Sound Matters: CPH:DOX
CPH:DOX (or Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, if you prefer) has been part of an international shift towards non-fiction films that push the boundaries of how we depict our world. DOX Head of Music and Regional Activities, Adam Thorsmark selects some top sound and music focused films.
Ryuchi Sakamoto: Coda (2017), dir. Stephen Nomura Schible
Last year we showed the film “Score – A Film Music Documentary” about some of the biggest film composers. It was a fun film, and a trip down childhood memory lane for me personally. But immersing yourself in one of the more progressive and overlooked ones, Ryuichi Sakamoto, is an even bigger treat – both sonically and visually. The camera is with Sakamoto as he collects sounds from around the world, and often from an activist perspective, whether it’s the sounds of a polluted forest, him playing the corpse of a drowned piano following the tsunami and Fukushima environmental catastrophe, or the disturbing drips of melting snow in the Arctics. And he turns them into his latest masterpiece ‘async’.
In Pursuit of Silence (2015), dir. Patrick Shen
In 2015 we had the world premiere of this very unusual piece of art. In a modern world where we are constantly (in)voluntarily surrounded by sound, silence is the ultimate experience of sound itself. That silence is also the ultimate avant-garde innovator was proven by the composer John Cage with his now classic, almost four-and-a-half-minute long piece of music, which consisted of nothing else. This film raises the questions, do we ever have a 'pure' experience of silence? And does silence have an existential dimension? The film is a trip both philosophically - and across the world. Here we discover the quiet and enigmatic nature of silence, from the American wilderness to Japanese zen monasteries. And back to the modern metropolises where silence is in short supply while a fear of silence is another aspect of modern existence. The film has a bit of Terrence Malick vibe and is a real cinematic listening experience and a total feast for audiophiles.
The Ghost of Piramida (2012), dir. Andreas Johnsen
Sound and field recordings is the main point of this little gem of a Danish documentary on the band Efterklang and one of the most original ‘making of the album’ docs I’ve seen. Piramida is a former Russian mining town in Svalbard. Here Efterklang lands ashore to gather the melancholy and soul of the place in the form of small sound bites that form the frame of their new album, 'Piramida'. Flanked by their famed and not visibly impressed Russian guide, the group hunts trough empty buildings while the movie takes us back to a bygone era in which Piramida flourished and the escaped Russian miners lived in a Soviet parallel community far from the horror of the motherland. Efterklang raises the story of the social pleasures of the community in the communist mini-utopia up to an enchanting tale of the greatness and fall of the past – while digging for audio gold.
The Strange Sound of Happiness (2018), dir. Diego Pascal Panarello
This year another favourite, is also one that is not likely to immediately catch people’s eyes in a music doc program with big names like Grace Jones and M.I.A. But I hope people give this a shot. After travelling around restlessly in search of the very meaning of life for years, the filmmaker Diego returns to his native Sicily, just to be reminded of everything he didn't become or do. But then he discovers the Jew's harp! The centuries-old, unimpressive and on the surface somewhat second-rate instrument shows him the way, and soon he sets off on a poetic and humorous road trip to the frozen mainland of Yakutia in Siberia. He learns about the instrument's rich mythology – it is an amulet that brings happiness, and the best Jew's harp is said to be in outer space with a Russian astronaut! – and soon he is finally able to hear the wonderful sound of happiness. Zooming in on the physical and auditive qualities of a small instrument, and doing in such a kaleidoscopic way with some great sound and camera work – is a really original way to do a music documentary.