Music from Outer Space: NASA Voyager Recordings (1989, 1992)

voyager recordings

I’m still trying to figure out if these recordings are really what they say they are. Originally released in five volumes in 1989, they were collected in compilation form in 1992. From the back cover of volume one:

Share the journey of a 5 billion mile trek to the outer limits of our solar system. Hear the beautiful songs of the planets. The complex interactions of the cosmic plasma of the universe, charged electromagnetic particles from the solar wind, planetary magnetosphere, rings and moons create vibration “soundscapes” which are at once utterly alien and deeply familiar to the ear. Some of these sounds are hauntingly like human voices singing, giant Tibetan bowls, wind, waves, birds and dolphins. Many are familiar in a way unique for each listener.

Voyager has left our Solar System forever. The sounds on this recording will never be made again in our lifetime.

This sounds like New Age bullshit to me. In fact, the series is licensed by and appears to be copyright of the Center for Neuroacoustic Research (CNR), “dedicated to the healing of the Global Body of the Universe through the healing of individuals of which it is composed.” End of story, right? Well, the “Space Recording Series,” for sale individually (and not cheaply) at the CNR site,

is dedicated to the memory of Fred Scarf, PhD, who developed the acoustic recording project for Voyager and is directly responsible for the sounds you hear on these recordings from space.

Dr. Fred Scarf happens to be the real deal. According to a 1981 Christian Science Monitor article (“Voyager 2 sending back eerie ‘music of the spheres’“), Scarf developed the plasma wave detector on Voyager 2 and “rigged up a microcomputer and music synthesizer to turn the noise of space and planets into a `Star Wars’-style siren song.” His 1988 obituary in the Los Angeles Times confirms this. However, I can’t find any confirmation on NASA’s site or anywhere else that the sounds on Symphonies of the Planets were supplied and/or endorsed by NASA and/or Scarf.

I did find some raw Voyager and Cassini recordings at NASA, prefaced by the remark that “Some spacecraft have instruments capable of capturing radio emissions. When scientists convert these to sound waves, the results are eerie to hear.” So, in theory, the sounds synthesized on the Symphonies disc(s) really could be from Voyager. But are they? I’ve emailed NASA about it via its public inquiry address. We’ll see what happens.

You can listen to the recordings for free if you’re on Spotify. Here’s a taste of what Jupiter “sounds” like:

I do find a starkness and a uniqueness in all of the different “soundscapes,” but that could very well be my mind clinging to the notion that they were captured by 35-year-old probes that have sailed past our solar system and are currently on the verge of interstellar space.

8 Responses to “Music from Outer Space: NASA Voyager Recordings (1989, 1992)”

  1. 1 leftylimbo March 13, 2013 at 7:31 am

    Ah. At first glance I thought maybe you were talking about The Planets album by Holst, which I may have heard on KXLU years ago (it was pretty atmospheric if I remember correctly…pun intended). But this one’s even trippier!

  2. 2 leftylimbo March 13, 2013 at 7:37 am

    Btw, if you like stark soundscapes, you may want to give a listen to Antarctica: Music From Koreyoshi Kurahara’s Film, which was done by Vangelis. I know for sure that I heard this on KXLU (can you tell that I like this station?), and it was quite brain-perculating. A commenter on Amazon described it quite well:

    “Vangelis’ ethereal soundtrack masterfully transports the listener to a barren, yet exquistely beautiful soundscape that superbly captures the sense of isolation and loneliness of this vast, frozen continent. The pieces are haunting, mystical, yet surprisingly peaceful instead of disquieting.”

  3. 3 2W2N March 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    I’m listening to it right now on Spotify. It’s gorgeous. Shades of Blade Runner, probably my favorite soundtrack ever.

  4. 4 plgbmp October 5, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    check out Charles Dodge – Earth’s Magnetic Field [1970]

  5. 5 ollitao February 1, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    Hallo! have you got an answer from NASA?
    I was through the archive of NASA for hours and could not find any evidence that the Symphony of the Planets came from Voyager. And no other information about the source up to now.

  6. 7 Pete March 25, 2017 at 12:07 am

    I used to have the entire series of the Symphonies of the Planets disks, and I also have examples of actual plasma wave sounds from the Voyager probes, and I can tell you they are not the same. What’s really going on here is this… the S.O.T.P. recordings are just heavily remixed versions of the real thing. Mostly they are just slathered in lots and lots of digital reverb to sound “cosmic” and “huge”. I’d say about 90 percent of what you are hearing is either embellished or fake. So while there’s a basis in fact here, the marketing is extremely misleading at best. If they just admitted this was a neato remix of some weird sounding static from space, I would have been a lot happier. If you look around YouTube you can find the unprocessed versions, and you’ll know them when you find them. The real recordings are fascinating, but very raw and unpleasant to listen to.

  7. 8 Michael Harding May 24, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    University of North Texas has a set of recordings that I think match the ones released on the disk, and seem legit.

    “The source tape was generously supplied by the project director of the plasma wave instrument, Fred Scarf, of TRW, for NASA. … The instrument, placed aboard this spacecraft, gathers information and analyzes it using a sixteen-channel spectrum analyzer.

    The data is transmitted to Earth and drives a computer which controls the amplitude of a sixteen-voice music synthesizer.

    In some bow shock interactions the actual frequencies of the phenomena are replicated; in others, some frequency shifting was necessary. Time compression is set to a 480:1 ratio.

    The final sequence of the composition uses the source tape with minimal manipulation. The middle section of the piece (bow shock sequence) uses the source tape, but heavily modified. The remaining segments are loosely based on the source tape.”

    I’m not sure what they did to ‘modify’ the source tape.

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