MIT engineering professor Evan Blake has discovered a strange object in London. It looks like a vinyl LP record, yet plays a seemingly unlimited amount of jazz, which appeals to Evan as a jazz musician. The previous owner, cellist and composer Nigel Thompson, had heard classical music coming from the same disc. Evan examines the device and finds highly advanced nanotechnology at work. He concludes it must be of extraterrestrial origin, designed to resemble an object familiar to humans, and meant to relay some sort of message. While in Paris, he shares his evidence with biochemistry professor Jeanette Menard, who becomes his partner in the study.
Soon news spreads of an object that would assure its owner an unprecedented technological advantage, and a French crime ring begins pursuing the couple. Meanwhile, an obscure Russian sect, sworn to protect the disc ever since its arrival in that country a century ago, seeks repossession at any cost. Evan and Jeanette struggle against these forces, and eventually travel deep into Siberia. Here, they unravel the disc's secret, which has profound implications for human history, and for the role of music in the human experience.