Drawn and recorded: Blind Willie in space

3 minutes

Ladies and gentlemen… Mr Leonard Cohen

44 minutes

The secret language of trees

5 minutes

EXCLUSIVE

Tarikat

17 minutes

Why did the Mexican jumping bean jump?

4 minutes

Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground, and brilliant is that song drifting through space

‘Johnson’s song concerns a situation he faced many times: nightfall with no place to sleep. Since humans appeared on Earth, the shroud of night has yet to fall without touching a man or woman in the same plight.’
Carl Sagan, on including Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (1927) on the Voyager Golden Records

The US gospel blues musician and evangelist ‘Blind’ Willie Johnson was born to a sharecropping family in the small town of Pendleton, Texas in 1897. After learning to play a cigar-box guitar, he performed as a popular street musician throughout Texas, eventually recording 30 songs for Columbia Records between 1927 and 1930. Little notice was taken of his death in 1945, and much of his biography remains a mystery. What is certain, however, is that today his legendary low-register howl and slide guitar persists, both on our planet and in interstellar space. Here on Earth, his music influenced the likes of Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and Howlin’ Wolf. And just beyond the reaches of our solar system, his recording of his song Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (1927) is one of 27 pieces of music selected for the Voyager spacecraft’s famed ‘Golden Records’, intended to capture the range of musical expression. This instalment from the US animator Drew Christie’s series Drawn & Recorded combines biography and mythology to recount how Johnson’s music made the unlikely journey from the streets of rural Texas to the stars.

Director: Drew Christie

Writers: Drew Christie, Bill Flanagan

Narrator: T Bone Burnett

Producers: T Bone Burnett, Bill Flanagan, Van Toffler

Website: Gunpowder & Sky

A trip to Montreal with Leonard Cohen in 1965 is a glimpse into a singular poetic mind

In 1965, the celebrated Canadian writer Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) took a trip from Greece, where he then lived, to his home city of Montreal. There, he visited friends and family, gave readings at a series of engagements and, more generally, renewed his ‘neurotic affiliations’. The Canadian directors Donald Brittain and Don Owen chronicled Cohen’s visit for their documentary Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr Leonard Cohen. The film finds Cohen – who, at just 30, is already an established and celebrated literary voice – drifting between live performances, snowy streets, bistros and the cheap hotels where he takes refuge. With their informal and engaging portrait, Brittain and Owen provide a riveting glimpse into Cohen’s life as an artist, centred on channelling ‘hypersensitivity and an enormous curiosity’ into witty, penetrating and often enigmatic poetry and prose.

Directors: Donald Brittain, Don Owen

Website: National Film Board of Canada

The incredible – and still quite mysterious – way trees trade information via their roots

While researching her doctoral thesis, Suzanne Simard, now a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia, made an astounding discovery – trees in forests seem to possess complex information superhighways in their root systems that allow them to share information. Her 1995 doctoral thesis on the topic has been part of a revolution in how scientists view plants, leading many to suggest that they possess cognitive abilities, and even intelligence. This animation from TED-Ed details the symbiotic relationship – between tree roots and fungi called mycorrhizae – that serves as the foundation of these intricate intra-tree communication networks, allowing them to trade news on topics such as drought and insect attacks, and even detect if an incoming message has been sent by a close relative.

Video by TED Ed

Director: Avi Ofer

Writers: Camille Defrenne, Suzanne Simard

Dissolve into the immersive, entrancing rhythms of a Sufi chant

A ritual at the heart of Sufism, the dhikr is a demonstration of devotion in which worshippers share in a meditation on Allah via synchronised group chants, rhythmic movements and, in some instances, the spinning dances of whirling dervishes. The Dutch-Chinese-American filmmaker Jasmijn Schrofer drops viewers into the rhythms of the dhikr in her short film Tarikat (‘The Path’). Through the ritual of sound and movement, the individuals seem to dissolve into a unified whole, even as Schrofer often lingers on the close-up expressions of each one. The result is an intimate and immersive viewing experience in which viewers might just find themselves lost in a trance alongside the faithful.

Director: Jasmijn Schrofer

Producer: Rianne Ebeling

How moth larvae carve out cozy, mobile homes inside Mexican jumping beans

You might know that moth larvae are the hidden creatures that make Mexican jumping beans jump. You might also know that Mexican jumping beans aren’t ‘beans’ at all, but seed pods – those of a shrub native to the Sonoran Desert, which straddles the border of Mexico, Arizona and California. But, as this video from the science documentary series Deep Look explores, burrowing further into the lives of Mexican jumping bean inhabitants still makes for highly fascinating viewing. Captured in stunning 4K resolution, this short film documents the months that a jumping bean moth larva spends hollowing out, residing inside, and manually repairing and relocating its 10mm home, before ultimately emerging in its mature form.

Video by KQED Science

Producer and Writer: Mike Seely

Narrator and Writer: Laura Klivans

Cinematographer: Kevin Collins

Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground, and brilliant is that song drifting through space

‘Johnson’s song concerns a situation he faced many times: nightfall with no place to sleep. Since humans appeared on Earth, the shroud of night has yet to fall without touching a man or woman in the same plight.’
Carl Sagan, on including Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (1927) on the Voyager Golden Records

The US gospel blues musician and evangelist ‘Blind’ Willie Johnson was born to a sharecropping family in the small town of Pendleton, Texas in 1897. After learning to play a cigar-box guitar, he performed as a popular street musician throughout Texas, eventually recording 30 songs for Columbia Records between 1927 and 1930. Little notice was taken of his death in 1945, and much of his biography remains a mystery. What is certain, however, is that today his legendary low-register howl and slide guitar persists, both on our planet and in interstellar space. Here on Earth, his music influenced the likes of Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and Howlin’ Wolf. And just beyond the reaches of our solar system, his recording of his song Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (1927) is one of 27 pieces of music selected for the Voyager spacecraft’s famed ‘Golden Records’, intended to capture the range of musical expression. This instalment from the US animator Drew Christie’s series Drawn & Recorded combines biography and mythology to recount how Johnson’s music made the unlikely journey from the streets of rural Texas to the stars.

Director: Drew Christie

Writers: Drew Christie, Bill Flanagan

Narrator: T Bone Burnett

Producers: T Bone Burnett, Bill Flanagan, Van Toffler

Website: Gunpowder & Sky

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Fremont Street, Las Vegas, 1982. Photo by Harry Gruyaert/Magnum

Essay/
Mathematics
Mathematics for gamblers

If philosophers and mathematicians struggle with probability, can gamblers really hope to grasp their losing game?

Catalin Barboianu