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Voyager "Sounds of Earth" record cover, 1977, National Air and Space Museum, Transferred from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The concept of "the cosmos" is a way of understanding the universe as an ordered whole.  The possibilities of the cosmos have been on the minds of people for millions of years. This spotlight looks at some of the ways people have used music to explore the cosmos, through daydreams, artistic interpretation, and actual scientific exploration, as well as ways people have brought the cosmos into their artistic lives. 

Collections relating Music and the Cosmos

The Smithsonian is home to a vast collection of music objects and a vast collection of objects that have been part of mankind's exploration of the cosmos. The objects highlighted below, and the selected objects on the Music and the Cosmos object page are objects that meet at the intersection of these two groups. Many of the objects are from the National Air and Space Museum, which has a surprising collection of music-related objects. Much of the artwork comes from the Freer and Sackler Galleries and the American Art Museum. A number of objects, especially the sheet music, are part of the National Museum of American History, and there is a selection of objects from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well. 

Albums

The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage has a vast collection of albums, including the four you see here. These four are perhaps the best examples in this spotlight of the artistic relationship between humankind's exploration of the cosmos and the creative and mathematical aspects of music. 

Man in Space: The Story of the Journey - A Documentary

Various Artists

On Friday, May 5, 1961, US Navy Lieutenant Commander Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. became the second person (after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin) and the first American to travel into space.

Outer Space: Music by Vaclav Nelhybel

Vaclav Nelhybel

From the liner notes: “Ingenious use of echo, artificial reverberation and electronic alterations gives the music in this category a weird, spooky futuristic, ‘out of this world’ quality, well-suited to super-natural happenings of any kind.

Science Fiction Sound Effects Record

Various Artists

This eerie album opens with high pitched sounds followed by crackling and rustling noises. While what produced these noises is not identified, they are assigned possibilities such as “Sound of approach of Missile or Creature” and “Launching Site”: it is left to our imagination how these sounds were created.

Voices of the Satellites

Various Artists

On October 4, 1957, the space race was triggered by the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik I, the first human-made satellite to orbit the earth. This recording, produced and narrated by Professor T.A. Benham of Haverford College, chronicles the sounds of the first thirteen American and Soviet satellites launched during the ensuing year.

Digitized Sheet Music from the Air and Space Museum

The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum library collection of Bella C. Landauer Aeronautical Sheet Music is now freely available online. As part of the Smithsonian's partnership with Gale, this collection was digitized and made available to the public on the Internet Archive. The digitized collection includes over 300 sheets of aeronautically-themed sheet music and covers. Visit our blog post about the collection to explore a selection of the digitized sheet music.

 

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Detail of cover, "Cloud-Kisser: Rag, Two-Step," Chas L. (Charles Leslie) Johnson, composer; 1876-1950. Inland-Walton Engraving Co., engraving; Bella C. Landauer Collection of Aeronautical Sheet Music (Smithsonian Institution. Libraries).

 


Header Image Credit: Sputnik model music box, National Air and Space Museum, Gift of Carl B. Cobb

This spotlight was created by Kate Duffus Stein on behalf of Smithsonian Music.