‘32 Sounds’ redefines what it means to listen

The “32 Sounds” documentary is an immersive auditory experience that will be held at the Ferst Center on Feb. 10. // Photo courtesy of Maria Baranova

On Feb. 10, Tech’s Ferst Center for the Arts will host “32 Sounds,” an immersive documentary exploring the relationship humans have with sound and how different sounds can affect one’s perception of the world in which we live. Described as “a meditation on the mysteries of being alive and the magic of human connection,” the film emphasizes the importance of both hearing and listening and the distinction between the two. 

It is a binaural endeavor utilizing high-quality headphones, which will be provided to attendees upon their entrance to the theater, to fully plunge audience members into a sensory experience unlike any they have ever encountered.

The brainchild of filmmaker Sam Green and DJ/composer JD Samson, two masters of the avant-garde, the experience comprises 32 audio vignettes — ranging from the wild sounds of animals and nature to the industrial sounds of manufactured society and even to the seemingly expansive sounds of silence. It includes live narration by Green and a soundtrack-like performance by Samson. 

Combined with the mesmerizing effect of the headphones, audience members will feel as if they are on their own journey through their inner world while simultaneously being surrounded by hundreds of their peers sharing those same feelings of solitude. 

Green has many goals for what he wants audiences to take away from the documentary, including the ability to hear the world in a different way.

“There’s so much noise in the world. We have to shut most of it out, but if you could open your ears a little, the world is such a wonderful place; so much sound is pleasurable. And also, just listening to the world can bring you back to the present. We’re on devices all the time, or listening to headphones, or talking on the phone — being elsewhere — and if you just sit and open your ears, it reminds you that you’re here right now, experiencing the world,” Green said. 

Using advanced technology to perform a task as simple as listening to the sounds of everyday life is a creatively inventive way to merge humanity and technology. Green holds a new lens to a simple task that many take for granted in a manner that fits right in with Tech’s strive for innovation. 

“I’m particularly excited to screen the film [at Tech] because there is a certain amount of tech and science focus to it … I would imagine for students who are focused on tech and engineering stuff, that this is a way into sound that is especially relevant and meaningful,” Green said.

“32 Sounds” prompts listeners, many of whom do not even consciously process most daily auditory input, to entirely focus on and be mindful of how the sounds they hear are connected to memories, emotions and sensations.

In a 17-minute documentary preview, the Technique got a sneak peek at what is in store for viewers the day of the showing. Green’s voice narrates the film’s premise and how the experience will look and feel to those participating. 

He also showed a brief clip of composer Pauline Oliveros, the creator of “deep listening,” a method of intentionally focusing on the sounds one hears to establish a stronger connection between the listener and their “acoustic environment,” akin to a form of meditation. Her importance within the documentary was alluded to, but nothing further was revealed during the preview. 

Throughout the sample, Green walked the listener through varied sounds. Accompanying his voice were the instrumentals of JD Samson. Green shook a matchbox as he traveled from one headphone to the other, lighting a match next to the right ear before striking another. He would explain the sound’s significance between each audio clip. Samson’s soundtrack continues to play in the background without interfering with the experience of each sound. The preview included a wide array of sounds, from the mating call of the very last individual of a now-extinct species of bird to the piercing beeps of a fax machine to the foghorns of San Francisco to the creations of a deaf sound artist and the quietest place on Earth. Though it may seem like a random assortment of unrelated noises, at first, Green reassures audiences that “it’s not just a random assortment of sounds … there’s a way in which all the sounds are woven together that might seem arbitrary, but it’s very considered.”

Though the preview was only a tiny portion of what Green and Samson will be showing next week at Ferst Theater, “32 Sounds” promises to be a beautifully crafted journey through the human experience as the sounds of the world dance around us every day. People should prepare to get lost in the binaural clarity of different environments, cultures, social climates and perspectives from the auditory point of view. 

The significance of quality technology in creating the best possible experience displays the ability to infuse artistry into the digital, a creative blend that will be right at home at Tech. It is an event people will not want to miss out on.

Tickets to “32 Sounds,” showing on Feb. 10, are on sale now at arts.gatech.edu and are $5 for students and $15 for the public.