Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Music in outer space?

In 1977, two Voyager spacecraft were launched as interplanetary and ultimately interstellar probes for research. Both Voyagers also carried, among other representations of life on earth, a "Golden Record", which included musical selections from cultures around the world, as well as from the western classical, jazz, and popular traditions.

Over the weekend, an old friend was visiting as houseguest, and as we were discussing various things, I learned that, at the request of the late Carl Sagan, the late Robert E. Brown, a mutual friend and eminent ethnomusicologist, had made the selection of world music (Brown is popularly credited with coining the term) for the Golden Record from countries including Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, China, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Guinea, Peru, Senegal, the Solomon Islands, and Zaire, as well as the Navajo Nation in the U.S. As my friend and I discussed the music, I was pleased to learn that included was a recording of Kesarbai Kerkar, one of the legendary vocalists of Indian classical music. You can listen to her performance, in a morning raga, Bhairavi, from an old 78 rpm record, as well as to all the other selections, on the Website www.goldenrecord.org.

In this blog's May Day Manifesto, we asked why music is such a central aspect of our day-to-day existence. As regards the Voyager mission, it is significant that, of all possible expressions of human culture and art, music was selected as being the most compelling manifestation of our civilization.

If you had the choice of recordings to be included in a subsequent such project, what would be the three musical examples at the top of your list?

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