The Golden Records of Holly Herndon and Laurie Spiegel

Holly Herndon. Photo: Suzy Poling

Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.

In 1977, NASA launched Voyagers 1 & 2 into space, carrying on-board an audio document of life on Earth. Carl Sagan, who helped compile these sounds, deemed it “the launching of this ‘bottle’ into the cosmic ‘ocean.’” Within these golden grooves could be found the sounds of human greetings spoken in 55 different languages, the music of Beethoven, Chinese guqin master Guan Pinghu and Mozart, Javanese gamelan, bluesman Blind Willie Johnson’s haunting “Dark Was the Night,” Navajo Indian night chants, Chuck Berry and classical Indian singer Kesarbai Kerkar. (Both Voyagers have left our solar system’s gravitational pull, but you can still listen to it here)

One of the very first sounds you hear on this Golden Record (after greetings from the UN and whales) is a noisy, shrill electronic drone, the realization of Johannes Kepler’s theorized (yet never actualized) “Harmony of the Spheres.” With the aid of some of the first still-room-sized computers, it was a 360-year-old piece realized by young composer Laurie Spiegel, though she received no credit on the actual record, nor even at the Voyager website. And unless you’ve been hanging about the Kuiper Belt, it’s been relatively difficult to hear Spiegel’s composition for the past three decades (though strangely enough, her music scored a bloody battle scene in The Hunger Games earlier this year).

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