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Joanne Weaver - Interstellar Songbook II

   What's all this space stuff about, anyway?  I figured it was time to tell you why I was inspired to make these Interstellar Songbook albums, what they mean to me, and what I hope to share with you by putting them out there in the world. So, I’ll tell you now. Grab a glass of Tang, some dehydrated ice cream, and gather 'round.

   It all started with a golden record, It’s called, quite aptly, the Golden Record, made out of gold-plated copper, and there were actually two of them. Each Voyager space probe, Voyager I and Voyager II, contained a copy of the record, and NASA launched both probes into the deep recesses of interstellar space in 1977. On them are files analogue files containing a huge cross-section of information about life on Earth.

Here’s a small sampling:

Nature sounds - wind, rain, surf, footsteps, kiss, laughter.

Music - classical, tribal, Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”, audio greetings from Earth spoken in dozens of different languages.

Visual images - molecules, atomic formulas, the planets, birth, father and daughter, a gymnast, a radio telescope, an x-ray of a hand, a sunset with birds.

   Weird, techno-y symbols are etched on the record itself, looking like something straight out of a "Twin Peaks" episode where Agent Cooper and company find cave paintings depicting how to find The Black Lodge. In actuality, these symbols on the Golden Record are instructions of how to access its files - ie, how to play it.

Each record has traveled about 18 billion miles away from the sun by now, and the next significant run-in they’ll have will be in 40,000 years, when they’ll be whizzing “near” – well, 1.2 light years away – from a star named Ross 248, nestled snugly amidst the massive, swirling arms of the Andromeda galaxy.

   I remember learning about this Golden Record when I was a kid, and I was fascinated by the story. It sparked my imagination like crazy. The idea that space is infinitely large was already a mind-bender, at least as much as I could comprehend that at that age…and on top of that, the fact that we Earthlings sent out a unified message out that represented so many different aspects of the life we all experience here on Earth, made me appreciate the wonder around me anew. I imagined myself as one of the aliens who discovered it, hearing all those sounds and seeing those images for the first time: what would my impressions be of what life is like on Earth? It’s still a mind-bender to me, even to this day.

   I love the concept that we’re sending a record like this out into space, even though it seems improbable that we’ll actually make contact with any intelligent beings who will have the means to decipher it, or even be able to send a message back. Honestly, we probably won’t be around long enough to find out, in the grand cosmic scheme of things. But it all feels hopeful to me. It’s a reaching out, a yearning, a desire to find connection, and find meaning, even if that meaning is simply to discover that we’re not alone. What’s out there, anyway? Are we alone?

   I say this as much from an intelligent life context, as I do a metaphysical, philosophical, and vaguely spiritual one.

I hesitate to write what I just wrote, as I’m not terribly religious, per se.

There’s just so much that we don’t know – both from a physical and metaphysical perspective – that anything seem possible.

   Which brings me to the making of my first album. The idea for Interstellar Songbook came to me some months after my father died in 2006. He had always been a huge guiding force in my life (and still is), with his independent spirit, intellect, wry humor, kindness, thirst for learning, and specifically his curiosity about our existence as a species: he’d read books about all sorts of things ranging from anthropology to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. Hazy thoughts of the Golden Record kept swimming back to me. I wasn’t sure why at first, and then it became clearer. I wanted to send a message, too.

   Can we all connect in some way with those who have departed us? Could I possibly send this out to my dad, and will he in any way receive it – either literally, through dimensions of time and space that bend, and where opposite physical laws can co-exist in paradox? Or will simply my sheer hope for him to receive it be enough for me, in my own heart?

   It was a question addressed in the movie "Contact", starring Jodie Foster, whose astronomer character was also trying to connect with her deceased father in the great beyond by way of interstellar communication and space travel.

The film itself served as an inspiration for Interstellar Songbook, among many other of my inspirations gleaned through the years and all mixed together: sci-fi, film noir, the blending of the two in "Blade Runner", David Lynch and his macabre imagination, the timelessness of classic songbook songs, trip-hop, spacey and downtempo “mood” songs, and old ‘70s albums that tell an overarching story and are meant to be listened to from start to finish.

   And the large dishes that figure prominently in Contact’s imagery are the very same ones that appear in Interstellar Songbook’s cover art. I made a pilgrimage to this field of dishes in 2011 on my way to Burning Man that year. It’s called The Very Large Array, located in the middle of nowhere off Highway 50, about an hour away from a two-horse-town called Magdalena.

   Accompanying me was my friend/photographer Joe Tanis, who snapped photos of the dishes specifically for the cover, and while we had a pointedly focused job to do there, I felt a strong calling to just *be* there and connect to the place. I knew I was supposed to go there, and that turned out to be more true than I could have ever imagined. It was a fantastic and kismet experience that deserves its own separate post, so I’ll write about it later.

   This record, in many senses, is my own personal Golden Record. It’s my way to connect: to my Dad, to myself, to the beyond, the unknown, to all of you. And I believe are already all fundamentally connected. We share a human experience together, no matter what the actual circumstances of each of our lives may be. We all yearn, we all search, we all hurt, we all love. This record is a love letter to that shared connection.
   Interstellar Songbook II, my next album which will be released this fall/winter, continues the story of this ongoing human saga, and the single and video for “Golden Earrings” is the first peek at what’s on it. I’ll keep peeling the curtain back for you, releasing the next single very soon, and sharing more and more with you, through words and pictures and musings, as we go along this intergalactic journey together.

- Joanne Weaver

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