Music and Outer Space

A partial transcript from Episode 21 of THE ART MOVEMENT. Scroll down to listen to the full radio show.

So, when I think of music and space, one of the things that comes to my mind is Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Steven Spielberg movie where the benevolent aliens and humans essentially use the language of music to communicate with each other.

I also think about that Canadian Space Agency astronaut who recorded a version of David Bowie’s song, “Space Oddity,” and recorded a video for it on the International Space Station in 2013. The video was posted on YouTube and went viral. Bowie himself states that he thought it was possibly the most poignant version of that song ever created.

Another famous story is that of the Voyager probes, a sort of time capsule launched by NASA in 1977 that was intended to communicate a story of the world of humans on Earth to any interplanetary civilization out there.

These time capsules were records featuring spoken word greetings in 59 languages, sound recordings of locations and things on earth and a 90-minute selection of music from many cultures. One of which, I’m sure, was Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”

In fact, if you’d like to know more about the Voyager mission, there’s a fascinating documentary about it called The Farthest, which was directed by Emer Reynolds, whom I interviewed in my hometown of Galway, Ireland, when she premiered the doc there at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2018. Interesting to note that Chuck Berry had died just a few weeks before then.

Then of course, there is the whole thing about the sound of planets. Apparently, the earth and each of the planets of the solar system revolving around the sun make a musical note so low that it cannot be heard by human ears.

Ok, so sound doesn’t travel through space, which would explain that famous tagline from Alien, “In space no one can hear you scream.” But NASA has used powerful radio telescopes that can pick up the electromagnetic signals coming from the planets, especially the active ones like Jupiter, and convert them to sounds the human ear can hear.

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