TEDxUCLA 2017: Gravity

The Voyager Interstellar Record: seeing hope & wonder in our self


About Lawrence

Lawrence Azerrad is a Los Angeles based Graphic Designer and Creative Director. Since 2001 LADdesign has created graphic design and comprehensive visual identity systems for clients such as Sting, Universal Music Group, UC San Diego, The Silversun Pickups, Esperanza Spalding, The Skirball Cultural Center, The Beach Boys, UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, Red Bull Sound Select, and over an eighteen-year client relationship with award-winning American alternative rock band, Wilco.


Hello. Howdy. Good day. Hey there.

Before those four greetings that I just shared, you heard many more. But even if you don’t speak Bengali or Urdu, Sumerian or Mandarin Chinese, you likely understood that they were expressions of goodwill.

What does it mean to communicate to someone who doesn’t speak your language?

Just now on the organ, Christoph Bull spoke to us, but he didn’t use words. He used the musical language of Bach and then he deconstructed Bach to create a new musical grammar to move us, to transport us, to talk to us through sound.

While he played, a series of images flashed on this screen. The images told a story of humanity, of culture, of life on Earth, without using a single word.

Those greetings, the Bach that Christoph played so beautifully — thank you, Christoph — the images on the screen, they’re all part of the Voyager Golden Record that’s now almost 13 billion miles from Earth.

In 1977, NASA launched two spacecraft, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, on a grand tour of the solar system and beyond, deep into the mysteries of interstellar space, providing for us these priceless images and many more of our planetary neighborhood.

Attached to each spacecraft is a stunning golden phonograph record: a message from our civilization to extraterrestrials who might encounter the probes, perhaps billions of years from now.

The Voyager Record contains the story of Earth as expressed in sights and sounds and science.

Earth’s greatest music from Bach and Beethoven to Blind Willie Johnson, to Chuck Berry, West African percussion, and Solomon Island pan pipes. Dozens of natural sounds of our planet: birds, humpback whales, a locomotive, the rain, human laughter, a kiss, all woven into a lovely audio poem called “Sounds of Earth.”

As a graphic designer myself, my studio’s been working with a record label this year to release the Voyager Record on vinyl, here on Earth, for the first time ever. And I’m here to share why it matters.

Today you heard some of the records, 55 greetings spoken in human languages, and viewed many of the images encoded on the phonographs. Etched on the gold plated aluminum jacket is this diagram explaining where it came from and how to play it.

None of the creators took it for granted that extraterrestrials would actually understand Hebrew, Sumerian, or Nepali. Those greetings were meant to express the spirit of the project for the inhabitants of this planet.

You see, the Voyager Record was a gift from humanity to the cosmos. But it was also a gift to humanity, a message of goodwill to anyone out there but also to those of us down here.

Carl Sagan led the committee that put the record together. He said, “The launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.”

The creative minds behind the content of the record agreed from the outset that the interstellar message should not include images of war or poverty or disease, that the message should reflect positively on Earth, that it should reflect humanity at its best. It’s an idealistic self-portrait, and it’s one we can aspire to.

And as we consider how to explain ourselves to others out there, we begin to consider who we are in a much deeper way.

So who are you? What do you have to say for yourself, and how will you say it?

We need to send new messages in bottles. We need to send new messages of goodwill, new messages that remind us of who we are when we are at our best and we need to send them to each other here on Earth today.

The Voyager Record — it’s true. The Voyager Record, it lies at the intersection of science and art to spark the imagination. It provokes questions about our place in the universe. It opens our minds to possibilities and it serves as a reminder that the future really is up to us.

We need to be reminded of that. We need you to spread the message. Thank you.