A Glorious Dawn

I’m really taken with a video released on YouTube last week. It’s an Auto-Tune, which is the name given to soundtracks that use the audio plug-in of the same name. Auto-Tune was designed to correct the pitch of vocals, but clever music creators realized they could use it to make spoken word recordings musical. This is a fantastic example of the genre.

It’s not just fantastic because it’s a clever use of Auto-Tune; I’ve seen that and it’s fun, but it’s not amazing. But in this video, John Boswell not only put some spoken word to music with compelling visuals, but he also managed to distill the essence of what Carl Sagan was saying with his groundbreaking 1980 13-hour TV series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. (It also features a brief interlude of words from physicist Stephen Hawking.)

The Message

I’ve been asked to explain what it is that Sagan is saying here — not everyone “gets it” from the “music video.” The distilled message is this: Earth is just a tiny portion of a vast cosmos (“The surface of the earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean”), which is so huge and complex that it truly boggles the human imagination (various examples given).

The only way for humanity to expand is outward — off the planet (“The sky calls to us”), and we’re just starting the baby steps of looking out there (“How lucky we are to live in this time / The first moment in human history / When we are in fact visiting other worlds” and “Recently we’ve waded a little way out / And the water seems inviting”).

But we’re at a dangerous time in our history because we have developed the tools to destroy the earth, but not the wisdom to ensure we don’t (“If we do not destroy ourselves / We will one day venture to the stars). In summary, “I believe our future depends powerfully / On how well we understand this cosmos.”

I know not everyone will like the Auto-Tune effect, and it starts out a bit weird, but it’s only three and a half minutes, so stick with it: it’s worth it. I recommend you play it twice: once to watch it, and then again while reading along with the lyrics, which are below.

Sagan died in 1996 from myelodysplastic syndrome. He was 62.

The Lyrics

[Sagan]

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch
You must first invent the universe
Space is filled with a network of wormholes
You might emerge somewhere else in space
Some when-else in time

The sky calls to us
If we do not destroy ourselves
We will one day
Venture to the stars

A still more glorious dawn awaits
Not a sunrise, but a galaxy rise
A morning filled with 400 billion suns
The rising of the milky way

The cosmos is full beyond measure
Of elegant truths
Of exquisite interrelationships
Of the awesome machinery of nature

I believe our future depends powerfully
On how well we understand this cosmos
In which we float like a mote of dust
In the morning sky

But the brain does much more than just recollect
It inter-compares, it synthesizes, analyzes
it generates abstractions

The simplest thought like the concept of the number one
Has an elaborate logical underpinning
The brain has its own language
For testing the structure and consistency of the world

[chorus]

[Hawking]

For thousands of years
People have wondered about the universe
Did it stretch out forever
Or was there a limit

From the big bang to black holes
From dark matter to a possible big crunch
Our image of the universe today
Is full of strange sounding ideas

[Sagan]

How lucky we are to live in this time
The first moment in human history
When we are in fact visiting other worlds

[chorus]

The surface of the earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean
Recently we’ve waded a little way out
And the water seems inviting

– – –

Update

This became a series called Symphony of Science, which is worth perusing to see subsequent videos.

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43 Comments on “A Glorious Dawn

  1. I mourned when Carl left us. The world lost one of the greatest minds to ever grace humankind. How ironic that both George Bush’s are still alive….

  2. The only TV series I have ever bought is COSMOS.

    Carl Sagan had a profound influence on the way I think. When I was a teenager, I believed in a lot of pseudoscience. I had boxes full of books about UFO’s, numerology, pyramids etc etc etc.

    At that time, I saw a 30 minute TV show about UFO’s and alien abductions narrated by Carl Sagan. His logic was so clear, and so clearly correct that my years of pseudoscientific belief dissolved like smoke in the breeze.

    The world is a poorer place without him.

    It’s up to you, me and the rest of us TRUE readers now, mate.

    You’ll note that critical thinking is a big part of TRUE. It’s what most of the actors in the stories lack, and we can learn from watching what happens to them. -rc

  3. The Auto-Tune effect made Carl Sagan sound oddly like Kermit the Frog. Somehow I don’t believe he would have minded — Dr. Sagan always seemed to have a healthy sense of whimsy, and an exhilarating sense of wonder was a signature trait of both “characters.”
    Thank you!

  4. I think your comments understate how great this video is, but I would be hard-pressed to find words that would do it proper justice. Simply amazing.

  5. It is good to be reminded how much I miss Dr. Sagan, and listening to his voice and what he is saying. We need more like him and if only we would listen to them and try to act upon what they are telling us.

    Thank you, Randy for finding these articles and posting them for us.

  6. I had the same recognition… definitely Kermit T. Frog.

    Loved the cosmos series growing up… may have to rent/buy it and watch things over.

    I’ve been thinking I need to add the series to my Netflix queue: I haven’t seen it since it first aired. We’re currently watching “Connections”. -rc

  7. you must be on some of the Beatle’s LSD to think that “noise” on the auto-tune video is fantastic. Not only is the background noise so loud that the video cannot be heard, but the “words” make no sense at all. Sorry, I don’t appreciate it at all.

    I didn’t say the soundtrack is “fantastic”, I said the video is: it’s an entire package that speaks to most people who see it (just check the comments before yours!) I could understand the words fine. (And doesn’t every generation call the next generation’s music “noise”?!) But either way, I provided the lyrics for you, and a full explanation of what it all meant. If you couldn’t get it with all that, then, well, I don’t know what to say. -rc

  8. A brilliant combination of two disparate ideas that caused me to smile inwardly at the presentation, and to think beyond my immediate but minor tasks for today. Great fun, and thought provoking. Thanks.

  9. I loved the Cosmos series when it aired and watched every episode. And yes, I “get it” and appreciate the message (of “Cosmos”). This video could have gotten the message across without the funky vox effect, which only served to make half the lyrics unintelligible. I love to listen to a huge variety of music, but I don’t consider this artform one that’s worthy of a second listen.

    As I said, not everyone will appreciate it. But happily, it’s getting the message out to a generation that has never heard of Sagan before, and for that I’m grateful. -rc

  10. Wow. I guess I can understand the dislike of the audio effects, but for me the effects made the message even more powerful. It’s been a long time since I’ve found myself almost mesmerized by a video, so again, wow.

  11. All I can say is Wow. I wish there were a CD. Perhaps this is the whole 2012 connection. Who knows. Again, Wow Wow Wow

  12. One word – Beautiful!

    I wonder if Ann Druyan (Sagan’s wife) has seen this? I think she would love it as well.

    I believe you’re right. -rc

  13. WOW! Fascinating! In this 75-year old’s opinion, beats the hell out of “rap”!! Beautifrikkinful! Watched/listened four times ….and, will certainly forward same to my many children and my few friends.

    Thanks much.

  14. Anybody else think that guy looks “Vulcan?”

    I’m sure he would have taken that as a compliment, except he was always so awe-struck by what he saw and learned. -rc

  15. I am stuck by how small we are in the face of such magnificence. Many years ago I visited the mountains of Montana (where I was born) from New York City (where I was living), and realized that while people in New York worried about noise and crime and the latest in fashion, the mountains went on, unchanging. Well, for the most part — we won’t get into erosion and such. This is the same: we carry on our wars and our destruction of our environment, while the universe goes on without us, unchanged but for the nature of things.

  16. What a great video! I have never hear Auto-Tune used like that before. What an excellent idea.

    It’s a reasonably new trend in videos and, I think, clever. -rc

  17. Not a comment but a question – in place of the video link, I have the outline of a box with a small icon in the upper left corner. Obviously, my system lacks something – can you suggest what I might need and how to get it?

    Most online videos require Flash. Your browser should suggest the appropriate plug-in, and I can’t suggest exactly where to go since I don’t know what operating system and browser you use, but that’s the key to search for in Google — Flash plugin for [your browser]. -rc

  18. Thanks SO MUCH for tweeting/blogging/sharing this. WOW! I will ripple this to my facebook/twitter/linkedin connections….

  19. There is so much we will never know, but must we? Nora Roberts said, “There is more to Heaven and Earth than just holding us between them. They also want us to deserve it.” Can we?

  20. I would go further than most of the comments. This is a powerful video. It’s hard for me to watch it without tears in my eyes.

  21. I found the entire Cosmos series on Hulu. I queue it up, from time to time, every episode, and re-watch the self-same series I remember watching on PBS when I was a child, and the world was still “new” and “fresh.” I do this whenever I find myself seeing my existence with a jaundiced eye.

    Awesome video. MAD props to the creator… Of the Cosmos; or “Cosmos,” and of this video. Thank you ALL!

  22. This was wonderful. I was just starting my astronomy career when Carl created Cosmos and I recall realizing that he was putting into words and pictures the things that motivated me. I think he would have liked this form of presentation. Side note: Carl uses the word ‘billions’ only once here.

  23. This song is AMAZING. I’ve been a fan of auto-tune since I first heard about it a few months ago, and this song is the best example of it I’ve heard so far. I followed the link at the end of the video to download the mp3, and have been listening to it frequently. It earns a permanent place on my favorites playlist.

    It’s such a powerful song. I find myself often mouthing along with the lyrics, with tears in my eyes. I don’t understand how people can listen to this and not be moved. The visuals just add to the effect.

  24. I remember Carl Sagan’s explanations as logical and easy to understand,but when I tried to tell someone else how great it was, I was dumbstruck.So much to understand and wonder at.

  25. Although I agree that the presentation is interesting, I find the accompanying music much too loud to let me concentrate on – and enjoy – the words. Yes, I can read along, but that turns it into the equivalent of a subtitled film: possibly good, but impossible to appreciate in its entirety. (I can’t concentrate on image flow while reading, especially from separate text.) I’d love to see this redone, minus the keyboard (?) music. The voice technique is not new. Herbie Hancock premiered the Sennheiser VoCorder over 20 years ago; this is simply an updated (and much less expensive) version of the process.

  26. Bob from Keyesport IL couldn’t see the video…

    Bob, are you trying to view this from work? Some employers go out of their way to block entertainment sites from their users. My own employer blocks ALL videos, and also everything else from YouTube… I wish they didn’t…

    Anyway, Bob, try it again from home. If you don’t have Internet at home, try a public library, or ask a friend with a laptop computer… Hopefully you’ll get through.

  27. The music was just too loud and too distracting for me to continue with the video after about 45 seconds.

    Even computers have volume controls. -rc

  28. Thank you very much for posting this, Randy. I, too, sat glued to the TV screen in the early Eighties, fascinated with the COSMOS series. I have watched the video now not just the recommended twice but I-don’t-know-how-many-times, and the chorus of the galaxy rise still makes the hairs on my arms and neck do the same stand-on-edge thing every time. As I type this the MP3 is playing in loop, and I just followed the impulse to order the COSMOS DVD series, which I had already considered doing for some time but this really tipped the scale. I expect that I shall re-watch it more than once. Carl Sagan certainly opened my mind to the Universe, both with the series and the book (and Stephen Hawking did a great follow-up with “A Brief History of Time” and “The Universe in a Nutshell”).

    Perhaps some will find that the arrangement of the vocals seem a little corny in some parts, but keep in mind that this wasn’t originally a song but spoken words. There’s a message to listen to. Listen to it. Regretfully, very regretfully, Carl Sagan is no longer with us and thus couldn’t re-record his words for this song.

    “A still more glorious dawn awaits …”

  29. As of a few weeks ago, the entire Cosmos series was available on hulu. I just bought one of his books on Amazon and can’t cait to read it!

  30. Carl Sagan would appreciate this attempt at passing on his thoughts and feelings!!

    I, too, watched each and every episode of COSMOS..and I worried a little because I understood the concepts he was explaining!

    We are “Star Stuff”!!

  31. That’s amazing. I heard about it on NPR a week or so ago, but hadn’t watched it until just now. I missed Cosmos the first time around, but this makes me want to Netflix it.

    And, who knew Carl Sagan would sing like Kermit the Frog?

  32. This auto tune might actually explain Paris Hilton’s song Stars Are Blind, because when I heard that I thought it just sounds as if she is talking and they put music to it, but I thought that was impossible and that she must be doing some singing, but after seeing this…makes you think how many songs are really “fake” so to speak, with people talking and putting the music in the background. Amazing software.

  33. This is incredibly beautiful and brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it.
    Carl Sagan was not only a brilliant scientist, he was also capable of communicating his knowledge and joy in his subject. I remember watching the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures one year, in which he had an audience of children spellbound by a mind-boggling mix of astronomy, genetics and theories on the origin of life. Wonderful.

  34. Gran canción y la letra es muy profunda, es cierto todo lo que se dice y una frase mas… disfruten cada día, como si fuera el ultimo.

    She says: “Great song and the lyrics are very deep, it’s true what they say and a phrase more … enjoy each day as if it were the last.” -rc

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