Classical Music World: Pale Blue Dot

The Dover Quartet performs in Los Alamos March 11 at Smith Auditorium. Courtesy photo

The Pale Blue Dot: This iconic image was taken by NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft from a distance of almost 4 billion miles from Earth. The dot can be seen about halfway down the orange stripe on the right. Courtesy/NASA


By ANN MCLAUGHLIN, Artistic Director
Los Alamos Concert Association

There are plenty of classical works inspired by or associated with heavenly bodies. Debussy’s ever-popular, Clair de Lune comes to mind as does Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Gustav Holst’s The Planets, is a staple of the orchestral repertoire. 

I suspect, however, that there is only one piece of music inspired by a space probe. You will have a chance to hear that work, Pale Blue Dot, in Los Alamos March 11 in a performance by the splendid Dover Quartet.

Composer David Ludwig has been fascinated since childhood by astronomy and space travel. He was particularly taken with the Golden Record that NASA put aboard Voyager 1. The gold-plated disc is digitally encoded with photos, videos and music intended to give some civilization in a galaxy far, far away a feel for who we are. 

In 1990, Voyager was about to leave the solar system. Astronomer Carl Sagan suggested that NASA turn the camera on the probe around to take a photo of Earth and the other planets, a farewell shot of our home territory. In this iconic photo, Earth appears as a pale blue dot, less than a pixel, in the vast expanse of space.

In his work for string quartet, David Ludwig imagines Voyager as it travels through space and time and as it is discovered by intelligent beings.  He imagines them trying to figure out what it is, tinkering with all the apparatus on board, trying to access the data on the Golden Record and finding images and sound distorted over eons.  They ultimately send Voyager on its way.

This piece was composed on a special commission for the Dover Quartet. They gave the world premiere in July of 2014, so you will be hearing a definitive performance.

The Pale Blue Dot photo celebrated its 25th anniversary on Valentine’s Day in 2015. Check this site for a look at the famous image and for commentary from NASA scientists.

Just as the first images of Earth from space gave us a sense of this planet as our collective home, Pale Blue Dot connects us to the vast wonder and mystery that is the universe: material indeed for artistic inspiration!

For complete artist, program and ticket information, visit LACA’s website and don’t forget that young folks ages 6-18 are always admitted free to our concerts.

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