Voyagers' Records Wait for Alien Ears Thirty years ago, two spacecraft blasted from Earth loaded down with special tunes for aliens. Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, carried 27 pieces of music inscribed on a golden record. The spacecraft are still moving out to space mapping the cosmos.

Voyagers' Records Wait for Alien Ears

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Voyager 2 lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida 30 years ago tomorrow. The spacecraft carried a special payload for any extraterrestrial lucky enough to own a decent stereo system, a record album. It was an eclectic collection of music. It included an Indian raga, Senegalese percussion, Gamelan from Java and panpipes from Peru, as well as Bach, Beethoven and Chuck Berry.

Science writer Timothy Ferris produced the record. He is now emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkley. And he's in the studios of member station KRCB in Rohnert Park, California. Welcome to the program.

Professor TIMOTHY FERRIS (Producer, Voyager Phonograph Record; Emeritus Professor, University of California, Berkley): Thank you, Liane. Glad to be here.

HANSEN: Why was it decided to send music into space?

Prof. FERRIS: Well, there were three quarters of the record is music, and there are also our photographs and natural sounds of Earth. But I think the idea of music as a natural one. It's a universal language. The music on the record on Voyager comes from all over the world. And music is known to contained mathematical components as well. It seems to speak for us in a way, doesn't it?

HANSEN: What would one of these beings have to do to listen to it?

Prof. FERRIS: Well, the record actually has a little phono cartridge attached to it so it has everything it needs to turn the music into analog, electrical impulses, and it contains a diagram with - stating the speed which the records to be played in terms of basic transition units or the hydrogen atoms, as anyone who knows any science can understand that. So to make into sound is a trivial matter. In other words, to play it back is easy for anyone who has the technology to intercept the record.

What an extraterrestrial intelligence would then make of the music, of course, we have no idea. Neither do we know whether anyone will ever find the space probes.

HANSEN: So what was the selection process for the 27 pieces of music that made the final cut? How did you decide?

Prof. FERRIS: We had a group of us working on the record. We had a music selection committee and then we reached out to all sorts of people, musicologist, field recordists like Alan Lomax, scholars of music - our main concern being to cast a wide net and have music from all over the world. So we really took help everywhere we could get it. Our two criteria, from the beginning and at the end, were to make it a world record, to make it universal as we could, and to make it a good record.

HANSEN: You were a contributing editor to Rolling Stone at about that time. Did your tastes tend toward rock and roll?

Prof. FERRIS: Well, I have a long background in classical and blues as well, but I did feel that a rock record belonged on it, and I wasn't the only who felt that way. We have Chuck Berry's "Johnny Be Goode" on the record.

(Soundbite of song, "Johnny B. Goode")

Mr. CHUCK BERRY (Singer): (Singing) Go. Go, Johnny. Go. Go. Go, Johnny. Go. Go. Go, Johnny. Go. Go. Go, Johnny. Go. Go. Johnny B. Goode.

HANSEN: Do you know the "Saturday Night Live" skit where Steve Martin announced that the first message from extraterrestrials had been received, and that message was send more Chuck Berry?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. FERRIS: Yeah. I wonder what request we would get.

(Soundbite of song, "Johnny B. Goode")

Mr. BERRY (Singer): (Singing) Go. Johnny B. Goode.

HANSEN: Was some of the music on this record new to you? I mean, it must have been. Did any of it opened your ears?

Prof. FERRIS: Oh, yes. You know, it's a wonderful thing to have an opportunity to listen to such tremendous range of music. Most of the pieces on the Voyager record, I had never heard before. We made the record and I would wager that few people in our radio audience had heard of them either. You know, a recording of a 16-year-old girl singing a wedding song, for instance.

(Soundbite of girl singing in foreign language)

Prof. FERRIS: A few pieces, I did know about going in. Others like the Chinese Ch'in piece, "Flowing Streams," - who were believed to be one of the most ancient pieces of music to ever survive - is a staggeringly good piece of music on any level.

(Soundbite of music, "Flowing Streams")

HANSEN: We thought of the record in terms of presenting some of the things that are important to us as a species, and music is important to people all over the world. Even though, by definition, it's not always possible to say why. You know, if you ask Beethoven or any composer what his or her message was, you know, the answer would be if I want to send a message, I'll write a letter. Music is a creation that, for reasons that are difficult to define, has lasting value to people. So when putting together 90 minutes of music for Voyager, we tried to represent the whole species, and I think, looking back on the perspective now of 30 years, that the record still holds up.

(Soundbite of music, "Flowing Streams")

HANSEN: Science writer Timothy Ferris produced the record that Voyager 2 carried into outer space 30 years ago tomorrow. The spacecraft is now more than seven and a half billion miles away. Timothy Ferris joined us from the studios of KRCB in Rohnert Park, California.

Thanks a lot for your time.

Prof. FERRIS: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music, "Flowing Streams")

HANSEN: You can't buy the music that went up on Voyager 2 on a CD but you can listen to selected tracks on our Web site. That's

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