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Spring 2024


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New in Bookforum
Space Jams

In the fall issue of Bookforum, Nathan Goldman reviews Alien Listening: Voyager’s Golden Record and Music from Earth. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to read the full review. An excerpt appears below:

Alien Listening thus fulfills, and at the same time delicately undoes, the romantic intentions behind the Golden Record. Chua and Rehding argue that the contents of the record may reach an alien listener, who will not only “hear” something, but hear music. Lacking our contexts and likely not equipped with our sensory apparatus, the aliens would not hear our music. But it would still represent an encounter with human time. The authors analogize this creative miscommunication to our experience of the “song” of birds or whales, legible to us in a register alien to the source. “We have neither understood nor truly heard their song,” they write, “but the music we imagine as theirs still connects us.”

Curiously and convincingly, Chua and Rehding argue that the doomed yet hopeful attempt to speak to distant others represented by the Golden Record is “as much an imaginary act of listening as it is one of communicating,” because it embodies the search for contact with an alien frequency. They push this thesis even further, finding in the Voyager mission “an ontology of peace that music always promises”—an intention to reach the other not in violence but in hospitality.”