is the third and final part of an essay which to date has been looking at
the intriguing connections between five well-known people —
Hillary, Jan Morris, Wendy Carlos and Glenn Gould.)
depart for outer space, here are a couple of Glenn Gould quotes for you to
|Orlando Gibbons is my
favourite composer. Always has been.
I have always felt that Mozart should have died sooner rather than
NASA launched two spacecraft called Voyager. Their joint mission was first
to explore our outer solar system and then in 1986 to leave its realm to
pursue a slow drifting pilgrimage into the Milky Way and beyond towards
the vast unknown of other galaxies. Because many scientists believe that
life may exist elsewhere in the universe, it was decided that each Voyager
would carry a communication from the people of Earth to potentially
intelligent extraterrestrial beings.
year following the Voyager launch, astronomer Carl Sagan
(1934-1996) published a book with the marvellously evocative title
Murmurs of Earth which describes the genesis, form and content of that
hopeful message. Sagan is the sixth person we are visiting.
been involved with similar communications sent on Pioneer 10 and Pioneer
11 (1971-2) and the Laser Geodynamic Satellite (1974), and when the
Voyager missions were being planned in late 1976 he was asked to direct
the effort to design an appropriate message for these two vehicles. After
months of discussions with many people he and his team decided on a
long-playing phonograph disk made of copper, to be played at 16
2/3 revolutions per minute and to be attached to
each craft complete with cartridge and stylus and pictorial instructions
Here is a
summary of the contents list of the Voyager message:
118 pictures, encoded
the first two bars of
the Cavatina from the String Quartet No. 13 in Bb by Beethoven
greetings from the
President of the United States (Jimmy Carter)
greetings from the
Secretary General of the United Nations (Kurt Waldheim)
greetings in 54
languages (spoken, in the main, by native speakers; included are
ancient Sumerian and Hittite, Latin, Vietnamese, Burmese, Punjabi,
Welsh, Nguni, Wu)
the sounds of earth
(including those of a 1971 Australian earthquake, wind, rain, surf,
crickets, frogs, footsteps, heartbeats, laughter, a kiss, a pulsar)
music (three quarters
of the whole record — almost 90 minutes).
concentrate on the music, since that's where Glenn Gould at last comes in
— or is going out, if you get my cosmic drift.
might expect, there were many opinions, passionately expressed, as to what
to include and exclude, and some western composers inevitably had to lose
out, such as Debussy, Haydn, Puccini, Tchaikovsky and Wagner.
Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Stravinsky.
It is J.S.
Bach who is represented most often — three times, one item performed by
Gould, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue in C,
No. 1 (track 17). One reply to the question of what music humanity should
send to other civilisations in space was expressed as follows, by
biologist Lewis Thomas: “I would send the complete works of Johann
Sebastian Bach . . . but that would be boasting.”
music occupies half the music section of the record, and includes a
Javanese court gamelan, Senegalese percussion, a Zairean pygmy girls'
initiation song, two Australian Aboriginal songs, Japanese shakuhachi
music, Azerbaijan bagpipes and a Peruvian wedding song.
a piece was easy to choose, but hard to locate, such as the thrilling
Indian raga performance, Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar's Jaat Kahan Ho,
(track 25), which had been fervently recommended by Robert E. Brown of the
Center for World Music in Berkeley. It was out of print, and unavailable
in record stores. After many frantic phone calls a copy in good condition
was finally tracked down in an appliance store run by an Indian family in
New York, in a carton under a card table.
music is represented, too. Included are a Mexican mariachi band, Chuck
Berry's Johnny B. Goode, Blind Willie Johnson performing Dark
Was the Night and Louis Armstrong and the Hot Seven’s Melancholy
Blues. (The latter was voted in against strong competition from a
Miles Davis version of Summertime.)
the Voyager message ever reach intelligent life out there, this is
statistically unlikely to happen for another ten billion years. Yet even
with those remote odds the effort is an inspiring symbol of optimism and
longing from Earth — the human soul of science. As Sagan puts it,
one sends such a message on such a journey without a positive passion for
the future. For all the possible vagaries of the message, any recipient
could be sure that we were a species endowed with hope and perseverance,
at a least a little intelligence, substantial generosity and a palpable
zest to make contact with the cosmos.
Sagan adored science with all his being, and if there was one thing he
mistrusted more than anti-science it was pseudo-science. Hence his essay
attacking the work of our final celebrity, Immanuel Velikovsky
academic qualifications were those of a G.P. and psychoanalyst. While in
the United States in 1939 researching a book on Sigmund Freud's own
dreams, together with a comparative study of the lives of Oedipus,
Akhnaton and Moses (all three figures had been important in Freud's
thinking), a notion occurred to him that would keep him in America for the
rest of his life and bring him international notoriety.
it was a great natural cataclysm at the time of the Israelites' Exodus
from Egypt which caused the plagues, the parting of the waters, the
hurricane and the eruption of Mt. Sinai?
help, naturally, if an Egyptian record of a similar catastrophe existed.
Fortunately for Velikovsky the confirmation he sought turned up in an
obscure papyrus in which the Egyptian sage Ipuwer lamented the collapse of
the social order during some natural calamity. Because of certain
references in it, it was apparent that Ipuwer was bewailing the downfall
of Egypt's Middle Kingdom. Velikovsky concluded that this document is a
parallel to the Book of Exodus and describes the same catastrophe. But
what event exactly?
however, Velikovsky had to solve a chronology problem. Conventionally the
end of the Middle Kingdom has been assigned to about 1750 B.C., which is
500 years earlier than the Hebrew timetable. Velikovsky, already enthused
with the synchronism idea, was soon able to find a reason for the
inconsistency. According to him, certain dynasties appear twice in
accepted schemes of Egyptian Middle Kingdom history, which he was happy to
reconstruct for us. He called this research Ages in Chaos.
had found descriptions of similar events in the literature of ancient
Mexico and had decided that the Biblical catastrophes were actually
worldwide in scale, Velikovsky devoted the next ten years to tracing
parallel stories of natural upheaval in many cultures.
For him a
global cataclysm became the only explanation — and not just a global
cataclysm, but one of cosmic origin. This investigation matured into his
Worlds in Collision.
rejection of both this book and Ages in Chaos by many publishers,
Macmillan (US) finally chose to publish Worlds in Collision in
become known as the Velikovsky Affair had begun.
manuscript form Worlds in Collision attracted controversy, mainly
in the popular press, and upon its publication scientists and academics
attempted to sabotage the book, its author and, if all else failed, its
transpired, by threatening to boycott Macmillan's educational division,
Velikovsky's opponents so intimidated the firm that within a year the
rights to his books were transferred to Doubleday, who did not publish
went ahead with all Velikovsky’s later works, despite the antagonism of
the science community. Ages in Chaos appeared in 1952, followed by
such titles as Earth in Upheaval (1955) and Oedipus and Akhnaton
space prohibits me from cataloguing all the claims made by Velikovsky that
so incensed the scientific establishment, but how about these to be going
originally the orbits of our solar system's planets
intersected, and collisions between the major planets occurred, causing
the birth of comets
around the time of Moses such a comet, thrown out from
Jupiter, nearly collided with Earth
this gave rise to a huge gravitational shift, great
tides and electric discharges
the manna which fed the Israelites came from
carbohydrates in the comet's tail
the comet collided with Mars, lost its tail, and was
transformed into the planet Venus.
ideas were an insult to secure theories of astronomy, geology and biology
(not to mention science heroes like Newton and Darwin), but at first
criticism was ineffective in providing a thorough, convincing refutation.
Carl Sagan's thoughtful denunciation came in 1974 in his Venus and Dr.
Velikovsky, a chapter in his book Broca’s Brain.
course, to his disciples such an attack was typical of the conspiracy to
discredit Velikovsky's contribution to human knowledge. (Another
co-conspirator is supposed to be evolutionary biologist Stephen. J.
Gould.) After all, say Velikovskians, haven't many of the master’s
predictions come true — like the temperature of Venus?
disputation rumbles on.
read Worlds in Collision about 35 years ago and loved it, hooked by
the wealth of anthropology, mythology, philology and downright ingenious
imagination. In any event it is far more satisfying a read, for all its
flagrant faults, than that other egregious volume of pseudo-scientific
speculations — Erich von Däniken's 1968 Chariots of the Gods.
you have it. Your virtual visits to various venturesome visionaries and
virtuosi are done, and you are home safely again. As far-ranging as it has
been, however, this selective excursion through space and time has denied
me the opportunity to answer several absorbing questions.
readers are invited to explore the following engaging queries for
|did Virgil ever suffer from
inordinate shyness or disabling indigestion?
as the years pass, is Mt. Everest growing or
how long has Jan Morris been able to speak Welsh?
what was Wendy Carlos doing in West Pennant Hills,
Sydney, in October 1976?
what, if anything, did Glenn Gould have in common
with composer John Cage?
which was the photo NASA banned from the Voyager
which establishment scientist had a copy of
Worlds in Collision open on his desk when he died?