Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2019

Voyager 1, the Pale Blue Dot, and NFL Theme Songs Meet Classical Piano

Voyager 1, the Pale Blue Dot, and NFL Theme Songs Meet Classical Piano

Photograph via Wikipedia

Voyager 1 and the Pale Blue Dot

Magellan. Lindberg. Armstrong. Voyager 1. Yesterday, it was announced that the spacecraft Voyager 1, launched on September 5, 1977, became the first manmade object to leave the solar system. A creation of mankind has reached interstellar space. Our latest explorer is not made of blood and bones, but of generators and gyroscopes. It doesn’t cross long stretches of empty oceans; it crosses emptiness itself. It doesn’t encounter natives; it encounters planets. And now it has left the only home it has ever known. Its next whiff of a solar system won’t be for another 40,000 years, but it’ll be done breathing long before then. Estimates are that its demise from power failure is only about a decade away, maybe two. Just as you don’t need blood and bones to explore, you don’t need them to die, either.

Hearing the news, I recalled the famous “Pale Blue Dot” photograph of 1990, which inspired Carl Sagan to write a book about it; you can listen to the book’s most famous excerpt, put to space photographs and movie shots, on YouTube.{{1}} The pale blue dot is a photograph of Earth taken by Voyager 1 in 1990 from about four billion miles away.{{2}} The earth is shown to be a “point of pale light” in a forbidding black background. We are, as Sagan put it, “a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.” And yet, everyone we’ve ever known, loved, and hated has resided on it. Our entire history—its countless thick volumes of “generals and emperors” and “thousands of confident religions”—has taken place on one stage.

Voyager 1, our creation, our child, has left that stage, and soon that child will close its eyes, and we’ll never hear from it again. Yet, Voyager will always be a constant reminder of our fragility and our arrogance. The surrounding cosmic ocean underscores the absurdity of human hatred and global conflict. How many times has blood been shed at the order of a world leader so that, “in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot”?

Too often. As Bashar al-Assad gases civilians and Western politicians debate whether to once again let slip the dogs of war, I not only thank Voyager 1 for reminding me of Earth’s preciousness, but I also envy it for its freedom and distance from the only source of evil we’ve ever known. We of the pale blue dot.

Safe travels, Voyager 1. We’ll miss you.

—Ian Cheney, Contributing Writer

[[1]]If this sounds familiar to any of my loyal readers, it’s because I mentioned it in my Copernicus entry in my Top 30 series.[[1]]

[[2]]It’s traveled nearly 15 billion more miles since then.[[2]]
NFL Theme Songs Meet Classical Piano

Never in my life have I thought, “It’s the Goldberg Variations . . . it’s the Concerto in D minor . . . no, it’s the NFL on FOX!” But last week, two of my favorite things—NFL football and classical piano—got married. A musician named Ansel Wallenfang created the “Fantasy Football and Fugue,” a mashup of NFL theme songs from the four networks that broadcast pro football games (FOX, NBC, CBS, ESPN). Usually, when you hear these themes, they’re short and heavily synthesized, with power drums and cymbals souped up to sound like lasers (except when FOX switches to soothing electric piano tone during injury timeouts). Wallenfang strips them down and creates a piano fugue, where two distinct voices compete and unite. Go to the 1:01 mark, for instance. Having introduced the FOX main theme, and then the NBC main theme, and riffed on each, Wallenfang plays them simultaneously, NBC in the bass (left hand), FOX in the treble (right hand). This creates a dramatic point that bridges to the less aggressive middle section of FOX’s theme, which, in his version, sounds like something straight out of a Beethoven sonata.

The video’s production value is professional, and it’s not without humor; Wallenfang sits at the piano in full football pads and uniform, take a water break, and nods at cheerleaders who appear out of nowhere. It’s clear that he takes his composition seriously, but that he has fun doing it. As he explains on YouTube,

[quote]Through the lens of classical music and short film, I hope to open these seemingly dissimilar fields to new audiences, sign a multi-million dollar development deal with a major Hollywood studio, become friends with Aaron Rodgers, and not get sued by 4 networks simultaneously.[/quote]

—Nathan Schiller, Editor