A short Netflix documentary directed by Matthew Killip explores the endeavors of John Shepherd, a Michigan man who sought to communicate with extraterrestrial life forms. John Was Trying to Contact Aliens runs 16 minutes in length and chronicles how he sent various recordings into space for 27 years – with those of notable electronic music pioneers among his selections.
In 1971, Shepherd got to work building an array of machinery called Special Telemetry Research and Tracking (S.T.R.A.T.) in his grandparents’ living room (he would later move it to a separate building on their property). From then to 1998, he broadcast “non-commercial music” by the likes of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream in addition to jazz albums like Mysteries by Keith Jarrett, reggae efforts such as Itals‘ Give Me Power!, or krautrock like Future Days by Can.
“I like rock, but there’s plenty of it out there,” Shepherd told Pitchfork. “It’s a pretty common broadcast. Rather than loud guitars just wailing away, I wanted to go towards where the soul was and have more meaning in that sense. I wanted something that explores human emotion in a warm and effective way. In sending out music, the idea was to communicate that sense of humanness, that feeling and drive, that ecstasy.”
John Was Trying to Contact Aliens also explores Shepherd’s various life struggles, such as coming to terms with himself as a homosexual or his tenuous relationship with his single mother, according to Mixmag.
Learn more about John Was Trying to Contact Aliens on the Netflix website.