Silence: All Roads Lead to Music
Directed by Haider Rashid
(Italy/Iraq/United Arab Emirates 2011, 78 minutes)
SUN June 3, 5:00PM SIFF Cinema Uptown
MON June 4, 3:30PM SIFF Cinema Uptown
WED June 6, 6:00PM Kirkland
Review by Masa
Silence: All Roads Lead to Music is a music documentary following five skilled musicians: Tom Donald (piano), Giancarlo Parisi (Sicilian bagpipes, sax and flute), Tanino Lazaro (accordion), Luca Recupero (Jew’s harp, didgeridoo and tambourine) and Giacomo Farina (percussion). The quintet plays contemporary jazz with strong improvisational elements and inflections of traditional Sicilian, Arabic, and Aboriginal music. The result is a unique mix of ethnic and classical music, reminiscent of the sound that Jon Hassell and Brian Eno once called “Fourth World Music.” As director Haider Rashid meticulously captures how the musicians communicate both musically and personally, their story provides us with a closer view into the world of improvisational music.
The film starts when Farina decides to come out of retirement, eager to play music once again, and is faced with the task of forming a new band to play for an Arab film festival in a seaside Sicilian town. The film documents the band’s two-day rehearsal, revealing their collaborative process and interpersonal relationships. Farina’s skill with the tambourine gave me a new insight into the instrument as his dexterous hand motions were so mesmerizing that I thought something was wrong with my eyes.
“Every people that plays the Jew’s harp claims that it was invented by them,” jokes performer Luca Recupero. One of the oldest instruments in the world, the Jew’s harp consists of a flexible metal or bamboo reed attached to a frame. The player uses their mouth and breathing patterns to control the sound of the instrument, which sounds a lot like an old analog synthesizer with applied delay.
Tanino Lazaro’s father was a passionate accordion player, so his son was understandably reluctant to pick up the instrument. However, when his accordion teacher offered to take Tanino to the cinema as a reward for completing exercises, it wasn’t long before he found an enthusiasm for the instrument. His traditional folk-dance style of playing has landed him a gig with the legendary Sicilian folk band Taberna Mylaensis, and when he plays a slow duet with pianist Tom Donald, you can almost feel the air shift.
Prior to Farina’s invitation to the band, Tom Donald was feeling restricted by the boundaries of traditional classical and jazz music. Seeking new musical horizons, he joined without hesitation. Donald is a strong believer that when you play music, the music has to play itself and the result is better if the players don’t overthink the music and just let intuition take over.
Giancarlo Parisi’s bagpipe is made by local shepherds who claim the instrument was invented by the shepherds as a result of having so much free time and their incredible hearing that allowed them to recognize each goat by the sound of its individual bell as they traveled through the mountains. His bagpipes emit shamanistic melodies that combine to make a droning wall of sound with Recupero’s didgeridoo. As the night falls, his saxophone plays a sorrowful ballad and darkness closes in on the stage.
Music is the universal language but sometimes it can be elusive. I found something beautiful hidden in this film, and I hope you can find it too. It’s a pressure and thrilling to watch Silence perform. Style or genre doesn’t matter when the focus is all about music and project of pure sound like this one doesn’t come along often. Without interpersonal drama or any business concerns, this film highlights the five players who are lifetime scholars of their instruments who share a deep respect for each other and an insatiable desire to create beautiful music. If you have a love for music and some curiosity about the creative process of improvisation, you’ve got a nice treat here.