SXSW Film Review: 32 Sounds

Probing the line between sound and memory

32 Sounds

In the essay documentary 32 Sounds, filmmaker Sam Green (The Weather Underground) explores the intersections between sound, hearing versus listening, memory and loss.

In the past Green and musician JD Samson have presented the film as a live and in-person experience, narrating and scoring in the moment. At the film's Paramount Friday night, neither was present. But in order to present the movie as a binaural listening experience, the audience was provided with headphones, so the soundscaping's fullness could be appreciated in true detail. The result was an experience both collective and personal, perhaps a reflection on the nature of listening itself.

Narrated by Green, 32 Sounds reflects on all sorts of soundmaking and listening. Sometimes the audience was asked to close their eyes; at one point, they were asked to dance (two people did -- I hear tell this bit is much more effective when the filmmakers are there asking you to dance in person).

Green explores all sorts of sound, from the primal nature of being in the womb to the wonderfully artificial world of foley arts via the totally excellent Joanna Fang (if a tree falls in the forest, are we actually hearing a tree fall in the forest?). The film pops to a new level of life when Green chats with experimental musician/ artist Annea Lockwood, whose most famous piece, "Piano Burning," is a Fluxus legend. Lockwood, now in her 80s, is a hypnotic presence, a woman devoted most truly to the hows and whys of sound (her theory of "listening with" rather than "listening to" should be taught in schools). There is also a brief section on her life with partner and fellow composer Ruth Anderson, who died in 2019. (An entire film on those two would be more than welcome.)

32 Sounds is an intriguing, often deeply satisfying experience. There are moments when one wishes certain themes had been developed more (if you're going to use Glenn Gould in the soundtrack, wouldn't it be cool to discuss why his personal noises made his recordings so singular?) but on the whole, it's a satisfying meditation on how we organize, think about and process what we hear.


32 Sounds

Festival Favorites, Documentary Feature
Online: March 12, 9am-March 14, 9am

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
Sound and Vision: The Meow Wolf/Spatial Connection
Sound and Vision: The Meow Wolf/Spatial Connection
Did SXSW give a preview of the technology behind the next portal?

Richard Whittaker, April 14, 2022

MSNBC Gets Behind the Story of <i>Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets</i>
MSNBC Gets Behind the Story of Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets
New documentary talks to the people who bought Gamestop shares

Ikram Mohamed, April 8, 2022

More by Joe Gross
Jesse Sublett's Latest True-Crime Book Takes on the <i>Last Gangster in Austin</i>
Jesse Sublett's Latest True-Crime Book Takes on the Last Gangster in Austin
The rise and fall of the Junkyard King

June 10, 2022

SXSW Film Review: <i>In the Court of the Crimson King</i>
Film Review: In the Court of the Crimson King
An accessible, and funny look at one of the most precise bands in history

March 14, 2022

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

SXSW 2022, SXSW Film 2022, 32 Sounds

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle