Jonathan Scott is clearly a fan of music history, as well as the history of the space program. If you also enjoy either or both of those interests, you will undoubtedly enjoy this thoroughly researched book. The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record recounts the entire process of how the idea of the record came to be, how decisions were made to determine what would go on it, and just how massive of an endeavor this really was, particularly due to the technological restraints of the time.
But let’s back up, what is the Voyager Golden Record? In the late 1970’s NASA was sending Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 to a tour of the outer planets, after which they would continues on into uncharted outer space. With the idea that maybe, just maybe, there might be life somewhere that would find these space probes, famous astronomer Carl Sagan was commissioned to create a record. This record would be fixed to the side of the Voyager crafts and has been considered the most important compilation ever made. Think of it as a mixtape, from Earth to the Cosmos.
Scott details how Sagan chose who would be working on this project, what their guidelines and limitations were, and how they worked through all of these to create 90 minutes of sounds, music, pictures, and even a message from then-President Jimmy Carter that they all hoped would one day inform other beings in the universe about humans on Earth.
Scott personally interviewed many of the major players in the project and relied on other interviews and published works of others. He shares interesting details, behind-the-scenes insights, and addresses myths, such as why the Beatles music was left off completely.
In 1977, both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched and have been on their grand tour of outer space since then, and as of 2013 they were 9 to 11 billion miles away from the Earth. As of 2017, their 40th anniversary in space, NASA reports that both probes are still healthy and continuing their travels into deep space. So those golden records are still out there, still travelling, and may one day reach an audience.
More than a time capsule, Jonathan Scott describes in this book a brilliant combination of science and art, which together created a weird but wonderful artefact compiled by an amazing group of people. Created from a strange marriage of politics, bureaucracy, budget, ambition, innovation, and beauty, Scott describes a portrait of humanity that is still travelling out among the stars.
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Synopsis | Goodreads
The fascinating story behind the mission, music, and message of NASA’s Voyager Golden Record – humanity’s message to the stars.
In 1977, a team led by the great Carl Sagan was put together to create a record that would travel to the stars on the back of NASA’s Voyager probe. They were responsible for creating a playlist of music, sounds, and pictures that would represent not just humanity, but would also paint a picture of Earth for any future alien races that may come into contact with the probe. The Vinyl Frontier tells the whole story of how the record was created, from when NASA first proposed the idea to Carl to when they were finally able to watch the Golden Record rocket off into space on Voyager.
The final playlist contains music written and performed by well-known names such as Bach, Beethoven, Glenn Gould, Chuck Berry, and Blind Willie Johnson, as well as music from China, India, and more remote cultures such as a community in small Malaita in the Solomon Islands. It also contained a message of peace from U.S. President Jimmy Carter, a variety of scientific figures and dimensions, and instructions on how to use it for a variety of alien life forms. Each song, sound, and picture that made the final cut on the record has a story to tell.
Through interviews with all of the key players involved with the record, this book pieces together the whole story of the Golden Record. It addresses the myth that the Beatles were left off of the record for copyright reasons and will include new information about U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s role in the record, as well as many other fascinating insights that have never been reported before. It also tells the love story between Carl Sagan and the project’s creative director Ann Druyan that flourishes as the record is being created.
Thee Golden Record is more than just a time capsule. It is a unique combination of science and art, and a testament to the genius of its driving force, the great polymath Carl Sagan.