'Bursts with gloriously geeky detail.' The Telegraph
Have you ever made someone you love a mix-tape?
Forty years ago, a group of scientists, artists and writers gathered in a house in Ithaca, New York to work on the most important compilation ever conceived. It wasn't from one person to another, it was from Earth to the Cosmos.
In 1977 NASA sent Voyager 1 and 2 on a Grand Tour of the outer planets. During the design phase of the Voyager mission, it was realised that this pair of plucky probes would eventually leave our solar system to drift forever in the unimaginable void of interstellar space. With this gloomy-sounding outcome in mind, NASA decided to do something optimistic. They commissioned astronomer Carl Sagan to create a message to be fixed to the side of Voyager 1 and 2 – a plaque, a calling card, a handshake to any passing alien that might one day chance upon them.
The result was the Voyager Golden Record, a genre-hopping multi-media metal LP. A 90-minute playlist of music from across the globe, a sound essay of life on Earth, spoken greetings in multiple languages and more than 100 photographs and diagrams, all painstakingly chosen by Sagan and his team to create an aliens' guide to Earthlings. The record included music by J.S. Bach and Chuck Berry, a message of peace from US president Jimmy Carter, facts, figures and dimensions, all encased in a golden box.
The Vinyl Frontier tells the story of NASA's interstellar mix-tape, from first phone call to final launch, when Voyager 1 and 2 left our planet bearing their hopeful message from the Summer of '77 to a distant future.
Music journalist and Record Collector contributor Scott creates a high-energy, interplanetary pop song of a book devoted to the six-week project led by Carl Sagan and astrophysicist Frank Drake in 1977 to create a playlist of music and sounds to accompany NASA's Voyager probe into space. Scott, who acknowledges he is more of an expert on mixtapes than astronomy, proves an enthusiastic and upbeat guide through the universe of bureaucratic red tape, tight deadlines, and romantic entanglements that revolved around the compilation effort. His thoroughly researched account draws on interviews with and unpublished writings by Voyager Record team members to explain the decision-making process behind various inclusions, including Chuck Berry's rock 'n' roll standard "Johnny B. Goode" picked when the other pop song in contention, the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun," proved unconscionably expensive and legendary bluesman Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Is the Night," "arguably the most haunting sound on the record," for which team member and famed ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax lobbied. Scott summarizes the story best as being "about an awesome band of ordinary yet exceptional individuals who created a wonderful yet genuinely weird monument." Delivered with effortless grace, this buoyant look at one of NASA's most unusual but oft-overlooked efforts will appeal to music fans and astronomy buffs alike.