32 Sounds, a new “immersive” documentary by an Oscar-nominated filmmaker that has been called a “profound sensory experience,” will be screened in New York City this weekend at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and later this year at the San Francisco International Film Festival and the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, and embark on a world tour.
The film by Sam Green features 32 sound recordings made in nature that are woven together with visual images, and a live soundtrack by JD Samon, the DJ-musician of Le Tigre and MEN, and Michael O’Neill.
The film’s website calls it “a meditation on the power of sound to bend time, cross borders and profoundly shape our perception of the world around us.” In a review of it earlier this month, Variety called it “a documentary the likes of which you’ve never heard before,” noting it invites audiences ‘to reconsider their relationship to sound.” It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this past January.
When it is screened live, audience members receive individual headphones, while Green provides narration and Samon and O’Neill a live soundtrack. Among the many people Green interviewed for it are the composer Philip Glass, the musician Laurie Anderson and Annea Lockwood, a New Zealand-born, New York State-based new music composer and retired Vassar College professor.
In an interview this week, Green said the soundtrack made for the audience’s headphones is binaural, creating “incredible realism. You feel the sense of space often, like you’ve never experienced it before.”
He was attracted to the concept of sound, he added, because it’s “about being alive, about loss, ephemerality, time, the beauty that’s present in the moment. Sound is the vehicle through which we mull over stuff. The ideas raised by sound are profound.”
One of Green’s recent films, the 2018 A Thousand Thoughts, was made with and accompanied live by the Kronos Quartet. He said making this film caused him to “think hard how to make people listen in an engaged way. It’s really rare to engage people’s ears, especially in movies. This piece about sound came out of that.”
Green said the format of 32 Sounds was inspired by Francois Girard’s 1993 Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, whose structure was itself inspired by Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, which Gould famously recorded in his youth.
Green’s 2002 documentary The Weather Underground was nominated for an Academy Award; his film The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller featured Yo Lo Tango, the indie rock band.