Pity poor Amadeus Warnebring, born tone-deaf into a family of musical geniuses. His mother is a famous concert pianist, his father is a noted conductor and his little brother’s a musical wunderkind who composed his first concerto at age 12. Unable to play a note, Amadeus became a cop. Never mind that he’s quite good at his job. He’ll always be the artless black sheep of the Warnebring family. That is until a peculiar case lands in his lap—one attuned to his particular skill set. That’s the setup behind Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson’s madly inventive, percussion-heavy crime comedy Sound of Noise.
As the film tunes up, our man Amadeus (Bengt Nilsson) is laboring anonymously as a police detective, avoiding his family and quietly detesting all forms of music. (The sound of a radio is enough to make him flip out.) But, when some “musical terrorists” start running wild through the streets of Malmö, Sweden, he becomes rather obsessed. This gang of six anarchist drummers is composing an avant-garde symphony using the city as their instrument. Kidnapping famous television personalities at the hospital, robbing banks and assaulting an opera house with heavy construction equipment, they’re banging out tunes on people, places and things like wayward members of Stomp.
Amadeus wants to stop these piratical percussionists partially for his own peace of mind and partially because he accidentally crossed paths with the gang’s leader, Sanna (Sanna Persson). It doesn’t hurt that she’s a good-looking lady, well worth pursuing. The magnetic attraction and repulsion between the two lends the film a simple emotional backbeat. While he dreams of an end to noise pollution, she revels in the chaotic soundscape of modern city life. Although the “crimes” of Sanna and her beat-crazy cohorts barely top out at trespassing and vandalism, they represent something new and dangerous to Amadeus—who longs for nothing but sweet, blissful silence.
Simonsson and Nilsson (who also wrote the film) have created something both odd and compelling here. The six musical terrorists are all played by real-life drummers. and their work resonates somewhere between the inventive thumping of Blue Man Group and the prank-filled anarchy of “Jackass.” One suspect, pursued by Amadeus through the streets of the city, manages to turn a foot chase into an impromptu tune played out on passing trash cans, fences and buildings.
As the crime spree continues, Amadeus finds himself blessed with an unusual gift. Whenever something is used as an instrument by the terrorists, he becomes completely deaf to it. Whether it’s a metal bedpan or a person, Amadeus can no longer hear it. All he’s got to do to hunt down these people is follow the trail of dead sounds. Perhaps this isn’t just an arty crime spree, but a key to our protagonist’s freedom.
The sense of humor here is dry, witty and thoroughly absurdist. The filmmakers and actors never blink, presenting their madcap premise as if it were an everyday reality. The film scores additional points for poking fun at both the stuffiness of classical music and the outlandishness of the avant garde without being mean to either institution.
Sound of Noise began life as a short film called “Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers” in which much the same cast of melodic mischief-makers busts into an apartment and explores the rhythmic possibilities of cabinet doors, light switches and vacuum cleaners. In expanding on that premise, Sound of Noise does run a bit thin on plot at times. Besotted with found object performance art, the filmmakers fill out the film’s run time by showcasing several extended performance pieces that are joyfully transgressive, but bring the story to a standstill.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if, say, John Cage wrote a police procedural, Sound of Noise provides you with an answer. Music lovers will certainly get the joke and appreciate what this film brings to the stage. In the end—light on cop drama, romance and resolution—Sound of Noise probably isn’t much more than a clever conversation piece. But when’s the last time you saw a crime film and said, “It’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it”?