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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.
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 with instructions on how to play the record and even a handy stylus to drop in the groove. Each track, each sound, and every image has a tale to tell.
The Vinyl Frontier tells the story of NASA's interstellar record, 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.
Jonathan Scott is a music writer and self-confessed astronomy geek. Formerly a contributing editor to Record Collector magazine, he has edited books about Prince, Cher and the San Francisco psych explosion, and written about Nirvana, the Pogues, the Venga Boys, Sir Patrick Moore and Sir Isaac Newton in a variety of magazines. He received his first telescope aged eight, using it to track Halley's Comet in 1986. Having followed Voyager's planetary fly-bys throughout his childhood, he first got to write about the missions in 2004. If he'd been in charge of the Voyager Golden Record, aliens would assume humanity had three chords.
"Bursts with gloriously geeky detail. (5*)"
– The Telegraph
"He has the nerd's determination to track down details, to badger surviving protagonists with questions no one else has asked. Above all, he has a golden ear for irony. Far from second-guessing or lamenting the record's imperfections, he revels in its pops, clikc, glitches and quirks."
– The Wall Street Journal
"Both a detailed history of and a thoughtful exegesis on caution-by-committee and the sometimes remarkable synergy between art and science. Crucially, Scott's narrative blends extraterrestrial wonder with earthbound charm and brims with poignant revelations. (4*)"
"Jonathan Scott is our cheerful tour guide [...] and The Vinyl Frontier is our comprehensive and comprehensible itinerary."
– LA Times
"Scott masters the technical details, often with a touch of humor."
– The Washington Post
"The cast of characters alone is tremendous. Written in a lively, often jocular tone [...] The Vinyl Frontier tells the tale well"
"Created from a strange marriage of politics, bureaucracy, budget, ambition, innovation, and beauty, Scott describes a portrait of humanity that is still travelling out among the stars."
– The Nerd Daily
"A vital addition to the library of anyone with an interest in the Voyager missions, extraterrestrial contact, or Carl Sagan."
– Astronomy Now
"You may have heard of the Voyager Golden Record, but Scott's illuminating backstory brings a new appreciation to this simple object. It's not just a record. It's science's most thoughtful and optimistic act."
– Amy Shira Teitel, author of Breaking the Chains of Gravity
"An entertaining, compelling, brilliantly-researched and inspiring account of the Voyager spaceship's curious passenger, the Golden Record, and the wonderful team of dreamers who made it happen."
– Emer Reynolds, writer and director of The Farthest