A Short Film For Saturday

Jason Schafer captions Dick Fontaine’s 1967 jazz short, Sound??:

I’d be doing it great disservice by describing it as anything short of importantly badass. The piece, a collaboration between highly influential multi-instrumentalist musical madman, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and avant-garde sound artist John Cage, explores the very nature of sound and music itself as the piece shifts between the two pioneers. Kirk does his thing. He plays onstage with three saxophones at once, and a flute and a whistle. He hands out whistles to the audience at one point and calls for a participatory “blues in the key of W.” He plays with animals at the zoo. The footage of a performance at Ronnie Scott’s in London is incendiary. Cage, for his part, is interspersed throughout the film reading rhetorical questions in a variety of city locations about what it means to make music. If music is just noise, can anyone do it? What’s the point in making it? “Sounds are just vibrations,” says Cage, “why didn’t I mention that before? Doesn’t that stir the imagination?” The whole thing, if nothing else, certainly stirs the imagination.

In an earlier review, Eric Magnuson remarked on the “wild juxtapositions” between Cage and Kirk:

The two iconoclasts didn’t have much in common composition wise. But they did share the optimistic view that music could be derived from just about anything that made a sound, whether it was a child’s toy, a passing truck or Cage’s musical bicycle. Throughout this 27-minute film, Fontaine mixes Cage’s philosophical questions on what constitutes music with live footage of Kirk playing a lively, experimental set at Ronnie Scott’s, deftly highlighting how each man’s credo can seamlessly bounce off the other. The whistle scene is especially enlightening.