Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Billions of memorials

Today is the tenth anniversary of Carl Sagan’s death. In honor of him, Joel Scholsberg has announced a memorial blog-a-thon. Keeping to my area of expertise, I have decided to write about the music included on the Golden Record sent on the Voyager space probes. Carl Sagan chaired the committee that selected the images, sounds, and music recorded on the record. Wikipedia lists the musical selections, confirmed(?) by this Latvian site. The majority of the pieces are World Music, with a sprinkling of classical works (Holbourne's Fairie Round; Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, Partita No. 3 and Well-Tempered Clavier Prelude-n-Fugue; Mozart's Magic Flute; Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and String Quartet No. 13; and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring) and three pieces of popular music (Louis Armstrong's "Melancholy Blues", Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground", and Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode"). And those three popular pieces span jazz, blues, and rock. The newest composed piece was "Johnny B. Goode" as far as I could tell. I'm not an expert in ethnomusicology, so I don't know the history of most of those songs. So in 1977 the newest piece was over 20 years old, and by now it is over fifty years old. Dr. Sagan and his committee had only six months to pick the music, and clearly had been given the mandate to be as multicultural as possible, as evidenced by the fifty-five languages on the record. I'm sure the lack of new music was due to a fear of picking the '77 equivalent of Brittney Spears (the Bee Gees?) to send on a billion-year journey.

In related news, a student composer at Sagan's old stomping grounds of Cornell composed a tribute to him. Peter Salvi composed In Memoriam Carl Sagan in 1997 for flute, clarinet, and bassoon.

4 comments:

John Salmon said...

Interesting post.

Considering the musicianship involved, and the, well, lack of popularity, do you think jazz should be included with "popular pieces"?

Scott Spiegelberg said...

At the time of the Hot Sevens, Satchmo was very popular. But it is a standard term of art to distinguish between art music ("classical") and other genres. As for musicianship, I would not discount the abilities of either Blind Willie or Chuck Berry.

Daniel Wolf said...

The Javanese example, Ketawang Puspawarna, is performed by the gamelan of the Pura Paku Alam in Yogyakarta. The leader of the ensemble then, and the musician most responsible for bringing Solonese aspects to the performance style in the 1930's is the remarkable musician KRT Wasitodiningrat, best known to Americans as Pak Cokro (he taught for some years in California). Pak Cokro is still alive, over 100 years old, and has even composed and played a bit in recent years.

Scott Spiegelberg said...

Wow, he sounds quite remarkable. Thanks for that information, Daniel. Do you have much experience with gamelan music?