Sounds and Silence

There are a lot of reasons to love Gotham—most of them having to do with humans `cause let’s face it there just aren’t many mountain vistas here—but the one that tickles my fancy the most is what Billy Joel (sorry) famously called, the “New York State of Mind.” Jay—Z would have it “Empire State of Mind,” but you get the idea. After a premiere showing of Sounds and Silence, Travels with Manfred Eicher, the new film about the ECM founder, owner and inspiration, there was a brief Q&A period chaired by WNYC's Julie Burstein (left in JA's iPhone photo). The first hand up was in the back of the IFC Center in the West Village.

“This is a question out of right field. That’s a baseball metaphor. And this is a baseball town.”

Say what? Clad in a sleeveless T–shirt and bicycle shorts, this obviously motivated person went on to say his favorite record was the soundtrack to the film, The Last Waltz (a wonderful record but one that has absolutely nothing to do with ECM), and then finally to pose a question to Eicher.

“What’s the common element in all music?” Eicher rolled his eyes and looked down at the stage. After talking about energy and ideas, he stopped just in time to allow his questioner to get to the point of his entire performance.

“I think it’s a heartbeat. All music has a heartbeat.”

Turns out it wasn’t about the film, or Eicher, or even getting an answer to his question. His ego had something to say and dammit! he was going to get it in at the very beginning, before anyone else could steal this thunder, no matter what Eicher had to say or how far out in left field (that’s a baseball metaphor) it was. Smiles, head–shaking and a few chuckles rippled across the room. Welcome Manfred, to New York City.

As for the film, which was made over a five year period by a pair of Swiss filmmakers, Peter Guyer and Norbert Wieder, it is a very effective travelogue documenting Eicher’s travels across the globe to find and record the rarified music that has made ECM such a singular label. Artists like Anouar Brahem, Dino Saluzzi, Marilyn Mazur and the hilarious pairing of saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist Gianluigi Trovesi and accordion player Gianni Coscia all play major roles in the film. Scenes of recording live musicians are interspersed with ambient bits where Eicher is on the road. Many of the road segments mimic the justly famous, austere ECM style of album cover artwork.

Along the way Eicher, not surprisingly considering the amount of vision and intelligence he possesses, says a number of very interesting things speaking at one point of the “luminosity of sound,” being like “the tail of a comet.” At another he says he’s interested in music and culture from the “border between the occident and the orient.” The best scene for me was when the great Estonian composer Arvo Part, who stars in scenes that open and close the film, grabs Eicher and breaks into a spontaneous waltz with him during a recording session where a passage of music has a distinct dancing rhythm. Many gorgeous halls and environments where Eicher records, like the Frankfurt Oper are also a part of the film. Sounds and Silence is multi–lingual and is the label’s first video to be released in Blu-Ray title. T