I have not seen every movie ever made, but I’m fairly confident in my belief that there has never been one in which six anarchist musicians break into a hospital dressed as nurses, wheel a patient into an operating room, sedate him, and then perform a makeshift concert using everything in the room, including the patient’s stomach, as a percussion instrument. Sound of Noise is one of the most refreshingly original oddities to come along in quite some time – a crime caper, a deadpan comedy, and a fantasy all rolled into one. The soundtrack is rhythmic and infectious yet curiously indescribable, as it rarely features traditional acoustic or electronic instruments. For unconventionality alone, composers Fred Avril and Magnus Börjeson (also one of the actors) may be deserving of an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score.
The film, adapted by directors Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson from their 2001 short film Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers, tells two separate yet related stories, both of which will cleverly converge in the final act. In the first story, we meet policeman Amadeus Warnebring (Bengt Nilsson), whose very name is the epitome of cruel irony; born into a family of musical prodigies, he grew up tone-deaf and ultimately developed a physical and psychological aversion to music altogether. He desires nothing more than a world of silence. This isn’t to say he wants to become deaf. He just wants the music to stop. He’s an embarrassment to his family, especially his brother, Oscar (Sven Ahlström), a respected conductor.
In the second story, we meet Sanna Persson (which, conveniently, is also the name of the actress playing her) and her sidekick, Magnus (Börjeson), both of whom were expelled from a prestigious music academy some years earlier for their unorthodox musical philosophies. They both believe that the world is drowning in a sea of bad music. They resolve to compose their own brand of music, the likes of which the city won’t soon forget. They recruit four drummers from various musical circles to assist them. Collectively dubbed the Six Drummers, they devise a “concert” consisting of four movements – which is to say, they will trespass into four different city locations and make an orchestra out of the available objects (think an antiestablishment retrofit of Stomp, and you’ve got it). The first movement is at the hospital, mentioned above. The second is at a bank, in which they use shredding machines, stamps, and coins in harmony. The tellers and customers are never held at gunpoint, but they are forced into being an audience.
The Six Drummers leave a path of vandalism. Warnebring follows it, despite not being taken seriously by his fellow officers or superiors. As he goes from one location to another, led by clues hidden within the names of the movements, he becomes aware of a bizarre aural deficit: He can no longer register sound from any object or person touched by the Six Drummers. Take the hospital patient whose stomach became a drum; when Warnebring tries to question him, all he can see is an angry man moving his lips. He bangs on a bedpan yet hears no metallic clang. He passes a barking dog, and yet no bark emanates from its mouth. As this is happening, he accepts an invitation to attend a concert conducted by his brother. It takes less than twenty bars of music before he must excuse himself, for the sound of the orchestra is like sandpaper to his ears.
I think the filmmakers were wise to not let little things like plausibility get in the way of the screenplay. I would not say the film is an emotional experience, although it certainly doesn’t work on the mind. Like a child playing a game of make believe, the story freely bypasses the roadblocks of common sense and rationality and simply is. We’re not supposed to question how the Six Drummers got hold of scrubs or bulldozers or diggers or jackhammers (wait until you see how those last three are utilized). We’re not meant to analyze the physical or mental reasons for Warnebring’s selective deafness. These plotlines are intended to be fun and freewheeling. You might even say the filmmakers move to the beat of a different drum.
I have doubts about the ultimate fate of the Six Drummers, for it seems highly unlikely that true anarchists would suddenly and inexplicably be so compromising in their ways. As for Warnebring, I found his final scene charming yet bittersweet. What he considers a victory, I consider a tragic loss. But who am I question what makes someone happy? More to the point, why should I be critical when it was the only appropriate direction for the story to go in? For anyone who believes the movies have ceased to be unique, Sound of Noise will be like a shot in the arm. It’s a revitalizing experience, not just as a story but also as a celebration of sound and music. Here is a film in which audiophiles should be just as entertained, if not more so, as avid movie watchers.