Music and Outer Space

A partial transcript from Episode 21 of THE ART MOVEMENT. Scroll down to listen to the full radio show.

So, when I think of music and space, one of the things that comes to my mind is Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Steven Spielberg movie where the benevolent aliens and humans essentially use the language of music to communicate with each other.

I also think about that Canadian Space Agency astronaut who recorded a version of David Bowie’s song, “Space Oddity,” and recorded a video for it on the International Space Station in 2013. The video was posted on YouTube and went viral. Bowie himself states that he thought it was possibly the most poignant version of that song ever created.

Another famous story is that of the Voyager probes, a sort of time capsule launched by NASA in 1977 that was intended to communicate a story of the world of humans on Earth to any interplanetary civilization out there.

These time capsules were records featuring spoken word greetings in 59 languages, sound recordings of locations and things on earth and a 90-minute selection of music from many cultures. One of which, I’m sure, was Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”

In fact, if you’d like to know more about the Voyager mission, there’s a fascinating documentary about it called The Farthest, which was directed by Emer Reynolds, whom I interviewed in my hometown of Galway, Ireland, when she premiered the doc there at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2018. Interesting to note that Chuck Berry had died just a few weeks before then.

Then of course, there is the whole thing about the sound of planets. Apparently, the earth and each of the planets of the solar system revolving around the sun make a musical note so low that it cannot be heard by human ears.

Ok, so sound doesn’t travel through space, which would explain that famous tagline from Alien, “In space no one can hear you scream.” But NASA has used powerful radio telescopes that can pick up the electromagnetic signals coming from the planets, especially the active ones like Jupiter, and convert them to sounds the human ear can hear.

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Quick Film Guide – E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Directed by: Steven Spielberg

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is not only one of the most universally beloved films of all time but also one that best represents Steven Spielberg’s cinema. It should come as no surprise, given the personal ties the filmmaker had to its story, which revolved around an imaginary friend he created as a child after his parents’ divorced in the ’60s.

The fairytale-like story is about an alien who, stranded alone on Earth, takes shelter in the house of a little boy named Eliott. The two become great friends but when a team of scientists finds out about him, Elliott realizes the best way to help save him is to help him get back home.

At its core, E.T. is a story of the power of friendship. Each of the elements of the story is carefully dosed, and the balance of adventure, emotion, humour and special effects have assured its longlasting charm never fade over the years. A lot of the feature’s appeal also rests on the delightfulness of the young cast – including Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore – as well as an unforgettable soundtrack by John Williams and E.T. himself, designed by Carlo Rambaldi.

Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!

Quick Film Guide: A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001)

A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Stanley Kubrick had considered bringing Brian Aldiss’ futuristic Pinocchio tale to the big screen in the ’70s. However, he didn’t think the visual effects of the time would be able to make it justice. In the early 2000s, the project resurfaced as A.I. Artificial Intelligence. It was initially a collaboration between Kubrick and Steven Spielberg who, having directed such spectacular flicks as Close Encounters and Jurassic Park, knew a thing or two about special effects.

Kubrick died long before the film saw the light of day but the finished product feels partly like a tribute to him. Its visual style is heavily influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey and there is a dark, existentialist side of A.I. Artificial Intelligence that could be defined “Kubrickian.”

Still, it is Spielberg’s authorial voice that rises supreme. He makes sure that the fairytale romanticism of the story of an abandoned android child is never lost, sometimes to an excess. In such overly saccharine moments, it is child actor Haley Joel Osment who sustains the credibility of the film, with one of the finest child performances in a film of its time.

Click here to buy my book of thoughts on film, Eye of the Beholder, on Amazon!