Timeline: What We Leave Behind

Jan 29, 2018

When I was in middle school my class put together a time capsule and I remember caring so much that music be included that I put together a mixed tape, with popular songs recorded haphazardly off the radio.

I can’t recall if we were supposed to return and dig up the capsule or not. For all I know it’s still buried near the back fence on the grounds of Greenwood Middle School.

13 billion miles from Earth, traveling at 38,000 miles per hour the Voyager 1 space probe is flying through interstellar space. After it flew past Jupiter and Saturn, it exited the solar system. As long as nothing stops it, Voyager 1 will pass a nearby star in about 40,000 years. Long after the probe is out of range and out of power it will still carry the famous Golden Record. This gold plated disc has been called a “time capsule of life, the earth and humanity” and contains greetings in 55 languages as well as examples of music from Mozart to Chuck Berry. Perhaps this record will be found by some other space faring civilization in the future and they will be able to listen to “The Magic Flute” and “Johnny B. Goode”.

What do we leave behind? What is our legacy? Civilizations, empires, governments and institutions rise and fall, but what remains are the ideas, the stories, the songs, the sculptures, the art that was created. Stone Age flutes matter because they show us that our ancestors shared a love for music that is similar to our own. Ancient songs discovered on stone tablets help preserve a long lost culture. Medieval manuscripts, notation and publication allowed music to be shared not just across geography but across generations. Piano rolls and audio/video recording allow us to experience the artistry of performers who have left us. When all is said and done, what we leave behind is children (that’s family) and art.

In 40,000 years what will remain of us, not just our generation or our country but our entire way of life? Scientists say the Earth will be due for an ice age and one or two cataclysmic extinction events in that amount of time. Will we survive or will we blow ourselves up? I’m pretty certain my middle school time capsule wouldn’t have made it but, no matter what happens here, there will be a golden time capsule sailing past another star on a long dormant space probe. As Carl Sagan (the chairman of the committee that put together the Voyager Golden Record) stated, “…the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.”

Listen to the contents of the Voyager Golden Record here.

Timeline is an exploration into the development of Western music. Listen through the Timeline on our web app.