Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

30 JANUARY, 2013

Why Birds Sing

By:

Science vs. romance, or how evolutionary theory holds up against poetry and philosophy.

In How Music Works, David Byrne cites some scientifically controversial theories suggesting that music is a spontaneous rather than adaptive phenomenon and birds sing simply because they enjoy singing. At the front lines of the joy theory of bird song is new-age philosopher and jazz musician David Rothenberg, who argues that bird song has the formal properties of music and, just like human music, is motivated by pleasure — another manifestation of the emotional lives of animals. In the preface to his 2006 book Why Birds Sing: A Journey Into the Mystery of Birdsong (public library; UK), Rothenberg writes:

As a philosopher, I have long been wrapped in the question of what humanity must do to find a home in the natural world. The seemingly innocent topic of bird song shows us that we need a combination of many visions of nature to make sense of the whole. … I hope to inspire more scientists and musicians in engaged interaction with the natural world.

In 2007, BBC set out to pit the two leading explanations evolutionary biologists have of why birds sing — to attract mates and repel rivals — against Rothenberg’s theories of pleasure-driven bird song. The result is this fascinating documentary, available online in its entirety, with some delightful surprise-cameos by Beth Orton, Jarvis Cocker, Laurie Anderson, and other celebrated musicians, artists and poets.

Why shouldn’t they be singing for pleasure? Who are we to assume that this kind of animal doesn’t experience joy?

Whether or not your fully subscribe to Rothenberg’s theories, his book comes with a twelve-track music compilation, which alone is more than worth it — a mesmerizing mashup of natural birdsong and virtuosic instrumentation.

Animal Madness @wendymac

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

08 JANUARY, 2013

A Brief History of Time: Rare 1991 Errol Morris Documentary About Stephen Hawking, Free Online

By:

For the celebrated cosmologist’s birthday, revisiting a near-forgotten trifecta of genius.

Iconic theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, whose 1988 classic A Brief History of Time is not only one of these 7 favorite books about time but also among the most influential science books published in the past century, celebrates his seventy-first birthday today. While many films have been made about Hawking and his theories over the years, none compare to documentarian extraordinaire Errol Morris‘s 1991 masterpiece about Hawking’s life, titled after the seminal book and featuring original music by none other than Philip Glass.

Though Morris tweeted exactly a year go that he planned to re-release the film, it remains virtually unfindable on DVD, Bluray, or any digital format, and only exists on VHS, which might explain the dreadful quality of the video below. Still, what a treat to have the film available online in its entirety — the content itself is absolutely, mind-bendingly priceless, just like a Hawking/Morris cross-pollination might imply. Enjoy:

Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have not been content to see events as unconnected and inexplicable. They have craved an understanding of the underlying order in the world. Today we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from. Humanity’s deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest. And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

08 JANUARY, 2013

The Story of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust Character

By:

The curious rise, rise, and retirement of one of pop culture’s greatest cults.

David Bowie celebrates his 66th birthday today. From the BBC comes the fascinating story of his flamboyant Ziggy Stardust character, Bowie’s iconic androgynous glam-rock alter ego, which went on to become one of the 20th century’s biggest pop culture cults. The documentary is based on D. A. Pennebaker’s 1983 concert film Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which captured Bowie’s original surprising announcement retiring the celebrated persona at London’s Hammersmith Odeon Theater ten years prior.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.