An Impressive Group of Artists Attempt to Explain our Essential Bond With the Beat

[9 May 2010]

By Dan Heaton

So often we hear friends say, “I love music. I like all kinds of music.” Yet what does it mean to love music? Listeners with all levels of actual interest make this type of statement, but there’s no “one size fits all” approach to enjoying music. Some approach songs as background for life, but little else. They claim to enjoy a wide range of music and cite artists like Johnny Cash, Kanye West, and Coldplay as examples. Liking popular (and often talented) acts doesn’t necessarily equate to loving music, though. I expect that most people would list music as a top interest. Its influence is constant, especially for those who take the time to slow down and appreciate the sounds.

The Heart is a Drum Machine tackles the mysterious effects that music has on the souls of enthusiasts who can’t live without it. These participants are constantly seeking out new forms of expression and don’t settle for enjoying a few successful artists. They look inwardly to try and understand its pervading influence on daily life. Connecting the beat of our hearts to the sound vibrations, Director Christopher Pomerenke attempts a nearly impossible goal. Even the most eloquent speakers struggle to truly describe their unending passion for music.

An intriguing early segment covers the Voyager Golden Record project, which pulled together a collection of sounds from around the world for a journey into space. This record included classical, jazz, and even rock ‘n’ roll with Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”. Launched in 1977, the Voyager spacecraft actually escaped our solar system in 2008. If any extraterrestrial life forms exist, these sounds will help to provide a story of our world to other beings. I doubt there’s a better way to give an overview of the best aspects of humanity.

Incorporating conversations with many participants, Pomerenke (Blood into Wine) avoids preparing a tight structure of topics. Instead, the film resembles a special art museum exhibit that would play with sound and lighting effects. The Flaming Lips’ Stephen Drozd’s ethereal score adds to the immersive atmosphere. The experience can be captivating at times, but there are limits to its overall impact. It’s an interesting discussion for music lovers, yet doesn’t provide much true insight about our enthusiasm. The 74-minute film can be engaging and only takes a few missteps into tedium. However, it doesn’t leave us with enough valuable material.

The large group of participants includes musicians, actors, and other experts, and the results are mixed. The least effective interlude involves Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareham from the Cartoon Network’s Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! series. At first, their silly approach brings much-needed humor to the serious piece, but it quickly becomes dull and drags for a long time. We also don’t need rambling, incoherent statements from Juliette Lewis, the Dandy Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Victoria Jackson, among others. They bring little to the discussion and come off as over-the-top simpletons.

Thankfully, there are some intriguing and energetic statements from a wide range of speakers. The best segment depicts two hearing-impaired musicians who perform based on vibrations. Bob Hilterman, drummer for the band Beethoven’s Nightmare, stands in front of the amps and feels the music to amazing effect. I would have loved to see more examples of this type of connection and fewer talking heads. Enthusiasts like Elijah Wood plus such talented artists as Wayne Coyne and John Frusciante also bring positive energy to the mix.

This disc only contains one extra, a 45-minute unedited interview with Frusciante. The former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist rambles at times, but he also provides excellent insight into his feelings about music. It’s intriguing to hear Frusciante deftly avoid speaking badly about his experiences in the popular band, but the message is fairly clear. He’s also critical of the focus on the artist over the art, a message that definitely rings true.

The Heart is a Drum Machine trots out an impressive group of artists who attempt to explain our essential bond with the beat. While comments on music’s connection with sex are tired (go away, Mickey Avalon), others at least try to go beyond obvious material. Even the quirky science interludes provide some originality. This collage of thoughts offers some great tidbits within an uneven whole. The heart and emotion are there, but the effect is diminished within a messy structure.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/124947-the-heart-is-a-drum-machine/