Virtual Event: Alexander Rehding and Daniel K.L. Chua


Alien Listening:
Voyager's Golden Record and Music from Earth



November 16, 2021
8:00 PM ET


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Free - $5 contribution suggested at registration

Harvard Book Store, the Harvard University Division of Science, and the Harvard Library welcome renowned musicologists ALEXANDER REHDING and DANIEL K.L. CHUA for a discussion of their co-authored book, Alien Listening: Voyager's Golden Record and Music from Earth. Their conversation will be moderated by MELISSA FRANKLIN, the Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics at Harvard University. 

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About Alien Listening

In 1977, NASA shot a mixtape into outer space. The Golden Record aboard the Voyager spacecrafts contained world music and sounds of Earth to represent humanity to any extraterrestrial civilizations. To date, the Golden Record is the only human-made object to have left the solar system. Alien Listening asks the big questions that the Golden Record raises: Can music live up to its reputation as the universal language in communications with the unknown? How do we fit all of human culture into a time capsule that will barrel through space for tens of thousands of years? And last but not least: Do aliens have ears?

The stakes could hardly be greater. Around the extreme scenario of the Golden Record, Chua and Rehding develop a thought-provoking, philosophically heterodox, and often humorous Intergalactic Music Theory of Everything, a string theory of communication, an object-oriented ontology of sound, and a Penelopean model woven together from strands of music and media theory. The significance of this exomusicology, like that of the Golden Record, ultimately takes us back to Earth and its denizens. By confronting the vast temporal and spatial distances the Golden Record traverses, the authors take listeners out of their comfort zone and offer new perspectives in which music can be analyzed, listened to, and thought about—by aliens and humans alike.

Praise for Alien Listening

“As much intellectual fun as Gödel, Escher, Bach, this book is a unique hybrid of music theory and bioastronomy, an engaging how-to manual especially for composers fluent in both Kierkegaard and Klingon. For the rest of us, an amusingly illustrated and mind-stretching discussion of our first interstellar playlist. ET music scholars are as likely to say ‘Send more Chua and Rehding’ as ‘Send more Chuck Berry.’ ” —Jon Lomberg, Design Director, Voyager Golden Record

“This book made me laugh out loud, and then reflect on my own place in the galaxy. While inhaling the authors' clear and elegant prose, I also showed anyone in my vicinity their genre-bending illustrations. Thinking about and listening to music will never be the same after reading this book! It would fit equally well in music theory, musicology, philosophy, and aesthetics curricula, and is a must-read for friends, neighbors, and aliens alike.” —Nina Eidsheim, University of California at Los Angeles, author of Sensing Sound: Singing and Listening as Vibrational Practice

“To boldly go where no one has gone and ask what might music be! This book undertakes this mission with glee, wit, and imaginative flair. In outer space, we recognize something we should have known: that music is always mediated, both archived in time and stretched in space, both cosmic and mundane, both uncanny and familiar. The aliens we meet might just be ourselves.” —John Peters, Yale University, author of The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media

Alexander Rehding
Alexander Rehding

Alexander Rehding

Alexander Rehding is Fanny Peabody Professor of Music at Harvard University. He is the author of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Music and Monumentality, and Hugo Riemann and the Birth of Modern Musical Thought.

Daniel Chua
Daniel Chua

Daniel Chua

Daniel K. L. Chua is Mr. and Mrs. Hung Hing-Ying Professor in the Arts and Chair Professor of Music at the University of Hong Kong. He is the author of Beethoven & Freedom, Absolute Music and the Construction of Meaning, and The Galitzin Quartets of Beethoven.

Melissa Franklin
Melissa Franklin

Melissa Franklin

Melissa Franklin is an experimental particle physicist who studies proton-proton collisions produced by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Professor Franklin, born and raised in Canada, received her B.Sc. from the University of Toronto and her Doctorate from Stanford University. She worked as a post-doctoral fellow at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, was an assistant professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaigh, and was a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard, before joining the Harvard faculty in 1989.


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