Drawn and recorded: Blind Willie in space

3 minutes

The final nights

18 minutes

Jackson Pollock: Blue Poles

17 minutes

This is your brain on Pokémon

7 minutes

Annual musical report

5 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

What a ‘good death’ can look like, in the quiet company of a compassionate stranger

‘When I can’t do things for someone else, I simply become unhappy,’ says Loes Prakke, waiting outside the front door of a small house late one evening. She rings, enters and introduces herself to Joop, an elderly man who is sitting up in bed and clearly sick. She tells him she’ll be staying through the night, so that Joop’s loved one, Ria, can get some rest. After acknowledging his hardship, she offers to spend some time chatting so they might get to know one another a bit.

The third volunteer to watch over Joop in his illness, Loes’s warm presence is a simple yet deeply meaningful gift to the couple – a reassurance that Joop will be cared for and comfortable during this final phase of his life. In her short documentary The Final Nights, the Dutch director Reneé van der Ven matches the gentle presence of her subject with her filmmaking, capturing Loes’s extraordinary gift for compassion with a respectful observational style. In chronicling Loes and Joop’s nights together, the film quietly reflects on the meaning of a ‘good death’, as well as the power of human connection in its many distinct forms.

Director: Reneé van der Ven

Why a Jackson Pollock masterpiece became an Australian tabloid sensation

The American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock (1912-56) is a rare artist whose name, style and influence has grown to reach far beyond the art world. But when the National Gallery of Australia in 1973 bought one of Pollock’s most celebrated works, Blue Poles (1952), for a record-breaking sum of US$2 million, it set off a national controversy over the merits of abstract art, as well as about the painting’s place in Australia’s national collection. This short documentary from the New York City-based filmmaker Alison Chernick recalls the unlikely story of how the Australian government’s landmark purchase divided the nation as well as the art world, became an unlikely tabloid sensation, and ultimately found its place in Australian culture.

Director: Alison Chernick

Producer: Alison Wright

Website: National Gallery of Australia

Parents have long suspected Pokémon rewires kids’ brains. Now there’s evidence

Since 1996, the wildly popular Pokémon media franchise has encouraged kids to geek out over its cast of now more than 800 fictional species. For Jesse Gomez, a neuroscientist at Princeton University, the impact of Pokémon video games presents a unique research opportunity. Inspired by his own childhood love of the original Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue, which reward the Game Boy player for registering small differences between eight-bit renderings of the characters, Gomez developed an experiment to interrogate how the brain processes visual information.

While pursuing a PhD at Stanford University, Gomez presented images of Pokémon to a group of adults who had played the games as kids and another group that hadn’t, and captured fMRI brain images of the results. Ultimately, Gomez found that, when processed by childhood Pokémon players, the images lit up a small groove in the temporal lobe that remained mostly inactive in the brains of Pokémon newbies. This short documentary from NPR’s show Science Friday tracks how Gomez’s work could potentially lead to a better understanding of learning disorders such as dyslexia and, more broadly, how clever psychological experiments can be sparked by personal experience.

Video by Science Friday

Produced: Luke Groskin

A project to compose music from everyday life is a joyful jolt of pure creativity

The Serbian multimedia artist Miloš Tomić began his Musical Diaries project by seeking out music in everyday life as a form of ‘therapy’ a few years ago. In doing so, he found small sonic surprises everywhere he travelled – objects transformed into improvised instruments and passersby became part of a grand orchestra. Eventually, the idea snowballed into a series of musical video collages – filmed by Tomić and pieced together with the help of some musician friends – that craft audiovisual compositions from his improvisations and discoveries. One such collage, Annual Music Report, mines melodies from sounds found in and around his Belgrade home. The resulting montage, featuring notable contributions from a singer on the Danube river and Tomić’s son Dren, is a singular jolt of joyful creativity, certain to inspire a toe tap and a smile.

Director: Miloš Tomić

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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