by Bramantyo Indirawan
On 7th October 1977, Voyager 1 was launched into space for the purpose of studying our solar system. Throughout the vast and endless space, the main mission of Voyager 1 along with Voyager 2 was to explore Jupiter and Saturn. After accomplishing this primary task in 1989, the twin spacecrafts continued to journey beyond the outer solar system—their task now to answer cosmic curiosities and inquisitively explore the foreboding unknown.
In the voyager spacecrafts, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) placed two 12-inch phonograph records dubbed The Golden Record, which contained sounds and images of life on Earth and its cultural diversity. A committee led by Carl Sagan of Cornell University, et. al. assembled 116 images and 90 minutes of audio that included multi-language greetings and songs across the globe.
Currently, Voyager 2 has reached interstellar space, so if intelligent extraterrestrial life found and played the record someday, they will also learn of the earth’s coordinates and also the contents inside it. With 31 tracks, they can jam to Chuck Berry or Louis Armstrong, listen in awe to the finest examples of Western culture through Johann Sebastian Bach, or even hear the Eastern grace with Puspawarna or Kinds of Flowers by Pura Paku Alaman Palace Orchestra.
Indeed, Javanese music that is integral to Indonesian culture is also included in these NASA phonographs. The music was written by Pangeran Adipati Arya Mangkunegara IV (1853-1881) from Surakarta, Central Java in commemoration of his wife and concubine. With sounds of gamelan and Javanese singing, David Darling in his book Deep Time (1989) connected the song to the Hindu-inspired tastes of Javanese people. The music depicts a story of flowers that symbolize the blooming of stars and galaxies in the cosmos.
In light of this inclusion to the Golden Record, it seems appropriate to include a cosmic song that represents humanity along with the various sounds from Earth. It is perhaps one of the greatest playlists that was made to showcase the Earth through what we consider a universal language; namely music. Curated by Carl Sagan and NASA, they even originally intended to recruit John Lennon from The Beatles to contribute, although this unfortunately never materialised.
Alongside Puspawarna, other traditional voices can be heard in the golden record. For example; Barnumbirr and Moikoi Song from Australia, Alima Song from Congo, Chakrulo from Georgia, and Sokaku Reibo or Depicting the Cranes in Their Nest by Kinko Kurasawa. West meets East, traditional meets modern, rock and roll meets shakuhachi or flute music from Japan—diversity compiled into one golden record to show the proportions of the world from an idyllic perspective.
It is acceptable to take pride because a song from your country or culture is compiled into The Golden Record, although this is not an end within itself, as listening to music from other countries and cultures elucidate the collective harmonic convergence of humanity, and can subsequently enable us to feel what the cosmic dreamweavers most likely intended; to be united as a diverse identity.
Hearing, experiencing or even learning about new perspectives, the selected songs represent an ideal for how Earth should be—united in diversity; understanding each other, creating proportion via music and beyond. The 115 images shown in The Golden Record also reflect life on Earth in its purest form, ranging from accomplishments to the depiction of wholeheartedly understanding the world we inhabit. This also included some aspects of daily life which included family gatherings, to people eating and children learning, and natural phenomena to technological advancements.
If no intelligent life forms discover this record, it should not be considered a disappointment. Humanity has made an ideal representation of itself through the images and music found in The Golden Record, and the message is clear; that diversity is what defines us as Earthlings. It should also be a reminder for future generations to conserve and become aligned with the harmony that we present to the universe.
But what if an intelligent life form finally found and played the record? Well, if we came into contact with them, here is hoping we can keep the diversity alive, here is hoping we do not go astray from what we launched into the cosmos back in 1977.
Author: Bramantyo Indirawan
Freelance Journalist and Writer