sound

Interactive documentary has you use the world as a musical instrument

The world is an infinite musical instrument. This is the prevailing idea across the interactive documentary Soundhunters. And it doesn’t mean in the way as I understood it in my college days, drumming out beats onto desk corners with my fingers; it’s less deliberate than that. The idea is to listen intently to the everyday sounds around you, record them, and then bring them together to create a musical tapestry from natural noise. “Today, every sound can be recorded, hijacked, manipulated and reinvented into an original musical creation. That is how a soundhunter works,” reads the project’s documentation.

To demonstrate this, the documentary is split into four, each part following an electronic musician as they head into a city to find a story through the sounds. Ethiopian music producer Mikael Seifu heads into Lagos—Nigeria’s most populous city—to discover the role of Pidgin English in its communities. Electronic musician Daedalus explores the German-Turkish cultural identity in Berlin with a 19-year-old who has a passion for boxing. American artist Simonne Jones travels to Sao Paulo, Brazil to meet Guarani Indians who can barely keep their language, land, and culture alive. Lastly, UK musician Luke Vibert heads to New York to find the city’s worldly poets and discover how they all express human experiences.

As you can tell by those listed subjects, each documentary ends up being about much more than listening to sounds. It gives insight into identity, cultural struggles, and the busy lives of people who are pressed hard to survive, or to preserve the heritage they carry. The discussions on the importance of language and of folk songs bleed into scrutiny on history and how it has shaped the present day situation. Then there are short snippets that explain why a phrase or sound might be common to hear in a particular area, delving into the significance of it. An outstanding example is the call of the “Pure Water” hawkers in Lagos who try to make a sale from the estimated 112 million Nigerians who don’t have access to clean drinking water (turns out that “Pure Water” isn’t that pure either).

Why is that sound heard there? 

In each documentary there are a bunch of sounds that you “collect” while watching. At any point you can hit the hashtag button at the top of the screen to see your collection and read why they’ve been selected in particular, as well as replay them. Once the documentary is finished, you can take these sounds into Soundhunter’s CREATE studio to mix them into some surprisingly catchy rhythms. It’s not complex to use at all, and that is the whole point, as it’s designed so that anyone can remix the car horns and singing voices out in the streets, contributing to a “social and international music experience.”

It goes further than this, too. Soundhunters (or the people behind it, at least) invites you to record sounds from your own environment by downloading its app on your smartphone. Anything you record can be taken straight into the CREATE studio just the same as before. Change the tempo, refresh the samples that are used, alter the mood by clicking a symbol that only abstractly suggests what it may represent: play around.

Hopefully, inspired by the documentaries you’ve watched, you’ll be selective in the sounds you pick out when out in the field, smartphone at the ready. You hear the noises you’d typically let go in one ear and out the other, and you pay attention to them, analyzing them for their significance instead of passing them by. Why is that sound heard there? What does it say about your environment? You’ll probably never hear the place you inhabit in the same way again. Go to these lengths and you can bring this to your reinvention of the world as heard by you in the music generator. 

You can watch and create with Soundhunters on its website. You can download the Soundhunters app on the App Store.