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How the Voyager Golden Record happened (and no, The Beatles actually weren't on the wishlist)

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of Voyager 2, the first of the two spacecraft that carried the Golden Record on a grand tour of the solar system and into the mysteries of interstellar space. Science journalist Timothy Ferris produced this enchanting phonograph record that tells a story of our planet expressed in sounds, images, and science for any extraterrestrial intelligence that may encounter it. Tim wrote a beautiful essay telling the story behind the Voyager record for the Voyager Golden Record vinyl box set that I co-produced. And today you can read an adaptation of it over at The New Yorker. Happy anniversary to Voyager 2 and the Golden Record! From the New Yorker:

I’m often asked whether we quarreled over the selections. We didn’t, really; it was all quite civil. With a world full of music to choose from, there was little reason to protest if one wonderful track was replaced by another wonderful track. I recall championing Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night,” which, if memory serves, everyone liked from the outset. Ann stumped for Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” a somewhat harder sell, in that Carl, at first listening, called it “awful.” But Carl soon came around on that one, going so far as to politely remind Lomax, who derided Berry’s music as “adolescent,” that Earth is home to many adolescents. Rumors to the contrary, we did not strive to include the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” only to be disappointed when we couldn’t clear the rights. It’s not the Beatles’ strongest work, and the witticism of the title, if charming in the short run, seemed unlikely to remain funny for a billion years.

Ann’s sequence of natural sounds was organized chronologically, as an audio history of our planet, and compressed logarithmically so that the human story wouldn’t be limited to a little beep at the end. We mixed it on a thirty-two-track analog tape recorder the size of a steamer trunk, a process so involved that Jimmy (Iovine) jokingly accused me of being “one of those guys who has to use every piece of equipment in the studio.” With computerized boards still in the offing, the sequence’s dozens of tracks had to be mixed manually. Four of us huddled over the board like battlefield surgeons, struggling to keep our arms from getting tangled as we rode the faders by hand and got it done on the fly.

How the Voyager Golden Record Was Made” by Timothy Ferris (The New Yorker)

Pre-order the Voyager Golden Record on vinyl or CD (Ozma Records)

Listen to excerpts from the Voyager Golden Record sourced from the original master tapes:

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In 1956, Hugh Heffner gave MAD's founding editor an unlimited budget for a new satire magazine called “TRUMP”

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