Watch: The Heart Is A Drum Machine

March 29, 2010

What is music?

That’s the central question behind The Heart is a Drum Machine, a feature-length documentary from Lightyear Entertainment (Moog). It’s addressed by a host of interviewees, mostly musicians, with a sound engineer, a couple of scientists, and an author thrown in for color. A discussion of the Voyager Golden Record project bookends the film, in which the creative director on the project, Ann Druyan, talks about the universality of music to humanity, and the hope that it would prove to be able to communicate beyond our species:  “Hey, that’s a cool planet – they’re making some good music.”

The musicians vary widely in how articulate they are about music, with Wayne Coyne, predictably, at the high end, and Isaac Brock at the low—to be fair, musicians have a whole other vocabulary that they use to answer that question every day. And I never, ever want to hear someone unironically use the word ‘synergize’ with reference to art (I’m looking at you, Juliette Lewis). But many of the interviewees are engaging, funny or thought-provoking. One of the more interesting segments in the film is on deaf musicians, who ‘hear’ the music through physical vibrations alone (the short discussion on how they can tell they’re in tune is fascinating).

As a film, it focuses on presenting multiple facets of the experience of music, so it doesn’t really strongly develop an overall theme. But the individual pieces are mostly intriguing, and at a very brief 73 minutes, it’s definitely worth checking out.

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  1. I need to watch this.

  2. I watched this.

    Really liked it! I’m sort of torn between wanting it to have been longer to elaborate on a lot of the stuff they only briefly touched upon, and thinking that I wouldn’t be able to stand any more than the current 73 minutes of talking heads, no matter how interesting the things they’re talking about. I would’ve liked to hear more from that neuroscientist at the end, maybe explaining that monitor behind him with a rainbow circle on it or what that girl was being tested for, or from Morton Subotnick when he was talking about stifling creativity when making everyone sing “Happy Birthday” the exact same way.

    I was also pretty fascinated by the deaf musicians and how easily they were able to just let the music flow out of them.

    It was fun seeing who was going to pop up next and what they were going to say. One of my favorites was… I think it was Jimmy Tamborello, who just sat there not saying anything and shook his head. And Kimya Dawson describing how she realized that humans feel all emotions simultaneously and how that comes out in her songs. A lot of really interesting stuff.

    BUT, there were a few too many moments where I wanted to stab whoever was talking (Juliette Lewis being one of them). Not to discount their feelings regarding music, but some of it just seemed like they were acting, putting on this persona of someone who is so spiritually engaged with music and the world, basically just making shit up (or at least severely exaggerating) to seem more authentic (Carles has made me cringe at using that word, but sometimes it’s just too appropriate).

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Justin!

    I think the nature of asking a lot of people what they think about music is that the answers are going to be pretty scattershot.

  4. Yeah, I agree. Although I think I might have been able to handle the good/bad ration a little better if the format of the documentary was a little more engaging. I’m sure having shot after shot of talking semi-famous people is the style the filmmakers were going for, but bet I could’ve tolerated the bullshit otherwise.

  5. I think the filmmakers were going for shots of semi-famous people to make their documentary more engaging, but also to promote one of a kind artists and get their names out their.

    • I agree – they probably wanted a balance between well-known artists and interesting ones (ideally, of course, you’d get both).

  6. […] the bands they love and how that love shapes them. In that sense, it seems like a good pairing for The Heart is a Drum Machine — One asks “What is music?”; the other asks “What does music […]

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