Book Review: The Voyager Record by Anthony Michael Morena
In The Voyager Record: A Transmission, Anthony Michael Morena adopts a wry and conversational tone while obsessing over the gold-plated phonograph record launched into space with Voyagers 1 and 2 in 1977. The Golden Record is essentially a ‘70s mixtape of words, pictures, and music selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan. It features a selection of 118 images, a collage of Earth sounds, 27 musical tracks, greetings in 55 languages, and directions to our humble planet.
In his musing, Morena considers what this recording contains, as well as what it doesn’t: “There are three Bach tracks on the Golden Record. Three Bach tracks.” But no hip hop, no Rolling Stones, no photos of fat people, no gay couples, and no Grandmaster Flash. He considers updates to the “Sounds of Earth” audio collage, including mouse clicks, keyboard typing, and the dook noise that alerts you to a Facebook message. Also:
The strange recording of an underwater sound known only as Bloop, which was so loud that not even a blue whale, the largest creature to ever live on the planet, could have created it. Some insinuated that Bloop was made by a massive, Lovecraftian monster. The truth is actually much worse: Bloop is the sound of sea icequakes, as the planet begins to melt.
Running through the book on interspersed pages are imagined ironies in which various alien groups receive the Golden Record — species who are always on fire, or who have no ears, or who are smaller than the record’s grooves.
Morena takes inspiration from works such as David Shields’s Reality Hunger, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, and David Markson’s work, weaving The Voyager Record out of varied threads. Using a bricolage of historical fact, imagination, and personal reflection, he considers the interstellar recording through the prism of many forms, including a joke, a micro-fiction, a flash story, and an accentual poem. Many of the book’s pages contain a single paragraph, a lone sentence (“The alien-like position of living in Israel and not being Jewish or Arab.”), or one word (“Fela!”), each floating in a white space that invites us to pay attention to context — the context of a word, a sentence, the author, ourselves, humanity, the planet, and so on outward.
In short, with this debut lyric essay collection, Anthony Michael Morena indulges in an obsession, invites us to glimpse his own alien existence, and blows our minds with interstellar metaphor, the vastness of space, and the question of our significance in the universe. That’s a lot to do in 168 pages. The accomplishment is even more impressive considering the amount of white space devoted to each page. Like the Golden Record itself, Morena’s words are provocative curations transmitted through space.
Ann Beman has been writing a book about thumbs forever. LAR’s nonfiction editor lives in California’s Sierra Nevada with her husband, two whatchamaterriers and a chihuahua in Kernville, on the Kern River, in Kern County (cue the banjoes).