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Web Science Institute

A Distinguished Lecture with Alex Rehding

Published: 5 November 2018
Professor Alex Rehding

Alex Rehding, Fanny Peabody Professor of Music at Harvard University delivered a Distinguished Lecture on Monday 29 October 2018 at the University of Southampton.

His talk entitled 'It is All Data: Music, Technology, Alien Ears' talked about NASA’s Voyager space mission (1977) which shot a Golden Record into outer space containing a compilation of world music and whilst at the time it was seen as a largely symbolic gesture, the recent discovery of countless exoplanets has given renewed urgency to the question of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

He posed the question of, what could actually happen if, hundreds or thousands of years from now, extraterrestrials find the Golden Record? Can we assume that they have ears? What does listening even mean in this exoplanetary context? Interestingly, the B-side includes a series of visual images from earth, which are digitally encoded on the gramophone disc, effectively turning light and colors into sonic data. The fact that humans can “hear” these images as a curious kind of music, a low buzz, is almost an accident—they can serve to test the limits of sensory perception in this broadest of contexts. Is it vision? Is it audition? At the most basic level, it is all data. While an answer about non-human perception must necessarily remain speculative, the Golden Record highlights the slippery boundaries between sensory modalities in this broadest of contexts.

You can watch a video of his talk via our YouTube page by clicking on the link below.


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