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Typos: Tracing the Voyager Record's Mistakes


A few days ago I wrote about the new record that has emerged now that Ozma Records has identified many of the titles and performers of the indigenous music included on the Voyager Golden Record. It's the most accurate list of the musical contents on the record that has ever been published, but where did the mistakes start to get made?

Timothy Ferris recently wrote in the New Yorker that there was not enough time to correct all of the incorrect information that was provided to the Voyager record content team before the launch. Ferris says these mistaken contents were "provided to us by recordists and record companies." That may be true, but it may also be true that no one thought there was anything wrong with not listing the indigenous musicians until they got called out for it.

During my kind of unfruitful quest to uncover the artist identities on the record on my own, Todd Harvey, curator of The Alan Lomax Collection at the American Folklife Center of The Library of Congress, pointed me towards this document, a list made by Lomax of the Voyager record contents he suggested with their album sources and contacts for copyright release:

Alan Lomax and the Voyager Record Contenets: Alan Lomax collection (AFC 2004/004), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

(Alan Lomax collection (AFC 2004/004), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress)

I believe this was the original list sent to the Voyager team in 1977. The haste in which it was written is evident from the various handwriting and in number of corrections made to it. Interesting to note is that the "Senegal Percussion" has been crossed out in a heavy hand, with the correct album information Musique Dahoméennes listed besides it. Also interesting to note is that "Moikoi" and "Devil Bird" are listed as the Australian Aboriginal tracks, along with the album title Land of the Morning Star. As Dr. Alice Gorman pointed out in 2013, "Moikoi" was not listed as a track on Voyager, but "Morning Star" and "Devil Bird" were. "Devil Bird" isn't actually on the record. It's not clear at which point that error was first made, but it looks like it was right here.

The entire Lomax archive concerning Voyager is here and here. A large portion of it deals with his involvement with securing the copyrights for Sagan for the 1992 release of the Voyager music on CD packaged with the Murmurs of Earth book. At that stage some of these mistakes could have been fixed: the reason why they weren't isn't very clear. Those mistakes continue to perpetuate to this day. Even NASA's Voyager website still lists them as they appeared in 1992. These should definitely be replaced with Ozma Record's corrected version as soon as possible. Isn't 40 years long enough?

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