Pras On World Films: THE SOUND OF NOISE

Poster art for "Sound of Noise."Sometimes, a movie is so inventive, so unusual, so exciting, that you laugh at the pure audaciousness of what’s happening on screen.

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.” Amadeus’ situation takes a turn for the worse when a group of six renegade drummers begin wreaking a tuneful, rhythmic havoc on the city, leaving their calling-card metronomes, alarmed citizens — and for Amadeus, unnatural silence — in their wake. 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.

A tone-deaf cop works to track down a group of guerilla percussionists whose anarchic public performances are terrorizing the city. Amadeus Warnebring (played with a perfectly dutiful survivor’s angst by Bengt Nilsson), who was born tone-deaf into a family of prominent musicians. His name must make him miserable, as does the work of his conductor brother (Sven Ahlstrom, who happily finds notes to play beyond arrogance). When a metronome is discovered at a crime scene, Amadeus, the outsider of his musical family, has found a case destined for him.

At the center of the simple story (written by Simonsson and Jim Birmant) is tone-deaf anti-terrorist cop Amadeus (Bengt Nilsson), who, in a cruel twist of fate, is the sibling of a famous conductor. The ticking bomb that introduces Amadeus to the case of the guerrilla drummers turns out to be a metronome, much to his profound dismay. That puts him on the trail of conceptual composer Magnus (Magnus Börjeson), academy reject Sanna (Sanna Persson Halapi) and their band of outsiders. In four locations, the most far-fetched being a hospital, they’re staging “Music for One City and Six Drummers,” the ultimate expression of their manifesto against musical mediocrity.

Without pounding home its avant-garde cred, this fresh ode to found sound and the music of silence casts an amused gaze at careerism, classical-music reverence and notions of artistic purity and ends with a pitch-perfect change of tune.

What follows is a character study mixed with outlandish crime procedural.  “Sound of Noise” is a dry treat — a solid, self-aware cult pleasure.

The narrative revolves around police officer Amadeus Warnebring, tone-deaf scion of a distinguished musical family, and his attempts to track down a group of six guerilla percussionists whose anarchic public performances are terrorizing the city. The drumming set pieces correspond to an avant-garde score with four hilariously titled movements. Where the short involved the six drummers imaginatively using standard apartment furnishings as their instruments, the feature unleashes them on an unspecified city’s civic and cultural institutions. Including an amusing backstory for each of the soberly dressed drummers as well as their nemesis, music-hating investigator Warnebring, the film creates a treat for the eyes and ears from the dull, repetitive sounds of everyday life.

How can something so simple be so joyful? Maybe that’s the key. Like Jackie Chan, the six drummers in Sound of Noise believe in using everyday objects to make mayhem. As one of them says in a recruiting pitch, “it’s dangerous, it’s illegal, and it will change the world.”

If that quote’s not quite accurate, it still captures the spirit of the Swedish-language film, directed by Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjarne Nilsson. They made a short film nine years ago, Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers, in which six people enter a stranger’s apartment and make music out of whatever they find in each room. (Sample: toothbrushes, cleansing agents, towels, toilet seats, light switches, and so forth.) The short is played before the film, which, as good as it was, immediately raised the question of how a feature-length version would play.

Sound of Noise expands the idea exponentially. Magnus (Magnus Borgeson) has composed a symphony in four movements: “Music for One City and Six Drummers.” His partner and fellow musician Sanna (Sanna Persson) takes the lead in making the arrangements and recruiting other drummers. This time the idea is to play in different settings throughout the city, ending in a giant crescendo that will surely make a giant statement to the musical establishment and to the entire city.

Review: Sound of Noise

To give away the settings, or the found objects that they turn into musical instruments, would be stealing the fun, but suffice it to say that they are incredibly inventive and thoroughly delightful.

Framing the musical sequences is a story about Amadeus Warnebring (Bengt Nilsson), a tone-deaf policeman who was born into a musical family. Everyone else in the clan has some kind of musical ability; most notably, his younger brother Oscar is a famous orchestra conductor who has returned home for a big concert. Amadeus clearly is a bit resentful of all the attention that his little brother is receiving.

Beyond that, though, Amadeus feels out of place in his own family, and he seems to have developed a grudge against music in general. Oddly enough, that makes him the perfect detective to track down the renegade musicians, who have fallen under suspicion when one of them attacks a motorcycle cop. The suspicion that “musical terrorists” might be afoot is heightened when their first performance, involving a TV star, doesn’t go exactly as planned.

There is one further complication: Amadeus begins to lose his sense of hearing in a very selective way. Certain sounds — metal against metal, an individual’s voice — go silent on him. It’s a mystery that will lead him to a surprising discovery.

Sound of Noise is not like any “musical comedy” you’ve seen. Sure, comparisons to Stomp are inevitable, but Sound of Noise has something slightly more subversive up its sleeve. It’s a funny picture, yet with pauses for poignancy that hit the right note.

If ever there was a film built for Twitch, Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson’s Sound of Noise is definitely one. I don’t throw that kind of praise around willy-nilly, in fact, the last film I gave such high marks was my number one film of 2011, Alex de la Iglesia’s The Last Circus. Yes, Sound of Noise is that good. The combination of completely mental action and intricately designed musical set pieces is truly amazing to watch and gives a niche all its own.

Unlike The Last Circus, which was relatively plot-heavy, Sound of Noise is entirely dependent upon action. There is some skeletal plot about a policeman, Amadeus, who was born tone deaf and a crew of six percussionists looking to wreak havoc and their cat and mouse game across Stockholm. However, these details only exist to give the Six Drummers a reason to stage elaborate performances in the oddest of places with only the strangest of instruments.

The directors of the film had worked together on a couple of short films before deciding to go feature length with the concept. Those two shorts are included in the set and present the pair’s ambitions pretty clearly. It is evident that this is not their first rodeo. Everything from the intricate editing to the complex musicianship tells a story of a well-practiced team. Sound of Noise is genuinely unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and that’s getting to be a harder and harder task to master, which makes it all the more impressive.

Where the film falters is really a function of the film’s goal, which makes it difficult to count it as a detriment, and that is the plot. The basic story is that these Six Drummers have devised a symphony for a city titled, “Music For Six Drummers and a City”. The symphony has four movements, each to be played in a different non-musical arena, and each to be played with found instruments. There is nothing criminal about that, the problem is that the movements are designed to be more and more daring, one in a surgical theatre, one in a bank, and so on. Because of their illicit nature, Amadeus is put on the case of tracking down and arresting the mad musicians before they do something truly dangerous. There is some side plot about Amadeus’ personal history with music and his own tone deafness, but that is little more than window dressing and a flimsy way to stretch the bare bones plot to feature length.

The beautiful thing about Sound of Noise is that none of those minor quibbles have any effect on my ability to enjoy what is, truly, an original and daring piece of cinema. The film is little more than elaborate performance art pieces strung together with relatively flimsy connective tissue to give the film a shape, however, it is in the vignettes that Sound of Noise finds purpose, and it is within those performances that the film’s heart beats loudly and charms the pants off anyone who may try to resist its primitive charms.

Bengt Nilsson is a tone-deaf cop who comes from a family of musical geniuses. Sanna Persson is an avant-garde artist who’s been terrorizing the city with her lawbreaking pieces of musical street theater. While Persson and her collaborators move forward on their magnum opus, “Music For One City And Six Drummers,” Nilsson is still haunted by their previous crime, which saw Persson speeding through the streets in a van, using the vehicle as an instrument, with her partner Magnus Börjeson playing drums in the back. As they fled the scene, the pair left behind a metronome, which is a device Nilsson saw a lot in his childhood, and which now calls to him, for reasons he can’t fully explain.

Sound Of Noise is similarly difficult to pigeonhole: part quirky comedy, part existential mystery, part flash-mob musical. It’s mainly about two misfits and their tumultuous relationships with different kinds of establishment. Nilsson is a freak to his brother, but while his colleagues on the force accept him as a master at solving cases, they also think he’s a little crazy, and don’t really understand his obsession with Persson or with music (which he claims to hate). As for Persson, she was drummed out of the academy—so to speak—because of her preference for unconventional instruments, but while she’s found musicians who share her interests, they seem to be more into the thrill of defying authority than the beauty of what they create. It’s fairly obvious from the first 20 minutes of Sound Of Noise that Nilsson and Persson are going to find each other eventually, but whether they’ll recognize each other as kindred spirits remains an open question all the way up to the end.

Sound Of Noise works well just as an offbeat cops-and-robbers picture. Early on, Persson and her crew post a program to their concert, and Nilsson tries to piece together the clues, Batman-style, to prevent these costumed villains from staging their next crazy caper. Co-directors Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson then parcel out those capers throughout the film, staging astonishingly choreographed performances using hospital equipment, construction vehicles, power-lines, and more. But what binds the entertaining crime movie to its YouTube-ready musical interludes is the unspoken yearning of its two leads: he for the world of silence in which he’d rather live, and she for all the sounds that slip by every second, uncontrolled and unappreciated.

Bengt Nilsson – Amadeus Warnebring

Sanna Persson – Sanna
Magnus Borjeson – Magnus
Fredrik Myhre – Myran
Anders Vestergård – Anders

  • Sven Ahlstrom – Oscar
  • Peter Schildt
  • Anders Anders
  • Pelle Ohlund
  • Paula McManus
  • Bengt Nilsson – Amadeus Warnebring
  • Sven Ahlstrom – Oscar
  • Director – Johannes Stjarne Nilsson
  • Screenplay – Ola Simonsson
  • Screenplay – Johannes Stjarne Nilsson
  • Producer – Jim Birmant
  • Director – Ola Simonsson
  • Director – Ola Simonsson
  • Producer – Guy Péchard
  • Producer – Christophe Audeguis
  • Producer – Olivier Guerpillon
  • Story By – Ola Simonsson
  • Story By – Johannes Stjarne Nilsson
  • Story By – Jim Birmant
  • Director of Photography – Charlotta Tengroth
  • Editor – Stefan Sundlöf
  • Editor – Andreas Jonsson Hay
  • Composer – Fred Avril
  • Hair & Makeup – Elisabeth Bukkehave
  • Sound – Nicolas Becker
  • Sound Supervisor – Nicolas Becker
  • Sound – Lasse Liljeholm
  • Producer – Olivier Guerpillon
  • Sound/Sound Designer – Lasse Liljeholm
  • Screen Story – Ola Simonsson
  • Editor – Stefan Sundlof
  • Screenwriter – Ola Simonsson
  • Sound/Sound Designer – Nicolas Becker
  • Director: Ola Simonsson, Johannes Stjärne Nilsson
    Cast: Bengt Nilsson, Sanna Persson, Magnus Börjeson (In Swedish w/ subtitles)
    Rated: R     Running time: 102 minutes
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