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.