We received a cassette tape and the following letter in the mail, it was not expected and I still don’t know who sent it. Everything is explained below, apart from me resurrecting a cassette player, but you will find out why it is on cassette. (the mp3 tracks here have been converted from the cassette so can be considered safe, though low quality)
Beyond the Event Horizon
If you blinked, you would have missed it. The announcement of having received alien transmissions was posted online for less than fifteen minutes, before it disappeared without explanation. All inquiries were met with silence.
Since these transmissions were picked up by a very small research group and were not confirmed by NASA or any other governmental or official agency, the announcement was seen by few, and quickly forgotten or dismissed as a hoax or mistake by the few who did see it. With one exception: us.
Intrigued in particular by the suggestion that the transmissions were in audio form— perhaps even some kind of musical content, we persisted, and eventually gained access to apparently reliable sources, and what we found was fascinating. It seems the transmissions were relayed by a group researched dubbed “the Travelers”, on behalf of the Ko* people, members of an intelligent species living on a moon of a faraway planet, so far, in fact, that the light from the birth of its host star has not yet reached us.
Our sources inform us that, along with the sonic information, there was some other message or set of messages, which came not from the Ko but from the Travelers themselves. These messages have been kept highly secret, much more so than the music (we’re going to go ahead and call it music from here on— it sounds like music to us!). What form these messages took we have not been able to glean, but it seems they contained some information about the Ko, and some instructions for how to interpret the music.
According to what little we were able to find out (most of our informants know nothing about the existence of the Travelers’ direct message) the Ko, while they have openings for feeding and breathing, lack vocal cords. Yet, they have evolved to communicate via sound— namely through instrumental music. What we have received, it seems, is the Ko’s account of themselves. A history in music, as it were.
The Travelers’ instructions for interpreting this history involves intense listening with a clear mind, taking note of induced visual imagery. Their concept of a clear mind (or that of those in charge of the research?) might be controversial here on Earth. Whether in accordance with the Travelers’ instructions or by the research directors’ initiative, teams of researchers were secretly recruited and divided into several groups— some are expert meditators, others lucid dreamers or out-of-body-experiencers, and still others psychonauts of multiple varieties— psilocybin, LSD and ayahuasca being the ones we know about. We have heard of other groups using methods kept secret from the others, including all our informants. There were rumors that one of the hidden groups was composed of “remote viewers”, people who divine imagery based on coordinates of a location, and that, working backwards, they had determined where the Ko’s home star could be found, but the sources were determined not to be reliable— locals not actually involved in the research. The method of operation is to allow each group time to itself to explore each musical piece, in order, come to an internal consensus to the extent possible, and then for representatives of the various groups to meet together to attempt to achieve a general consensus. Though at times there has been wild disagreement, the results thus far have been generally more coherent than one might expect.
*While this has not been confirmed conclusively, the name “Ko” for this group of beings was rumored to have been chosen by or for the scientists who initially received the transmissions— their names, we’ve been told, are Kozawa and Cohen (though in alternate accounts we’ve heard of a graduate assistant named Kowalski). Our attempts to find these people or confirm their existence have been fruitless. The beings, who lack vocal cords, have no such name for themselves.
Aside from the work of the aforementioned research groups, the music was also analyzed by a team of musicologists, ethnomusicologists and acousticians.
From here follows a summary of the findings of the various listening groups, taken piece by piece, in order, and following that will be a summary of the musicology analysis, presented here as an overview:
- Opening piece – A culture forms from out of a murky prehistory; a people are born.
- Three warring groups/tribes compete for dominance. The Ko are the weakest group and are oppressed by the other two. One emerges as the victor and an uneasy peace is achieved. It does not last long.
- The Ko are pushed into a wasteland, where they live for a long period in isolation. A leader emerges who inspires the group to rise up against their former conquerors and retake their former home. The Ko, by this time, are a semi-nomadic group who ride an equine animal some describe as hippo-like but more fleet, while others (the LSD group, mainly) insist on a more giraffe-like form (but sturdier).
- The Ko ride into battle. Despite the Ko being outnumbered, the battle is evenly matched, with back-and-forth swings in losses and gains to both sides. The Ko emerge victorious.
- The Travelers make their first appearance on the Ko’s moon, upending Ko society and all sentient doings on the moon. The world is radically altered. Some (lucid dreamers) describe the Travelers as spider-like.
- A transformed Ko continue on. It is unclear whether the Travelers are in charge, and if so, if they are oppressors or a benevolent force, or if they have merely left an indelible mark that resonates throughout the Ko world.
- Consensus begins breaking down at this point— some groups interpret this piece as signifying a massive flood causing an exodus from the Ko homeland, in which the Ko are scattered to various parts of the moon, with different sub-groups emerging. Others claim the Ko enter the sea, evolving into aquatic or amphibious creatures. Still others say the message is of political chaos. The Ko here become a large and successful group and are splintered through intrigue and scandal, divided into many belligerent factions.
- A new (aquatic?) kingdom emerges, which has shed most of the Travelers’ influence, but bears little resemblance to pre-Traveler culture.
- Traveler influence is reasserted and blended with the new culture. Indications are that the transition was gradual and peaceful, though at least one (unknown) group of researchers sees the Travelers as “unsettling and sinister”.
- Ko culture continues to evolve. There is little consensus on the meaning of this piece. The out-of-body group asserts that the piece is related to ritualistic honoring of ancestral spirits or even actual communication or interaction with “ghosts”. All the other groups strongly resist this interpretation, but offer no clear alternative.
- The last piece seems to indicate world domination by the Ko, in a manner similar to the conquerors of piece 2, but with more lasting success, though not without dissent. Some research groups claim the solo voices are those of the conquering Ko, recalling their long history of oppression they have finally vanquished. Others (psilocybin) call these the cries of minority groups under the Ko’s dominance. Still others (meditators) believe the Ko have not conquered at all but have been overthrown by the same group that defeated them in piece 2, and the solos are their laments. The LSD group claim that the equine animals from pieces 3 and 4 are intelligent beings themselves, equal to the Ko, and the solos in this piece are their laments. The ayahuasca group has a reputation for not contributing much to the discussions, which they attributed to not being able to articulate their visions— “we know things, but we lack the words to describe”.
The Ko seem to use all the types of acoustic instruments we use here on earth: plucked, bowed and hammered strings, horns, reeds, flutes, drums, shakers and other percussion, including water or perhaps some other liquid used as a percussion instrument. Since the Ko have mouths (or mouth-like openings, at least) which carry breath, they are capable of using wind instruments of the types noted above, but as they do not possess vocal cords, there is no singing or speech in their music. This lack of vocal ability perhaps explains, in part, their development of instrumental music as a means to convey their history.
Their use of amplified (electric) instruments, and of electronic distortion in particular, caused a great deal of turmoil among the musicologists and researchers in general, some of whom declared the entire project a hoax. After much argument and discussion, the conclusion was reached (but by no means agreed to by all) that the Travelers, being able to bridge unimaginable distances virtually instantly, were also, during their visit with the Ko, able to acquaint them with Earth music of various kinds, and they apparently took quite a shine to distorted guitar sounds (and why not? Good on ’em, we say.).
This of course raises the question (and problem) of how much of what we hear in these transmissions is native to the Ko (or their rival moon-cultures) and what is due to the influence of Earth music, as relayed by the Travelers. It would be helpful to know, for example, whether shared components of their and our music were developed independently or are simply a result of our influence. Without further communication, it is unlikely to be determined. Another question this raises is when were these pieces composed or recorded in relation to the time period(s) they were meant to represent. Are these retellings of stories that have been told and retold through the ages, or were these recorded as they are now with new pieces added on as time progressed, and left in their original state? Since the electronically distorted sounds occur from nearly the beginning, and do not wait to appear until after the strong consensus interpretation of the arrival of the Travelers in piece 5, given the assumption that that technique is one they got from us, via the Travelers, the inference is that the entire compilation is of recent vintage. Either that, or the notion that the electronic distortion is an example of our influence is wrong. So it would appear that it is truly a history in the sense of being a look back from a present perspective, rather than accounts recorded over time, at the time, as in a journal.
There was not found any evidence for digital sampling or digital synthesis of sounds in their music. All sounds were produced by acoustic or electro-acoustic means. The method of recording is unknown.
Analysis of the timbres to attempt to discover if there are significant physical differences between their environment and ours, e.g. gravity, air pressure, atmospheric density, and so on are unable to progress beyond speculation, as there are too many unknown variables (basically, all of them) and it is not currently possible to determine whether certain differences were caused by one combination of factors or some other.
In terms of tempo, the Ko operate in a similar range as we do, assuming that we are listening to it at the intended speed. It is possible that we are mistakenly playing it back too fast or too slowly, or that the Travelers or the research directors altered the speed to match our sensibilities. We were not able to obtain reliable information to this effect. The musicologists we interviewed did not know whether the music had been altered, and when they asked questions in the beginning, were told, in a way that did not invite further inquiry, to work with what they were given, and leave it at that.
The Ko rarely keep to one meter at a time. With few exceptions, there are at least two meters operating simultaneously at all times, sometimes as many as four separate meters at once. Unlike African polymeter/polyrhythm, they are not usually syncopated, though may contain some syncopated elements. For example, in one piece, a part with three beats to a measure is juxtaposed to a part that alternates between five and seven beats to a measure. The “one” in each case lands in the same place.
They seem to have little interest in extended, additive meters, with the largest number of beats per measure observed being seven. Division of beats into measures is something they clearly share with us… there is nearly always a strong sense of a pulse, divided in the same kinds of ways that humans do, with the exception of the multiple, overlapping meters. The first beat in each measure, as in most Earth music (Indonesian music, in which last beats are more important, being a notable exception) is emphasized, though there are some brief places where the emphasis is at the end.
Debates arose concerning what the abundance of multiple polymeters tells us about the Ko’s perception of time, and their cognitive abilities. Some of the musicologists thought the ability to follow multiple streams of time means they are of advanced intelligence, perhaps beyond our own. Others point to other factors, such as their apparent ignorance of the harmonic series (see Tuning section, below) to argue that despite recording technology (which the Travelers may have been responsible for) the Ko are a very primitive people.
Curiously, the scales of the Ko bear little to no apparent relation to just intonation (the use of small number frequency ratios in tuning) or any of its variations, approximations or compromises. They do, however, recognize the octave as an essential musical component (though not without exception… more on this later). This lack of respect for “The Music of the Spheres”, as Kepler dubbed it, was confounding, and even deeply disappointing to some of the musicologists, who expected just intonation (or some variation) to be universal (quite literally). Some even threatened to walk away from the project. None ultimately did— whether this was because of coercion or a more benign form or persuasion on the part of the directors, or they simply changed their minds, we don’t know. We expect that out of the gazillions of planets (well, moons in this case, but that’s just being finicky) that are likely to house intelligent beings now that we know of at least one (as astronomer Jill Tarter puts it, “we count one, two, infinity) probably any kind of music you can imagine is being played somewhere. So there’s no reason for anyone to get bent out of shape if the music of one of these worlds defies expectations, either by being too Earth-like or not Earth-like enough, or any other reason. At least that’s our take on it.
So, we’ve seen what their scales are not… what are they, then? Like much of Earth’s music, the Ko mostly use a scale of seven notes which repeats at the octave. This scale fits within a tuning system that divides the octave into 13 equal intervals. This may be by design, or may be coincidence. One piece of evidence in favor of intentionality is that some pieces are not in a seven tone scale that fits into a 13-equal division of the octave, but a seven note scale, of the same pattern of equal-division steps as the previously mentioned scale, but applied to the double-octave.
Another set of notes first appears in conjunction with, and as a sort of contrapuntal harmony to, the main seven-note scale. These notes have been determined to be the same as those produced when a string is stopped at a point such that a member of the original scale is produced when plucking one of the two lengths of string that result from the stopping of the string, but the opposite length of string is sounded instead. The pairs of notes derived this way were called “complimentary intervals” by the musicologists. When a melody is played on one side, and both sides are sounded, a counter-melody is created in contrary motion (when one ascends, the other descends, and vice versa) to the original. The Ko may have derived this system in this way, but it is applied to all manner of timbres, not only strings— horns, for example. Aside from being used in tandem with the main scale, the “opposite side” scale also appears alone, as a scale in its own right.
Even the fifth piece, the one that marks the Travelers’ arrival, which to our ears (speaking for ourselves here at our tiny label) does not seem to follow any scale or tuning system, has been analyzed to be consistent with the others in both tuning and scale. Disagreement exists over whether this particular piece is in this scale and tuning because it is only a representation of the Travelers from the Ko perspective, or if it is either directly the music of the Travelers themselves, set in this tuning and scale to be more palatable to the Ko, or is the Ko’s interpretation of Travelers’ music.
The Ko do not seem to have anything quite like the Earth-Western conception of harmony, built around chords based on one-three-five triads. But they evidently have a strong interest in polyphony and counterpoint. Counterpoint, in what is presented here, takes a number of forms— at times, lines are distinguished, as in Baroque or Western Classical, by the use of contrary motion. When this is the case, outside of the complimentary interval system noted above (Tuning), the intervals treated as consonant or dissonant are not necessarily the same as those in Western common practice— for example, while thirds in both systems are considered consonant, in Ko harmony seconds are consonant and fifths are dissonant. This actually makes more sense to human ears than one might at first think. The fifths in their tuning system are quite dissonant, and seconds, by comparison are much less so.
Their main method of achieving counterpoint (which we’re defining here as the perceived separateness of musical lines) is their use, as noted above (Time), of multiple, simultaneous meters. Also, marked differences in timbre are used to distinguish lines. For all that, there is also a fair amount of playing in unison.
One other factor in the separation of parts is the use of the stereo field, this being a recording. Whether this means the Ko, like us, have two ears (or the functional equivalent), or whether this aspect of the recording was arranged by the Travelers or possibly the research directors, we don’t know.
So who are we, and how and why is it that we come to present this to you?
We are a small (infinitesimal really, almost non-existent), experimental music record label. We happen to have a strong interest in space exploration, in particular the search for extraterrestrial life. One might say we are obsessed. So it was less than coincidence that we happened to encounter the notice of receipt of the transmissions at just the right time. We also have a lot of time on our hands, and few commitments, so immediately (well, nearly so— there were pets that needed boarding) went out to investigate. Our efforts were somewhat fumbling and bumbling at first— while we tried to lay low, we were certainly noticed by the relevant authorities. We assume we were tolerated because of any one or combination of: 1. We seemed harmless; 2. Maybe they wanted this to leak out in an unofficial way so people would be psychologically primed if it became necessary (for example, in the face of an impending visit by the Travelers) to make an official announcement; 3. We appear unconventional (that’s putting it kindly) enough that no one would believe us anyway. If their intention is to inoculate people to a possible visit by alien creatures, going through us might not be the best idea, as due to our lack of stature, reach or credibility, this material will probably reach very few people. Nonetheless, we are sufficiently wary of possible retaliation by authorities for this release that we are presenting this clearly and unambiguously as science fiction. Every bit of it. That includes our fear of reprisal— that’s all part of the story. This is not actual fact or an attempt at a hoax— it is science fiction, nothing more.
Why, in this digital age, especially when the transmissions came to us in digital form, are we releasing this on cassette? There are two reasons: one is that we do not want to run afoul of the research directors… we believe we have been tolerated thus far in our efforts due to the way we have respected boundaries (subtle and not-so-subtle messages came through to us indirectly throughout our investigation). It seems they would like for this to leak out, in part to get the public used to the idea, but more importantly, to gain a wider base of researchers to better interpret the transmissions. Once the transmissions have been more widely disseminated, we expect to see discussion groups pop up online, along with creative contributions related to the original material. The research directors are interested in all of this. But they also want to keep tight control over the original recordings. They will tolerate cassette because of the inherent degredation of the sound quality of the medium. Therefore we ask that, while people may freely make and distribute copies for others for non-commercial purposes, that they either make cassette-to-cassette dubs or, if they make digital copies from the cassette, to limit those copies to excerpts. The exception is for non-commercial or commercial journalistic purposes… radio, television, newspaper, blog (streaming). For these, digital copies of the cassette in whole or in part are allowed. Direct sale of the music is prohibited.
The other reason for cassette release is to avoid psychological harm to listeners. The researchers, listening to the original, digital recordings often became obsessed, and many developed odd habits, which we will not describe here. We are inclined to believe that the lower quality of the cassette format is a mitigating factor, and that listening is perfectly safe.