The Sound Of Silence


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The Sound Of Silence
"This is a treat of a film." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

There's a form of problem solving known as a Fermi estimate. It's used in physics education, it's a way to get a good approximation with small amounts of data. The example I first encountered was not the eponymous Enrico's surmise as to the strength of 'The Gadget' that ushered in the Atomic age. It was about piano tuners.

How many piano tuners are there in Chicago? How many people live there? How many have pianos? How often does a piano need tuned? By assembling a succession of estimates, occupying a weird interzone between kenning and Bayesian probability and upper and lower bounds, you will get to an answer that has a high degree of rightness. It may not be the correct answer, but it will do.

So, two questions. Firstly, how many films seem drawn from the pages of The New Yorker, one of those literary fiction shorts in one of the most famous surviving markets for that art-form that will skirt the boundaries of what the mainstream would call science fiction while entirely within the boundaries of other genres and definitions? Secondly, how many 'house tuners' serve the Manhattan area?

Grown from the 2013 short film Palimpsest (a text upon a previously erased text) this is something wonderous, magical. Realistic too, if only in that sense that there might be sufficient weight to environmental discomforts that their removal, their modification, might have a greater effect than placebo.

Careful attention is rewarded, not just in the substitution of one toaster for another but in the music by Will Bates and the elements of performance in a film that is carried by what sits between two ears. Those of Peter Lucien (Peter Sarsgaard), sitting between two eras.

It looks like the Seventies in places. Hard rains don't wash streets clean like they used to, but Peter is a man out of time. Valves have given way to microchips, transformers to transistors, the hum and sway of the city are changing around him and the veneer of civilisation is no longer finely grained.

It is not just the nature of the audio equipment that recalls The Conversation, nor the acoustical intent that is suggestive of Berberian Sound Studio. There are patterns in the walls and in the whispers, their curves could be transformed by another mathematical eponym, Fourier, into curves that might serve as a Primer to Pi.

Michael Tyburski directs. He and co-writer Ben Nabors had the same roles on that originating short. A d├ębut fiction feature for each (various overlaps there), this is a treat of a film. It speaks to a very specific sense and sensibility. The effects work, especially Grant Elder's sound design, envelops.

There are tinnital distresses, undertones to "I'm not listening to anything," a purity to it. A stunning clarity of tone, here well executed. It is not uncommon for short films to be expanded to features, to borrow another sound of the Seventies the function and features of a 12" remix are always hopefully more than a mere reprise. Both Sound Of Silence and its precursor drew positive attention at Sundance, and it is one you should listen out for.

Reviewed on: 18 Jul 2021
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The Sound Of Silence packshot
A successful "house tuner" in New York City, who calibrates the sound in people's homes in order to adjust their moods, meets a client with a problem he can't solve.

Director: Michael Tyburski

Writer: Ben Nabors, Michael Tyburski

Starring: Peter Sarsgaard, Rashida Jones, Tony Revolori, Austin Pendleton

Year: 2019

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US

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