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Play it again, earthlings

November 23, 2003|Michael T. Jarvis

The distinctive sounds of Earth, intended as a message from a small blue planet to life forms beyond it, are echoing homeward in a rare recording being sold at the Planetary Society in Pasadena.

"Murmurs of Earth -- The Voyager Interstellar Record" is an unusual time capsule that was launched aboard the Voyager I and Voyager II spacecrafts in 1977 to communicate the images and sounds of Earth to inhabitants of the far reaches of space. The limited-edition "Murmurs of Earth" album -- published in 1978 and reissued in 1992 -- features greetings in 59 human languages, a whale song, a mother's first word to her newborn baby and Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode."

The gold phonograph record carried by the Voyager was encoded with both sounds and photographic images, made to be retrieved with an onboard player. "It's one of the most unusual conceptual art pieces ever made," says Ann Druyan, creative director of the project. "It plays everything that's wonderful about being human." That includes compositions by Bach and Beethoven along with a Pygmy initiation song, a Navajo chant and a Peruvian wedding song.

Says Druyan, who worked on "Murmurs of Earth" with her late husband, scientist Carl Sagan, "The most amazing thing is the projected shelf life of 1,000 million years." The project was completed in four months, on a budget of $18,000.

Thanks to the recent discovery of a small stash of the recordings, the Planetary Society is offering 70 remaining copies of "Murmurs of Earth" at $99 each through the store on its Web site, www.planetary.org. The boxed set includes a book that recounts the story behind the Voyager record, a list of images on the record and two CD-ROMs that replicate the record's audiovisual content.

Druyan hopes the sale of the boxed set will generate new interest in the unprecedented record project and the Voyager program. "There's a generation that needs to be reminded that we did it."

-- Michael T. Jarvis

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