Film Study: 32 Sounds | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, May 31st, 2023  

32 Sounds

Studio: Abramorama
Director: Sam Green

Apr 24, 2023 Web Exclusive
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Sam Green’s 32 Sounds is a 97-minute odyssey through the world of sound, capturing how this dimension envelops, influences and moves human beings. In the process, the film meditates on what it means to experience sound and how we perceive the element in different ways.

The documentary is structured around (as the title indicates) 32 different sounds. Greends presents these sounds using different methods, constructing an equally expository and interactive film. Sometimes, he interviews composers, music historians or ordinary citizens to gainsd their perspectives on what it means to experience sound. Other times, he explores the various elements that make up our perception of sound, often asking audiences to close their eyes–or, at one point, even dance–to truly experience the sounds.

Because of its oscillating style and narrative, 32 Sounds feels sketch-like, almost as if each section of the film could be chopped right out of the documentary and work just as well as a short film. This fact helps and hinders the film. The wide variety of sources and sounds keeps the film entertaining, and the documentary’s immersive quality makes it extremely difficult to look away from. Plus, if you follow the filmmakers’ directions, closing your eyes when the screen instructs you to, you can notice the little harmonies and melodies of the sound, whether they are engineered or natural. Sometimes, the constant changes in direction and style can get tiring, making parts of the film feel disconnected from one another, an odd situation for a film that is tied together by such a concrete and clear idea.

As evident by the film’s summary, sound is everything, and above all, 32 Sounds sounds amazing. The film uses all the technology at its disposal to create a captivating sonic experience, one that changes as frequently as the film’s narrative does. This is perhaps why Green, even at the beginning of the film, recommends that the audience wear headphones–it’s the only way to truly capture the sounds’ complexities. In this regard, the film is most successful when it relies on sound’s more dynamic elements, like spatial audio or hard panning, to truly usher the viewer into the experience.

While Green’s narration drives much of 32 Sounds, infusing the film with a personal touch that feels emotionally impactful at times and somewhat null at others, the documentary works because, in the end, it does feel immersive. Like the film constantly explains, sound is an element we often take for granted–we habituate to the noises around us, not noticing them or simply not processing their existence. 32 Sounds asks audiences to think differently about this element that hides from us yet defines us. As Green hypothesizes, if you take a moment to listen to the world around you, there’s so much about it that you can uncover, like a secret hidden in plain sight. You might not need a full documentary to lead to this discovery, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Author rating: 7/10

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