Alien Listening: Voyager’s Golden Record and Music from Earth

Zone Bks. Sept. 2021. 272p. ISBN 9781942130536. $32. MUSIC
This ambitious work opens its inquiry into the nature and meaning of music from an unusual perspective: outer space. The Golden Record (a pair of phonographic records launched with the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes in 1977) becomes the launch pad for a study of music theory and music media that attempts to be truly universal. Chua (music, Univ. of Hong Kong) and Rehding (music, Harvard Univ.) are less interested in speculating about the nature of alien listeners than in examining how positing the very existence an alien listener calls into question assumptions about music theory and music media. After all, what might a music theory look like that owes nothing to Earth-bound cultural assumptions and experiences? How might a being who might not even have ears receive the medium of the Golden Record, to say nothing of the instructions for getting it to produce sound? This intersection of music and science fiction results in soaring explorations into what a universal music theory might look like, deep dives into the experience of music as object through media, and musings on what music is.
VERDICT Heady stuff, but engaging all the same. For scholars of music and science fiction, and perhaps for some general readers too.
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