Due to the near-unfathomable distances between most of the objects in the known universe, it may take millions of years for attempts at extraterrestrial communication to succeed. That hasn’t stopped us from trying, though. Numerous messages intended to break the ice between humankind and potential alien civilizations have been sent into space, from the rather crude Arecibo message beamed into the cosmos via radio waves in 1974 to the slightly more advanced “Golden Record” sent along on NASA’s Voyager spacecraft.
While experts from a wide variety of fields weigh in on the content of these messages, we have no Earthly idea whatsoever how any potential alien races might interpret these messages. Communication in all of its forms is culturally or biologically bound, and we don’t have any precedent for how interstellar communication might function out in the universe.
For that reason, our attempts to send messages into space have consisted mostly of basic mathematical and scientific knowledge and brief snapshots of what life here on Earth is like for humans and animals. I mean, we wouldn’t want to offend our cosmic neighbors with any culturally-specific information which might be potentially misinterpreted as a threat or act of intergalactic war, would we?
No, we wouldn’t, which is why the idea to blast a distant planet with electronic dance music is horribly misguided. Throughout May 2018, electronic dance music (EDM) was beamed into deep space in the direction of GJ 273, otherwise known as Luyten’s Star, as part of a project being led by the Sónar Music Festival, the Catalonia Institute of Space Studies, and METI International (Messaging to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). Luyten’s Star is in the Canis Minor constellation only about 12 light-years away and is orbited by two planets, one of which is believed to be a “Super Earth” in the Goldilocks zone which can hypothetically support life.
Last year, the same festival beamed two messages at Luyten’s Star, but they consisted of two brief pulses of radio signals meant to symbolize a musical interval and the human perception of time. This year, 35 different EDM songs were sent along with the typical mathematical and physics tidbits meant to display our intelligence. Although given that we also included music, I’m not sure that will go over well.
How will any potential intelligent aliens there feel about EDM from the likes of Daedelus and other electronic musicians? Music, like all art forms and communication media, is a cultural activity which might not have the same meaning for a completely different species. Could this percussive, bass-heavy music be interpreted as a threat or some kind of interstellar weapon? Or will any aliens orbiting Luyten’s Star go on believing that EDM is the dominant form of communication on Earth? What would they think of us?
Unfortunately, all of these questions are impossible to answer due to the socially constructed nature of music. Ultimately, any message we send into space could be interpreted or misinterpreted in ways we can’t even imagine. Is it wise to send music into space?