 people around the world have been receiving a special delivery. It's a box set of golden records modeled after the one sent into space aboard NASA's Voyager spacecraft 40 years ago. The new terrestrial set was funded through Kickstarter, and as NPR's Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi reports, it is the first time the Voyager's Golden Record is being released on vinyl to the public.

ALEXI HOROWITZ-GHAZI, BYLINE: The Golden Record is basically a 90-minute interstellar mixtape - a message from the people of Earth to any extraterrestrial passersby who might stumble upon one of the two Voyager spaceships at some point over the next couple billion years.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALBUM "VOYAGER GOLDEN RECORD")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Hello from the children of planet Earth.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: In addition to greetings, the records also contain sounds from nature and photographs encoded into the record's grooves, but mostly it was music.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG'S "MELANCHOLY BLUES")

TIMOTHY FERRIS: We were gathering a representation of the music of the entire Earth. That's an incredible wealth of great stuff.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: That's Timothy Ferris, veteran science writer and music journalist and the original producer of the Voyager record.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG'S "MELANCHOLY BLUES")

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: In the late 1970s, Ferris was recruited by his friend, Carl Sagan, to help create the records and select the music.

FERRIS: I really had only two criteria. One was let's cast a wide net. Let's try to get music from all over the planet. And secondly, let's make a good record.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: That meant weeks of late-night listening sessions amidst towering stacks of vinyl LPs.

FERRIS: Yeah, we were almost physically drowning in records.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALBUM "VOYAGER GOLDEN RECORD")

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: The final selection, which was engraved in copper and plated and gold, included opera, rock and roll, blues, classical music and field recordings selected by ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALBUM "VOYAGER GOLDEN RECORD")

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Timothy Ferris says that many on the Voyager team expected and hoped for the record to be commercially released after the spacecraft left Earth.

FERRIS: Carl Sagan many times tried to interest record labels in releasing Voyager. It never worked.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Because the music was owned by several different record labels, and except for a CD-ROM released in the early '90s, the record went largely unheard by the wider world.

DAVID PESCOVITZ: I was 7 years old when the Voyagers launched.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: David Pescovitz is a technologist and journalist.

PESCOVITZ: When you're 7 years old and you hear that a group of people created a phonograph record as a message for possible extraterrestrials, it sparks the imagination.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Pescovitz eventually set his sights on making the Golden Record available to an Earthly audience. He teamed up with Tim Daly, a record store manager at Amoeba Music in San Francisco, and approached his former graduate school professor - the very same Timothy Ferris who gave his blessing with one important caveat.

FERRIS: You can't release a record without remastering it, and you can't remaster it without locating the master.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: That turned out to be a taller order than expected. The original records were mastered in a CBS studio, which was later acquired by Sony, and the master tapes descended into Sony's vaults. After months of waiting, Pescovitz and Daly finally got word that one of Sony's archivists had found the master tapes. Pescovitz remembers the moment when they heard them for the first time.

PESCOVITZ: They hit play and the sounds of the Solomon Islands' panpipes and Bach and Beethoven and Chuck Berry and the blues washed over us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DARK WAS THE NIGHT")

BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON: (Vocalizing).

PESCOVITZ: It was very moving and sublime experience.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARIACHI VARGAS' "EL CASCABEL")

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: A sublime experience deserved a sublime reissue, says Amoeba Music's Tim Daly.

TIM DALY: I mean, if you do a golden record box set, you have to do it on, you know, gold vinyl.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: They put the project on Kickstarter and expected it mostly to sell to vinyl collectors, space nerds and audiophiles.

DALY: And, you know, frankly we just kind underestimated the appeal of this. The Internet was just on fire talking about this thing.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: They blew past their initial funding goal in two days, eventually raising more than $1.3 million, making it the most successful musical Kickstarter campaign ever.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALBUM "VOYAGER GOLDEN RECORD")

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: Last week, Timothy Ferris got his box set in the mail, and he says that his friend, the late Carl Sagan, would be delighted.

FERRIS: I think this record exceeds Carl's - not only his expectations, but probably his highest hopes for a release of the Voyager record, and I'm glad that these folks were finally able to make it happen.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: David Pescovitz says he's just glad to return the Golden Record to the world that created it.

PESCOVITZ: As much as it was a gift from humanity to the cosmos, it was really a gift to humanity as well. It's a reminder of what we can accomplish when we're at our best.

HOROWITZ-GHAZI: At a moment of political division and media oversaturation, David Pescovitz and Tim Daly say they hope that their Golden Record can offer a chance for people to slow down for a moment, to gather around the turntable and bask in the crackly sounds of what Carl Sagan called this pale blue dot. Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi, NPR News.

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