Our lives are made of music. We live in a sonically rich environment that often takes a keen ear to turn it into something meaningful: into music. Yet, it is all there within our reach and at our fingertips. We are all musicians and the sounds that enhance our lives can be made by anyone. This is the democratic premise within the documentary Soundhunters. The entire documentary is a creative exploration that compels the audience to think of music as composed of sounds strung together, rather than the laborious composition of notes that require training and hefty barriers of entry.
Written and directed by Beryl Koltz, Soundhunters consistently grips the viewer’s attention. Having seen many documentaries this year, I can say that it is refreshing when the camera does more than expose a story with talking heads. This is where the beauty of Soundhunters lies. It is a cinematic experience that should be required viewing for all music lovers. The documentary follows two musicians as they explore the world of sounds by travelling the world and paying attention to what they hear, as it can all be the basis of music.
The documentary includes historical footage featuring Pierre Schaeffer, who was a French composer, acoustician and overall thinker of mankind’s relationship to sound and music. Through several vignettes we come to understand the philosophy behind the early stages of electronic or “created” music. It is all about the sounds, a paradigmatic shift that sees the world as an instrument instead of waiting for notes to be played by the virtuosi. Alongside these philosophical explanations, Koltz offers intricate and playful montages that include that creation of music through everyday sounds in a whimsical way.
The creators of the documentary have also created an app that pushes forward the same idea: sounds make music and anyone surrounded by sounds can therefore make music. It is about using technology to enable that music to come through and empower the everyday person — especially those with limited resources — to collect sounds in their lives and create something unique. Unlocking creativity is one of the main contributions of Soundhunters, opening the door for people to perceive the world around them as a special ecosystem that is not only filled with quotidian tasks but also filled with magic, if one is to pay attention.
Soundhunters not only presents a refreshing take on music, but the style of the film narrative is also a creative contribution, one that shows a lot of content can be packed in a short amount of time. The tried and true use of talking heads in a documentary form becomes new in Soundhunters, as it is interspersed with the use of musicalization that is telling of the ideology espoused here. The entire feature reminded me of the optimistic views on technology as a tool for bringing far flung communities together. It is indeed a cosmopolitan view of the world that takes care to be inclusive. While it features musicians, it also highlights people without musical training and different musical genres. It is one of the most enjoyable documentaries on music I’ve seen in a while, and one that lives on through its interactive channels.
Soundhunters runs 52 minutes and is not rated. I was able to catch a screening of the documentary at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. You can stream the entire documentary or engage in the interactive content of Soundhunters through their website or app.