Murmurs of Earth

Back in ’77, NASA sent out the Voyager probes and along with them, a golden gramophone record. This disc contained a bunch of images, animal sounds, spoken greetings, and music hand picked by Carl Sagan and friends.

When I found that out, my first thought was to grab a copy of this music that humanity sent into space as a representative sample of our culture. How crazy a job is it to pick just 31 songs from all human endeavor?

Trouble is, the music is impossible to find, because NASA can’t just give that shit away; there are copyrights to contend with. Warner Music put out a CD-ROM in ’92 called Murmurs of Earth with the music and pictures, but that’s out of print and very difficult to find.

Looking around online, I found an abandoned site (only available through caches) run by one Fleet Pete in which he offered to send a copy to anyone interested. He had a heck of a time getting his own copy:

Well, if it wasn’t possible to buy the CD-ROM, i might be able to borrow it and make a copy. (I respect copyright laws, but i make exceptions when something is out of print.) I asked around JPL and the Planetarium a bit, with no luck. My next attempts were my local library (they had the 1978 edition), and a large engineering university library (they had two copies of the 1978 edition) — no luck so far, but the excellent staff at the university reference desk did print me a list of every library in their network that had the 1992 CD-ROM (thanks, guys!). I was delighted to see that two of the libraries were in the vicinity of my sweet home Chicago, so i stopped at one of them that same day. All i found there was a forlorn space on their audio-visual shelves where Murmurs used to live; the copy was listed as missing. I called the other Chicago area library, and learned that their copy was missing, too. Sad, i thought, that someone would steal this gem from a library and deprive so many people of it. Out of fairness, though, this was probably before CD burners and large hard drives, so the culprits might not have been able to make a digital copy for themselves.

Anyone who knows me can probably guess that these setbacks only made me more determined, as well as insanely impractical. I went through the list and found libraries in several neighboring states, and started calling them. I chose one in Indiana, and headed off on my quest. There it was! I was positively giddy as i loaded the disc into my iBook, and saw the images and audio appear. I made copies in several formats, dowloaded the music to my iPod (i’m such a poster child for Apple!), and slithered back with the treasure to my secret nerd lair somewhere in Illinois. (Yes, of course, i left the originals at the library.)

The audio was in regular CD (AIFF) format, and posed no problem, but the images were in a proprietary format, with DOS and Apple executables to display and browse them. The Apple application runs with difficulty under OS 9 and not at all under OS X, and i haven’t had any luck so far getting the DOS application to run; i think it has something to do with the applications requiring only 256 colours and 640×480 pixels. Therefore, i’ve ported all the image files over. I used the newly standard, and free, PNG format, because that’s the kind of guy i am; JPEGs at 50% compression would have been less bulky, but with imperfect image fidelity. I also added several images: the opening screen from the original browser; images 032b and 071b, which the publishers had to leave out of the CD-ROM for reasons of copyright or modesty, but which appear in the 1978 book; two images of the diagram on the Voyager record jackets; and scans from the CD-ROM cover and insert.

I found his email online and asked him to send me a copy, which he graciously did. So, friends of mine, if you would like a copy, let me know. I can let you borrow mine or something. There’s some interesting stuff on it, including “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” by Blind Willie Johnson as featured in an episode of The West Wing. And of course, the requisite whale songs. Eh?

19 thoughts on “Murmurs of Earth”

  1. Do you still have the two Murmurs of Earth CD-ROMs after all this time? I’d love to get a copy. There was one dude selling it for $450 on Amazon but that entry’s long gone.

    Abrey

  2. Hello!
    I saw your post regarding the Voyager Golden Record, I’ve been searching for one forever. Any possibility of obtaining a copy of the CDs?

    Regards,
    Terry

  3. Hi Michael , I saw your posting and have been looking around for a while , so was delighted to hear that you have the recordings. Would there be any chance of getting a copy or could you direct me to how I could do that.

    Thanks,
    Regards,
    Ganpati.

  4. I also have an original set of the Murmurs CD’s. Not sure I will ever sell copies, but I was just curious as to what you are getting for copies of the Cds.

    Thanks

  5. Just found this and was hoping to get a copy of the CD-ROM. Is that still possible? I can’t find an email address on the site.

  6. Thinking of doing a podcast on the Golden Record now Voyager is leaving the solar system…would love a copy of this CD-ROM. Email me or contact via the website. Thanks!

  7. Hi! I couldn’t find any contact information on the website. Can you contact me by email? I’ve been looking everywhere for that cd.

  8. Hello

    I’ve been searching everywhere for a copy of this – I really want to get hold of the music for a presentation. I’d very much appreciate a copy if you’re still willing. Let me know.

    Many thanks
    Eloisa

  9. Dear Michael, Having worked for much of my career on science-inspired projects I would greatly love to obtain a copy of the music carried on Voyager. If that’s still possible please drop me a note. — Many thanks, Kenny

  10. Hi Michael
    I bought a copy of the book from Amazon, but it comes with no cdrom. Would you please be so kind as to send me a copy of the cdrom? I’d like to use it in my science classes.

  11. It can be opened on an OSX mac with DOSBox for free!

    The process is a bit strange. Here’s what I did.

    Copy the PCMURMUR folder and its contents from disc 1 (MURMURS OF EARTH), to your desktop, even if you’re on a Mac. Incidentally, the Mac folder contains the individual image files with invisible titles (starting with a .), but I couldn’t figure out what type of image files they are).

    Download DOSBox from here: http://www.dosbox.com/download.php?main=1
    (looks like it’ll run on windows, linux, anything 8)

    At the Z:\> prompt, type:

    mount c ~/
    (note: there is a space between the c and the ~)
    hit Return

    To switch to your home directory, type:

    c:
    hit Return

    To go into your Desktop folder, type:

    cd desktop
    hit Return

    Then to go into that PCMURMUR folder, type:

    cd pcmurmur
    hit Return

    To see the contents of that folder, type:

    dir

    hit return

    Now, to run the grasprt.exe, which is a simple photo viewing program, type:

    grasprt murmur.gl

    And that’s it! Now you too can enjoy the elusive 123 lo-res pictures (counting the “cover”)!!

  12. You may need to change the following setting in the DosBox config file to get it to run.

    machine=svga_et4000

  13. If you still check this and have a copy you could send me, could you email me the data? It would be very interesting to view it.

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