Drummer's Delight

Well-made 'Sound of Noise' lays down a beat to live by

Listen to this city, contaminated by shitty music," hisses Sanna (Sanna Persson), unable to digest the competing ambient noises that provide the soundtrack to the night. "It's time to strike back." Together with her composer friend Magnus (Magnus Börjeson), Sanna concocts a scheme in the crime comedy Sound of Noise that is equal parts Stomp and Swedish societal critique.

They recruit four local musicians to be their confederates and begin plotting their civic symphony, titled "Music for One City and Six Drummers." The beeps and oxygen tanks of an operating room serve as instruments in the first movement; the percussionists incorporate the click-clack of adding machines and computers in a bank for their second. It's misdemeanor as performance art, or perhaps the other way around.

Investigating the case is Amadeus Warnebring (Bengt Nilsson). Being named after Mozart meant something in his family: His mother was a famed concert pianist and his father spent most of the boy's youth touring as a conductor. Amadeus' younger brother, Oscar, is also a conductor. Out of this intensely musical clan came a boy completely tone-deaf. He never wanted to play music, and never liked it. Amadeus likes silence.

The identity of the culprits is never really in doubt, and there isn't a whole of intrigue in the case. In fact, by the time the six drummers finish their very first act of musical aggression, you may just want to skip the plot and watch the other performances. About the only thing uncertain is whether Amadeus, who clearly admires their work, will act quickly enough to stop the drummers before they complete their masterpiece.

Directors Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson had worked with these same musicians before, on the 2001 short film Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers, which has been viewed online more than 10 million times. The short film's reputation, particularly in Europe, may help explain why the drummers' names in Sound of Noise are those of the actors and why everyone else is given a character name.

When cast and crew reconvened a decade later for a feature film based on the same premise, the filmmakers worked with the musicians for more than a year to find the right combination of everyday urban sounds—bulldozers, high-tension electrical cables, air horns and so on. Therefore, the enjoyment of Sound of Noise is probably more dependent on the months it took to construct each performance than it is the story or the acting, which isn't bad, just secondary. Then again, how is that really different from something like Avatar, which achieved incredibly little outside of its visual effects?

The dry, absurd comedy gives the film some life in between the musical numbers, but there's a nagging question mark about Amadeus, the policeman. When he finds a clue—an instrument used in the commission of one of the crimes—it no longer makes any sound to him. The first is a bedpan from the operating room. He taps it, thumps it and smashes it into the wall, but the metal bedpan is completely silent to him. Other characters still hear it, however. Late in the game, it becomes clear why this happens to Amadeus, but it's purely metaphysical. Don't be done in by it. Consider it a Northern European quirk; their films are full of stuff like that.

Sound of Noise is the first feature film for Simonsson and Nilsson, and it's been buoyed by a handful of film festival awards, including the Young Critics Award at Cannes a couple of years ago. It's a pretty well-made affair, one that obviously spikes when the drummers get to it and lay down a beat for the anarchist in all of us.

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