F.T. Marinetti’s Futurist Cookbook provides instructions for “raw meat torn by trumpet blasts,” a conceptual recipe that’s more about the gesture than the food itself. The same can be said for The Sound of Noise, a Swedish film concerned with the musical potential of generally unmusical objects. With performances involving sedated hospital patients, heavy construction equipment, and power lines, it follows a cadre of radical drummers as they turn a Scandinavian city into their own personal instrument.
We first meet the masterminds behind this scheme in a speeding van, a driving drum beat filling the soundtrack. A quick pan reveals the diegetic source of this rhythm: imaginative musician Magnus (Magnus Börjeson) pounding away on a kit in the back of the van. It’s a silly moment, but one that sets up the complex template and light tone of everything that follows, as Magnus and driver Sanna (Sanna Persson) use the sounds of the car, the road and the drums to assemble a rough, instantly fleeting symphony. After the pair’s erratic driving causes them to run afoul of the authorities, Magnus reveals his greatest idea yet: a complex opus titled “Music for One City and Six Drummers.”
Conflict comes by way of Amadeus Warnebring, a detective whose black-sheep status in an eminent family of composers has left him with a hatred for all things musical. He finds the duo’s abandoned van, spies the metronome inside, and of course spots the fingerprints of a devious band of extremists at work. His hunch seems more and more realistic after they recruit four other drummers and begin playing the four-part piece, getting more attention as the scope of their performances expands.
The cat-and-mouse game that follows is mostly amusing, sometimes a little thin, but thrives on an inventive use of location and a finely tuned ear for the musical possibilities of everyday objects. Sound of Noise began life as a 10-minute short, and the marks of its expansion show at times; it might have been perfect as a single-capsule performance. The interstitial scenes involving Amadeus are well executed, but there’s a sense of hesitance at how to handle his story, and the resulting interactions between him and the group are clunky, ending in some awkward romance and a bit of slapdash resolution.
Sound of Noise is ultimately winning because of its devilish anarchic streak, aiming its arrows at the stuffiness of the traditional musical establishment. In their third movement, the group disrupts a symphonic performance by massing bulldozers outside the symphony hall, rattling statues and smashing concrete. The transgressive joy of their actions is aided by the fact that the film never grows mean spirited, sowing a mania for music and an extensive goodwill that, by the end, has expanded to envelop its increasingly sympathetic villain. The film may not know exactly what to do with its characters, but it at least shows them a healthy measure of respect.