“This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours.”
— U.S. President Jimmy Carter
If you were to attempt to describe our world, our lives, to someone (or something) that had never experienced it, how would you do it? What could you possibly say that would encompass the incredible beauty, the savagery, the elegance, the wildness? Think of attempting to convey the strangeness of a giraffe, the sublimity of Beethoven’s genius, the brutality from the thousands of massacres that humankind has been both witness to and participant in. Think of what falling in love feels like. Think of the giant sequoias, strong and silent for thousands of years, and then think of the logging industry clear-cutting entire forests of them in a day. The grace hidden in a sincere apology. The hope and joy of birth; the anguish of burying our dead.
It would take a lifetime.
So please do imagine my delight to have stumbled upon one of humankind’s attempts to do just this. A scattering of months before I was born, NASA launched two Voyager spacecraft into our solar system. Carried inside each of the craft was a single gold phonograph record intended as a little hello to aliens, or future humanity, so that in the case that we are all long gone by then, there will be a record of what this life was like, exactly. The craft left our solar system sometime in 2008, but still have 4.35 light-years to go before they reach an even remote possibility of being discovered.
The golden records contain humanity’s attempt at transcendence: the sound of animals, thunder, fire and rain, the intonation of a kiss, greetings in 50 different languages, music from across the globe. And, our heartbeat. What better way to communicate our frailty, our strength, than that soft lub-dub, lub-dub of the human heart? There are selections from Bach, Beethoven, even Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” There is a Peruvian wedding song, a Pygmy girl’s initiation rites, Chinese rivers, Australian bird songs. Allegedly, Carl Sagan desperately wanted to include the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” but EMI would not allow it. Handwritten, perfectly, fittingly, on each record is this sentence: “To the makers of music — all worlds, all times”
What songs would you include today? Imagine our greeting now that we could easily include images, video. What would we show them – a flower sprouting from a crack in the sidewalk, the brilliance of Tokyo? Celebrity Apprentice, maybe. We are so vast, so tiny, so exceptional, and so completely insignificant. Goddamn, we are nothing if not painfully, exquisitely…alive.
Here are a few songs included on the record that I sincerely hope find their way to someone’s ears, someday.
Beethoven – String Quartet No. 13 In B Flat, Opus 130, Cavatina
Blind Willie Johnson – Dark Was The Night
Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar – Jaat Kahan Ho
Navajo Night Chant
posted by rikki