Review: Sound of Noise

A tone-deaf detective pursues a group of musical terrorists in a film that ecstastically celebrates anarchy.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani


The premise is so delightfully strange, it almost sounds like an Etgar Keret short story, or maybe even a playful exercise by Gabriel García Márquez: A group of six musical terrorists (led by music-school expellee Sanna Persson) have composed an epic, vandalism-laced symphony with four movements. Each movement will be performed in public, without warning, and usually without a direct audience. They perform complex percussion pieces reminiscent of Stomp, using hospital equipment, banking equipment, and often real people. They see their little pieces of outsider musical art with no audience as a kind of pure act of freedom, capturing the true nature of music.

On their tail, attempting to decipher what the hell they’re up to and to apprehend them, is the business-minded cop Amadeus Warnebring (Bengt Nilsson), the single tone-deaf child in a family of brilliant and massively overbearing musicians. He hates all music, and longs for a day when he can “hear music made of silence.” The terrorists leave metronomes at the scenes of their crimes/performances, and Amadeus, no doubt the student of many frustrated piano lessons, hates the sight of metronomes. For Amadeus, this is not just about stopping some free-form anarchist vandals. This is about silencing the world.

And then there’s this peculiar conceit, straight out of magical realism: Whenever the terrorists drum on something, Amadeus later finds that he can longer hear that object. Like if they drum on a bedpan, Amadeus can no longer hear his knuckle rapping against it. Same with people. If the terrorists drum on people, Amadeus can no longer hear them speaking. As the investigation grinds onward, and Amadeus becomes increasingly unhinged (and even, at one point, bleeds through the ears from an airhorn attack), he begins to see some salvation in what the rogue drummers are doing. Maybe, if he can meet Sanna, fall in love, and get them to drum in just the right way, he can erase music from his life altogether.

And why is there so much joy here? Why is it such a giddy delight?

Sound of Noise, directed by Ola Simonssen and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson, and opening Friday, starts out as a cute, high-concept indie musical of sorts (“It’s Stomp as terrorists! In Sweden!”), and, for a few brief moments, threatens to be one of those little oddball comedy films that always get painted with the word “quirky” by critics and studio pitchmen alike. The film, luckily, emerges as a genuinely peculiar film about what it means to be an outsider, and how hard one has to work to be part of the outside. Some people, the film points out, seem to thrive rather naturally on creating outsider art. These are not people looking for attention or publicity, or even hyping their art to the world. They have an innate need to drum and to subvert. Even though the six terrorists were all broad and peculiar types, I got the feeling that they were driven as equally by anarchy as by their need to make music. The film could have benefitted from a bit more actual danger and destruction, but its heart was in the right place.

Also, consider: Amadeus doesn’t eventually soften and learn to appreciate the music he has always forsworn. He tries to find a way to eject music from his life altogether. For most of us, this may sound like a sad ambition, as he seems to be actively denying himself the vast pleasure of musicality. And yet, he knows what he wants. He wants, like his terrorist prey, to be on the outside. Sound of Noise celebrates, with no small amount of silly, gleeful ecstasy, the outsider status. In an age where youths are defining themselves by how similar they are, and feeding into a common hive mind is considered more valuable than iconoclasticism (it could be argued that the internet, with its ease of access to people with similar interests, ruined all concepts of “subculture” and “counterculture” which previously could only be realized in subterfugal underground in-person meetings), it’s refreshing to see a film that is so much about actively pursuing prankstership and anarchy.

Sound of Noise will be playing for one week at The Cinefamily in Hollywood, one of the best repertory movie theaters in the world, starting on the March 9th. On opening night, there will not only be a Q&A with the directors, but Dale Crover and Coady Willis, the two drummers for the hardcore punk/experimental rock band The Melvins, will be there to challenge them to a drum-off. Asses will be kicked, hearts will be broken, and everyone will leave with stories to tell.