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A Romantic '70s Icon Exits the Solar System With a Song

This being the U.S. of 1970s, the 27 music samples on the record are decidedly biased in favor Western classical music of the 18th to early 19th century. That's the stuff we used to impress people in those days: orchestras, choirs, opera singers, elaborate polyphony and highly structured forms.

Seven classical music excerpts are included and of those, only Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring lies outside of 100-year period defined by the careers of J.S. Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven. Two Bach recordings, two Beethoven recordings and one Mozart aria are all included.

Jazz is underrepresented, with only one recording included, Melancholy Blues by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven. Only one rock 'n' roll recording is listed as well, Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry. While those are all culturally important, one might wonder how they represent us as a species.

On the other hand, the inclusion of one blues recording, Dark Is the Night, by Blind Willie Johnson, seems a stroke of genius. As I've said elsewhere, this little miracle of a wordless song probably represents the human race as well or better than everything else on this disc.

One example of Indian classical music, the raga, Jaat Kahan Ho, sung by Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar; one example of Javanese court gamelan; one example of Japanese shakuhachi flute. Those three, and all the rest of the recordings here, would fall under what we today in the U.S. would term "World Music," meaning the folk traditions and classical traditions of the non-Western or Native American cultures.

What all that indicates is that we are still growing in our understanding of one another. Someday relatively soon, I suppose, the term World Music will seem terribly quaint, uninformed, non-P.C., because it fails to differentiate between these widely disparate styles. It fails to see the nuance, the individuality, personality and wonder in each culture.

Even here, in a gold-plated record intended to bring our species together, to show it in its best light, there are elements of nationalism and tribalism, hints of "us" and "them." Looking at that "pale blue dot," considering Sagan's words and the vastness of the distances that Voyager 1 has traveled, it is harder to see a "them" here on Earth.

Will any species like ourselves ever find Voyager 1 floating between the stars and play back the encoded information? Not likely. A famous Star Trek film imagined a future human space mission encountering an evolved Voyager spacecraft (calling itself "V'Ger"), sentient and longing for its creator.

That film may be closer to the point than its writers knew. At this moment, we are the alien to our 1977 selves, encountering this vessel as an old-Earth time capsule.

Maybe through this milestone, the rugged, enduring human achievement symbolized by this little antiquated spacecraft, bridging the gap of space and time, we are gaining a surprisingly clearer view of ourselves and a glimpse of our true potential.

-- Written by Carlton Wilkinson in Asbury Park

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