This story ends with a song. The song is the alternative dance track “Symphonies“. Released Dec. 2009, by Dan Black, made it as iTunes “Single of the Week” in 2010. I only heard it recently in a remix featuring Kid Cudi. I was captivated by the background music. Not sure if it’s instrumental or vocals, but I recognized it instantly, because it’s been ‘sampled’ from somewhere else. No idea if this ‘sampling’ is legal or not. It used to be mainly a mechanism to create long dance tracks, but now it seems a main-stream thing to do. A significant number of popular songs seem to be ‘sampling’ pieces from older music, mainly from the ’80, and I guess I resent them for not giving credit where it’s due [the worst offender IMO would be Lady Gaga’s music that seems to be featuring elements from Madonna’s music in every successful song].
Dan, however, is not hiding where the music came from. The music video for “Symphonies” has elements from the movie. Yes, the unique sound was created by the composer Jack Nitzche for the 1984 movie ‘Starman’ (same year when SETI was founded!) Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen, so young and handsome/beautiful almost 30 years ago, play the main characters – the star man and the human who meets him, helps him, and falls in love with him. This movie met moderate success, and Oscar and other award nominations. Unfortunately for the studio, to make it they turned down another script that did much, much better. E.T. was the other movie. I’m having a hard time finding people who would recognize the Starman soundtrack used in “Symphonies” (would you recognize it?), but who doesn’t know the phrase “E.T. phone home”?
My focus here is actually the movie, though, not the sound track. The movie Starman starts with images and sounds from the very real Voyager II spacecraft and its famous ‘Golden Record’ – a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk, a phonograph record that contains sounds and images from and about life on Earth. Only 2 were made, placed inside the Voyager II and I spacecraft that were launched into space in Aug. and Sep. 1977 respectively, and as of this year, 2012, are leaving the region of influence of the sun.
Pioneers 10 and 11, which were launched in 1972 and 1973 and were the first to leave, carried small metal plaques with basic information. So this golden record was not an after-thought, nor was it meant to be funny, as was a certain wheel of cheese… [Photo credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX via space.com] A committee headed by Carl Sagan decided on the content of the record. It was to serve both as a time capsule for future humans (who might forget where they came from, as predicted by Asimov’s Foundation series, and many others), and as an invitation for intelligent aliens to visit.
The data on the disks is analog, not digital, because to play a digital record (a CD) you need complex electronics, and you need to comply with the standard used to create it, while playing analog data is just mechanic. Simple, image-based instructions were included to explain how to play it. The record has sounds of Earth’s animals such as birds and whales, and greetings in 55 of Earth’s languages, including Akkadian – the language used 5000-6000 years ago in the ancient empires of Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq), where writing was born. The greetings are preceded by the recorded voice of the Secretary General of the United Nations at the time, Kurt Waldheim. There was also a message from US President Carter. Will ANYONE off-planet, EVER, find and listen to this recording?
In the movie, someone did. They intercept Voyager II (that was sent first), find the record, decipher it, and respond to the invitation…
The Voyagers have been on the way for 35 years. They have completed the original mission to explore Jupiter and Saturn after 12 years in 1989, but it’s been decided to continue and extend their mission for as long as possible, because they are still working, and there is so much more to learn! Voyager II managed to later flyby the outer gas giants Uranus and Neptune, while Voyager I speeds faster and out. Now they are exploring the edge of the Sun’s domain. How far can your imagination go? That’s how far they will travel. As far as humans are concerned they will travel forever, transmitting and communicating back to Earth for as long as they have electrical power, and then will continue silently. Mission Control predicts they will come within a few light years of another star in about 40,000 years. Low chances of meeting aliens, but Sagan and his team put the effort in anyway. Sagan’s words introducing a CD version of the record: “A billion years from now, when everything on Earth we’ve ever made has crumbled into dust, when the continents have changed beyond recognition and our species is unimaginably altered or extinct, the Voyager record will speak for us.”
Remember the 1979 song by The Police “Message in a Bottle”? A lonely castaway on an island, sends out a message in a bottle. The last verse says:
“Walked out this morning
Don’t believe what I saw
A hundred billion bottles
Washed up on the shore
Seems I’m not alone at being alone
A hundred billion castaways
Looking for a home”
It seems that’s what Pioneers, the Voyagers, and coming soon, the New Horizons are partly about. A message in a bottle.