An article in New Scientist about the Voyager 1 space craft caught the Crotchety eye the other day. It reports that the primary thrusters that keep Voyager’s antenna pointing towards Earth are beginning to fail. Voyager does have backup thrusters but they had not been fired since 1980 so NASA’s engineers did not know if they would still work. As the craft’s radioisotope thermoelectric generators can power its instruments for another two to three years NASA decided to take the risk of testing the backup thrusters. And they worked perfectly. More than 40 years after launch Voyager 1 is alive and well, flying on through interstellar space and sending back valuable scientific data.
A day or so after reading the New Scientist article a post on the Vinyl Connection blog reminded me of the Golden Record attached to Voyagers 1 and 2. On the Record there are greetings in 55 languages (ancient and modern). There are images depicting: mathematical definitions and physical constants; the sun and its planets; chemical compounds; plants, insects, fish, reptiles and mammals; and human cultural activities. There are recordings of natural sounds (wind, rain, thunder), animal calls (birdsong, dogs barking, whale songs) and machines (handsaw, car, aeroplane, rocket). And there is a collection of musical compositions from a wide variety of places and times.
So, this week, I thought I’d choose something from the Voyager Golden Record as my Track of the Week.
Sending out my elvish team of researchers to find the tunes, Crotchety Man waited, unsure what they would find. It wasn’t long before I received a report of a Spotify playlist titled The Sounds of Earth – Voyager Golden Record containing 30 pieces and lasting 1 hr 49 mins. It seemed we had hit the bullseye with the first dart. But then I noticed that most of the tunes in the playlist came from an album called The Voyager Interstellar Record – most, but not all.
Delving deeper into the cold darkness of cyberspace my little band of little people discovered several things: that in 2015 NASA made the Golden Record available on SoundCloud, where it lasts for 1 hr 27 mins 30 secs; that The Voyager Interstellar Record contains 19 tracks, was released by NASA in 2011 and lasts for 1 hr 4 mins; that Vinyl Connection knows of an album release from 2017; and that (according to Wikipedia) a new box set is due to be released by Light in the Attic Records and Ozma Records in February 2018. In the search for a definitive list of pieces on the Golden Record my elves seemed to be going round in circles.
But time, like Voyager, presses on so, calling off the search, I settled on a piece from the Sounds of the Earth playlist called The Fairie Round. It was written by Anthony Holborne, an eminent English composer at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, and to my ear is typical of those Shakespearian times. Originally written for the cittern, the version on the Golden Record was arranged for a string orchestra and performed by the Early Music Consort of London in 1976. In this YouTube clip it is played on the grown up (and better known) cousin of the cittern, the lute.
The Fairie Round is, like my elves, short and sprightly. It conjures up images of fairies dancing under twinkling stars in celebration of some joyous occasion – a birth or a marriage, perhaps. Or simply another completion of the Earth’s orbit around the sun.