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?

Music Lessons

I’ve been using Rhythmbox for a while — in particular, I’ve been using its auto-rating feature that sharp readers will remember I wrote. My rated playlist doesn’t harbor many surprises. I’ve never been able to properly answer the question, “What music do you like?” beyond the knee-jerk reaction of “Why, MC Copulation‘s sex rap, of course!” So, I’ve got stuff of all genres floating around. Some would call it a lack of taste; I prefer the term eclectic. I’d had hoped that auto-rating would be a bit more informative, but I guess getting what I expected means that it’s working. 🙂

However, I have noticed one band’s meteoric rise through the ranks. It seems I like Modest Mouse a lot. I never seem compelled to skip one of their songs. Wikipedia labels them an indie rock band, of the Neo-Wave variety. Even after reading their Neo-Wave (also hilariously called Newer Wave) page, I’m still not sure what it’s all about, but I do like the other bands listed. So I guess when I’m asked now, I can mysteriously say, “Neo-Wave.”

Curiously, the one song of Modest Mouse’s that is rated poorly on my Rhythmbox is “Teeth Like God’s Sunshine.” So, yeah. Take that for what it’s worth.

CD Metadata

OK, so I haven’t looked into this very much, but it seems to me that the CD format is terrible. The civilized world has gone to great extents in order to provide systems to query large user-maintained databases scattered across the Internet. These databases then tell your computer what the artist and title of the song are. This information is not five feet across the room on the back of the CD case.

It seems to me like the manufacturers of the CDs could put a little something-something in the CD to cue players to what’s up. I assume that putting some junk data inbetween tracks wouldn’t work very well, as old players would try to play them.

However, what about putting all the metadata for the CD in a data track after the end of the CD audio stuff? That way, old players would just see the end of audio, but new players could scan for it and load it up front. Everyone wins, and I am a genius.

Dirty Hands

At Cybercamps, we sometimes have a group of younger kids called Cyber Explorers for the week. They range from 6 to 9 years-old and generally learn the basics of how to cut and paste, draw pictures, etc. Interestingly, the female/male ratio is much higher with this group. Girls! Computers are cool even when you have breasts! I assume…

Anyway, one of the girls made an interesting comment today. Several of the girls seems to be into Hillary Duff and were listening to some of her music and looking at her website. This one girl made a picture of Hillary Duff’s name written in an interesting font and started adding some sort of stamp all over the picture.

I looked closer and saw that she was stamping lots of little purple handprints. I asked why, and she said, This is how famous she is. ‘Cause they all want to touch her with their dirty hands. So many people in the world.

Emmet Brown, Do You Still Got That Timetrain?

I just came back from a show featuring my good friend Swifty as MC Copulation. He was great — good stage presence — and so was the next act, the Mathematicians.

I particularly liked the Mathematicians because they gave me an excuse to jump up and down a lot. I always keep an eye out for those.

La Mi Vida Violenta were OK, but I wanted to jump around more, and their music was too complex for that. They should have been first, before I got all pumped.

Jedi Mind Block

Whenever I have a song stuck in my head, the magical power of humming the Gremlins theme song saves me. It’s the weirdest thing. The theme song doesn’t ever get stuck in my head past a couple minutes and when it goes, it takes the other song with it.

This trick doesn’t work for my flatmate Dave, so mileage may vary. Does anyone else have a similar strategy? Apparently chewing on cinnamon sticks is a folk remedy.

Quotes of the Day

Around ’ere we say birds, not bitches.
The Streets, “Let’s Push Things Forward”

And in a similar vein:

My dad, for example, he’s not as cosmopolitan or as educated as me and it can be embarrasing you know. He doesn’t understand all the new trendy words – like he’ll say ‘poofs’ instead of ‘gays,’ ‘birds’ instead of ‘women,’ ‘darkies’ instead of ‘coloureds.’
— Gareth, The Office