Home listening: Voyager’s Golden Record; RNCM brass band festival
Launched into space in 1977, this ‘present from a small distant world’ is a time capsule to treasure
Voyager 1 with camera and antenna trained on Jupiter. Photograph: Alamy
A soundtrack of human existence: that was the ambition of the fabled Voyager Golden Record, released in 1977 (overseen by Carl Sagan), to coincide with Nasa’s Voyager space probe. The original golden vinyl disc is somewhere aboard a spaceship 13bn miles away. It’s now easier to get. For the first time, you can have your own version, as a glamorous three-LP box set (or two CDs) complete with a 96-page book, the entire package deserving its recent Grammy.
A touching statement by President Jimmy Carter (what would Trump have said?) describes the record as “a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images and music, our thoughts and our feelings”. Tracks of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart bump against whale song, thunderstorms, a baby crying (with Mom in the background cooing “good boy”), the polyphonic calls of the Congalese Mbuti people, Benin drumming, Louis Armstrong, Blind Willie Johnson, Chuck Berry, and the gloriously named Georgian State Merited Ensemble of Folk Song and Dance. Today it lands in your ears as a weird and wonderful time capsule, a playlist from an era long before that do-it-yourself, curate-your-own notion existed for anyone with wifi or smartphone.
The classical music inclusions remain spot on, but the requirement of an intermediary creates a period feel: so Arthur Grumiaux plays Bach (from the Partita for Solo Violin No 3 in E major) without awareness of brisk, period instrument style. Otto Klemperer conducts Beethoven’s Fifth with magisterial weightiness, yet to modern ears his approach sounds more historic than Beethoven himself. Pianist Glenn Gould (from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book II) was a perceptive choice, given his continuing cult legacy 25 years after his death. The Golden Voyager is as strange, generous and quixotic as it is downright crazy. The world seemed simpler then.
• Brass bands looked threatened when the landscape of industrial Britain, with which they’re so closely associated, altered. Yet the tradition has renewed itself, as this year’s RNCM brass band festival demonstrates. On Radio 3 in Concert, Tom Redmond presents terrific performances by the Black Dyke Band and Cory Band from the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, including four world premieres. Available on BBC iPlayer Radio for 12 more days.