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DOK LEIPZIG 2021

Review: A Sound of My Own

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- Rebecca Zehr’s documentary has a very distinctive style that strongly resonates with the music of protagonist Marja Burchard

Review: A Sound of My Own

Freedom is not necessarily obtained by diverging from your parents’ ways, we learn from Rebecca Zehr’s A Sound of My Own. Following in their footsteps can be a great gift, depending on where exactly those footsteps actually led them, of course. Marja Burchard’s father trod an interesting path, in any case, hence her desire to navigate the music business in his shadow. Indeed, her dad was Christian Burchard, founder of the legendary Krautrock band Embryo back in the 1960s. A Sound of My Own documents her coming of age as the new leader of the group. The film celebrated its world premiere at the 64th DOK Leipzig (25-31 October), where it also won the Golden Dove in the German Competition (see the news).

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Zehr’s documentary has a very distinctive style that strongly resonates with the experimental work of Marja Burchard. We follow her in intimate scenes where she deals with her father’s legacy. She sorts out piles of old archives and tries to cope with the professional side of being a musician. In doing so, her constant consideration of whether she wants to follow – or diverge from – his path becomes almost tangible. These scenes are interwoven with a carefully crafted mix of archives of the band, trippy animation, and a very loose, minimalistic and experimental score. The emotional development is strongly felt in the music, as it toys with our perception. The images are also devoid of colour, leaving our senses more open to the musical side of the story, all for the sake of bringing us closer to the mind of the protagonist.

The experimental character of the film’s extra-diegetic sound is complemented by Burchard’s experimental approach to music. In several scenes, we see her play with all types of instruments, as if she’s trying to find out what it is she likes herself. In one scene, she’s standing next to train tracks with her trombone, making the sounds of a passing racing car when a train passes by. In another scene, she plays for cows in a pasture, who are listening with great interest. In the intro and throughout the film, we see models of an ear canal and a finger pointing out how sound enters through it to be heard. It is as if she is conducting a study on how certain musical sounds behave once produced. In a split screen, we see a woman standing in the wind with plastic wrapping flapping wildly around her. The sound we hear is the high-pitched static you’d expect. It could be compared to paper being crinkled. The shot that follows reveals that it’s just that, produced by a hand scrunching up paper in front of a microphone. The mind is gullible when it comes to tricks like these. Is Burchard also tricking herself, perhaps?

At a certain point, Marja prepares for a show in which she will play the vibraphone, like her father often did. We see the crowd, out of focus, accompanied by an eerie soundscape of slow drums and crackling noises. We see archive footage of her father playing furiously, but without hearing it. This lack of synchronicity makes us feel displaced when we re-enter the “now”, where Marja is getting ready. The vague noise of an incoming wave starts to swell, and crashes down into the diegetic sound of her concert in full swing. It is as if we were being transported from a part of her that was still in doubt, thinking of her dad, into a place filled with power and confidence. With a sense of relief, we can now listen to her wonderful performance.

A Sound of My Own is a German production staged by Rebecca Zehr, Katharina Rabl and the University of Television and Film Munich (HFF).

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