The astronomer Carl Sagan said the Voyager's golden record exemplified something very hopeful about life on Earth. AdStock / Universal Images Group
The astronomer Carl Sagan said the Voyager's golden record exemplified something very hopeful about life on Earth. AdStock / Universal Images Group

Album review: Galactic mixtape comes back down to Earth

Any wise person on Earth would stand to reason that if aliens should chance upon a contraption of ours flying through deep space, they would be quick to wonder, perhaps before all else: “What kind of music do these things called ‘humans’ listen to?” It would be a matter of simple curiosity and intergalactic importance, maybe even with the potential – who knows? – to bond us across extra dimensions or warring worlds.

It is also a subject that the American space programme took up, with at least some degree of seriousness, in the 1970s. Back then, to go along with plans for launching a pair of probes as part of the Voyager programme, Nasa embarked on a project to create a Golden Record. The result would be just that: a shiny record, like so many others on more boring and ordinary black vinyl, coated in gold and pressed with sounds from the planet Earth into its grooves. It would be attached to a probe and shot up into space, waiting for a chance to strike up a tune in the whirring cosmic jukebox.

For aliens, the Golden Record came with elaborate instructions on how to play it back, including diagrams and explanations in pictorial code, meant to communicate with extraterrestrial beings whose English might not be so advanced. It was treated for durability through intense stretches of travel between hot and cold, and it had a special cartridge, with a needle that could be placed directly on the surface to encircle the signals for sounds. It was a real, workable record – decidedly more than a lark. Maybe the chances of it getting played were slim, but why not make it up to the task if the occasion should ever come?

The task of representing the entire human race and the whole of planet Earth was no small responsibility, and it fell upon the imaginative shoulders of science-­fiction writer and noted ponderer of the stars Carl Sagan. He, along with a group brought together for the project, selected 115 images from our picturesque planet and, more evocatively, an assemblage of telltale sounds. Some were naturally occurring, such as wind, rain, surf, crickets, frogs and a chimpanzee. Others were mechanical, such as a tractor, bus, car, riveter and train. Many more were short bits of spoken word, including greetings from human beings in 55 different languages, from the nearly 6,000-year-old Sumerian tongue known as Akkadian to Arabic, Cantonese, Farsi, Swedish, Vietnamese and more.

Having worked through all that, the curious alien could turn his or her (or its?) attention to the real bounty of the Golden Record: the music. About the entire project, Sagan once declared: "The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilisations in interstellar space. But the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet."

Hopeful – and beautiful too, then as well as now. This summer, decades after the Voyager probes were sent aloft in 1977, Nasa uploaded some of the Golden Record's aural contents to the music-sharing website, SoundCloud, where they can be heard by any earthbound being with an internet connection. The sanctioned release focuses on the weird noisy parts, such as the track labelled Life Signs, Pulsar, which opens the whole thing: it's skittery and strange, a bit of hapless static with some creaky, crunching sounds. After that comes Kiss, Mother and Child, with the cry of a baby, followed by a parent cooing: "Oh come on now". Next up are engine sounds, a dopplerised locomotive, a horse and cart, Morse code and ships.

Many avant-garde sound artists while away countless hours in unconvincing attempts to evoke so much with so little. But again, the music is where the real charms are. Hearable in the official Nasa batch is an eerie, abstract realisation of the age-old notion of the Music of the Spheres, a projected idea of what the universe sounds like with planets spinning at different intervals like so many keys in an enormous cosmic instrument.

The idea goes back to the mystical Greek mathematician Pythagoras and later Johannes Kepler, a 17th-century astronomer who theorised ambitiously about planetary motion. The manifestation of it on the Golden Record was realised by Laurie Spiegel, a pioneering computer musician who just a few years later released a fantastic and still-startlingly advanced album called The Expanding Universe. How's that for serendipity?

For the most resoundingly musical parts, the enterprising listener can venture online to hear unsanctioned uploads (one presumes that licensing would be a cross to bear, even for Nasa) of the full Golden Record playing on for more than five hours. The tracklist is worth the journey, beginning with Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No 2 and swerving, thrillingly, from there to Javanese gamelan music. Worldly sounds abound, with Senegalese percussion leading into a pygmy children's tune, songs by Australian Aborigines and a Mexican mariachi band. There's also Chuck Berry's Johnny B Goode, a blazing example of early electric rock 'n' roll and a song that would, by chance, feature in the 1985 sci-fi classic film Back to the Future.

It's a wondrous and humbling experience to listen to all these sounds of the past in a future so far progressed in time yet in many ways regressed and remote. With prospects for space travel hindered – Nasa still does mind-boggling work but, in terms of funding and scope, is a shell of its former self – it's difficult to think of a programme so ambitiously off-the-charts as Voyager. (Others exist, and actively, but the spirit behind them has surely changed.)

But the prospect of travelling forward and outward through sound remains an option, and the Golden Record remains a good means to do so. After more of its music plays – through Mozart and Peruvian pan pipes, past Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring and jazz by Louis Armstrong – there's a spooky old blues tune by Blind Willie Johnson, with the priceless title Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground. It was recorded in 1927, a half-century before Voyager's time, and it features what sounds like a wizened old soul in a spell of wordless moaning.

That’s a kind of human any alien can understand.

Andy Battaglia is a New York-based writer whose work appears in The Wall Street Journal, Frieze, The Paris Review and more.

Match info:

Wolves 1
Boly (57')

Manchester City 1
Laporte (69')

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Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

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Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through and

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Meydan race card

6.30pm: Maiden Dh 165,000 1,600m
7.05pm: Handicap Dh 185,000 2,000m
7.40pm: Maiden Dh 165,000 1,600m
8.15pm: Handicap Dh 190,000 1,400m
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9.25pm: Handicap Dh 175,000 1,200m
10pm: Handicap Dh 165,000 1,600m

How I connect with my kids when working or travelling

Little notes: My girls often find a letter from me, with a joke, task or some instructions for the afternoon, and saying what I’m excited for when I get home.
Phone call check-in: My kids know that at 3.30pm I’ll be free for a quick chat.
Highs and lows: Instead of a “how was your day?”, at dinner or at bathtime we share three highlights; one thing that didn’t go so well; and something we’re looking forward to.
I start, you next: In the morning, I often start a little Lego project or drawing, and ask them to work on it while I’m gone, then we’ll finish it together.
Bedtime connection: Wake up and sleep time are important moments. A snuggle, some proud words, listening, a story. I can’t be there every night, but I can start the day with them.
Undivided attention: Putting the phone away when I get home often means sitting in the car to send a last email, but leaving it out of sight between home time and bedtime means you can connect properly.
Demystify, don’t demonise your job: Help them understand what you do, where and why. Show them your workplace if you can, then it’s not so abstract when you’re away - they’ll picture you there. Invite them into your “other” world so they know more about the different roles you have.


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Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
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Industry: AI
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Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

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The UAE flag was first unveiled on December 2, 1971, the day the UAE was formed. 

It was designed by Abdullah Mohammed Al Maainah, 19, an Emirati from Abu Dhabi. 

Mr Al Maainah said in an interview with The National in 2011 he chose the colours for local reasons. 

The black represents the oil riches that transformed the UAE, green stands for fertility and the red and white colours were drawn from those found in existing emirate flags.

If you go

The flights
There are various ways of getting to the southern Serengeti in Tanzania from the UAE. The exact route and airstrip depends on your overall trip itinerary and which camp you’re staying at. 
Flydubai flies direct from Dubai to Kilimanjaro International Airport from Dh1,350 return, including taxes; this can be followed by a short flight from Kilimanjaro to the Serengeti with Coastal Aviation from about US$700 (Dh2,500) return, including taxes. Kenya Airways, Emirates and Etihad offer flights via Nairobi or Dar es Salaam.   


Multan Sultans v Peshawar Zalmi
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Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
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Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
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Developer: Big Ape Productions
Publisher: LucasArts
Console: PlayStation 1 & 5, Sega Saturn
Rating: 4/5

The specs: McLaren 600LT

Price, base: Dh914,000

Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic

Power: 600hp @ 7,500rpm

Torque: 620Nm @ 5,500rpm

Fuel economy 12.2.L / 100km

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  • Michael Lawal (UK) beat Tamas Kozma (Hungary) KO​​​​​​​
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  • Darren Surtees (UK) beat Kane Baker (UK) KO
  • Chris Eubank Jr (UK) beat JJ McDonagh (Ireland) TKO
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Started: December 2023
Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside


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Started: 2017
Founders: Dr Noha Khater and Rania Kadry
Based: Egypt
Number of staff: 120
Investment: Bootstrapped, with support from Insead and Egyptian government, seed round of
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Company Profile

Company name: Hoopla
Date started: March 2023
Founder: Jacqueline Perrottet
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 10
Investment stage: Pre-seed
Investment required: $500,000


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Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices