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Spring 2024


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New in Music & Letters
A Review of Alien Listening: Voyager’s Golden Record and Music from Earth

For a recent issue of Music and Letters, Jacomien Prins discusses Alien Listening: Voyager’s Golden Record and Music from Earth by Daniel Chua and Alexander Rehding. Click here to learn more about the book. See the button to the left to read the full review. An excerpt appears below:

“The defamiliarizing frame of [Alien Listening] consists of a very interesting and innovative examination of NASA’s Golden Record as well as accompanying perspectives and theories on how music should be defined, analysed, listened to, and thought about. Part II of the book, entitled ‘A Media Theory of the Third Kind’, offers a detailed analysis of the Golden Record project, which is described in terms of a beautiful ‘mission impossible’. This fascinating story began in 1977, when NASA launched a golden record into outer space. The record aboard one of the Voyager spacecrafts contained world music and sounds of the earth to introduce music from earth to extraterrestrial civilizations. Up to now, the Golden Record is the only human-made object to have left our solar system. Since its launch, it has sparked much debate about the representative-ness of the twenty-seven musical pieces selected, in particular about the metaphysi-cal theory that Western classical music, especially compositions by Bach and Beethoven, is the universal language of the human soul. In line with this tradition, Alien Listening asks questions related to those the Golden Record raises: What are the possibilities and limitations of music from earth in communication with aliens but also with humans? How do we use technology to further this communication? What can we learn from the auditory systems of other earthly creatures, such as whales, whose sounds are included on the Golden Record? Do aliens have ears? Is it possible to go beyond the limitations of human thought and perception, or are we condemned to the act of wishful anthropomorphism if we encounter otherness? And, last but not least, what is music?”