Explore the Golden Record!

October 28, 2020
The cover image for the Voyager Golden Record resource created by the Bok Learning Lab.

"In 1977 humanity sent a mixtape into outer space. The two spacecraft of NASA’s Voyager mission include a Golden Record, featuring greetings in 55 earth languages, 116 images of the planet and its inhabitants, plus examples of music from a range of cultures across the world: from Azerbaijani bagpipes to Zaire pygmy songs, from English Renaissance dances to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and from Louis Armstrong to Chuck Berry. The samplings of earthbound auditory culture are on their way into the unknown.”

So begins the course description for Alex Rehding’s GENED 1006: Music From Earth. Using the Golden Record as its central touchpoint, the course explores large questions of self-representation and communication. As the course description goes on: “The central question we will ask in this class is bafflingly simple: What might happen if someone picked up the Golden Record at the other end? What does listening actually mean on this broadest, interplanetary level?”

Now, of course, in order for students to ask this question they need to experience the Golden Record themselves. Professor Rehding approached the Learning Lab with an idea for how to embed this listening experience in historical context by making it interactive. He imagined a political map from 1977 where clicking on countries played the relevant tracks.

The Learning Lab’s Lauren Davidson and Media and Design Fellow Phil Fahn-Lai took on the project, and created a striking, custom map interface. The map’s non-Mercator projection positions the student as a listener looking down from space. Each track plays with both geographic context and metadata surrounding it. In addition to exploring the map by country as Professor Rehding intended, the interface can also be used as a jukebox via the track detail pane.

Explore the Golden Record yourself!