Rewinding history and pressing play
In June of 1977, Timothy Ferris, the producer of the original Voyager Golden Record, holed up in CBS Records' New York City recording studio to mix the interstellar message. As Carl Sagan wrote in Murmurs of Earth, CBS Records (now a division of Sony Music) provided the studio and engineering talent “entirely as a public service." The company’s support of the project, he wrote, was “truly remarkable.”
Over the course of a week, Ferris and CBS Records engineer Russ Payne, assisted by a young producer named Jimmy Iovine, mixed the material to Ampex 1/2" magnetic tape. Using those tapes, engineer Vladimir Meller cut the lacquer to fabricate the records that are now 13 billion miles from Earth. After the project was completed, CBS Records deposited the original master tapes into a massive, underground, climate-controlled warehouse managed by a company called Iron Mountain, named for the decommissioned iron mines that they converted into secure storage facilities. And for the next 40 years, the tapes sat in one or another of those facilities. Until now.
Last Friday, we gathered with Tim Ferris around a pristine vintage tape deck in Sony Music's historic Battery Mastering Studios as engineer Vic Anesini hit play on the Voyager Golden Record master tapes for the first time since 1977. The sound was breathtaking. We are thrilled to announce that thanks to the good people at the Sony Music Archives and Sony Music Entertainment's Legacy Recordings, our Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition will be sourced from high-resolution digital transfers of the original master tapes. When we arrived at Battery Mastering Studios last week, the tapes were fresh from the oven. Anesini had literally baked the reels to temporarily prevent the iron oxide from shedding off the tape backing, a common problem of magnetic tapes of that vintage.
Joined by Sony archivist Matthew Kelly and Ferris's son Patrick Ferris (an archival music researcher himself and member of roots rockers The Americans), we spent the day listening intently as Bach, bagpipes, Chuck Berry, gamelan music, and the blues washed over us, and Anesini tweaked the knobs to ensure the highest-quality digital transfer. The greetings in 55 languages sounded crisper than we'd ever heard them, as if the individuals behind those voices were in the room with us. As the Sounds of Earth audio montage filled the studio, we stood silently, eyes closed. It was stunning.
After a pulsar’s beeps brought Sounds of Earth to a close, Tim recalled the four days he spent in the studio in 1977 producing that composition. He explained that the process required several people simultaneously have their hands on the mixing board sliders as he "conducted" such sounds as dogs howling, volcanic eruptions, frogs, a jet plane, and, famously, a kiss.
Along with the Sounds of Earth, the musical selections, and the greetings in 55 languages, the Voyager Golden Record includes 118 images that were encoded in analog audio signals in the disc's grooves. Those images will be printed in the book that you will receive in the 40th Anniversary Edition box set but some of you have requested the audio track of those encoded images so that you may attempt to decode them yourself. We are delighted that the Sony archivists also located the tape reel of the encoded images. Rather than interrupting the Golden Record listening experience with the non-musical sound of the encoded images we will instead offer that track as a free digital download on the future Ozma Records Web site. It will also be bundled with the full album digital download in the appropriate Kickstarter reward packages.
Late Friday afternoon at Battery Mastering Studios, as the interstellar message's outro of Beethoven's String Quartet No. 13 in B flat faded out, Tim Ferris looked over at us: "It's a good record, right?" he said with a smile. Yes. It most certainly is. And we have never been more confident that it will sound absolutely sublime when you hear it as part of the Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition.
We hope you enjoy the snapshots below of this incredible experience that you helped make possible. Next month, we’re off to Grammy-winning mastering engineer Bernie Grundman’s Los Angeles studio to remaster and cut the records, and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena where we’ll dig into their Voyager Golden Record archives in search of more images and ephemera to include in the book. We'll keep you posted.
David, Tim, and Lawrence
Special thanks: Adam Block (president) and Rob Santos (VP A&R) at Sony Music's Legacy Recordings, Matthew Kelly and Tom Tierney at the Sony Music Archives, Jennifer Goodman (VP of business and legal affairs) at Sony Music, Vic Anesini (mastering engineer) and Donna Kloepfer (general manager) at Battery Mastering Studios, Matt Sullivan (founder) at Light in the Attic Records, Timothy Ferris, and you.