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?