Mapping Tones

Amos Lassen

Writer-director Michael Tyburski’s “The Sound of Silence” is “a symphony of almost undetectable sounds that make up a moment of silence”. Peter Lucian (Peter Sarsgaard) is determined to catalogue all of these sounds. Through his job as a New York City “house tuner,” Peter “works meticulously to diagnose the discordant ambient noises-produced by everything from wind patterns to humming electrical appliances-adversely affecting his clients’ moods.” He takes a particularly difficult case of Ellen (Rashida Jones), a lonely woman dealing with chronic exhaustion and finds that the mysteries of the soul can be even greater than the mysteries of sound.

The idea  that happiness is dependent on the sounds around us drives Peter as a music theorist and self-proclaimed house tuner and he is obsessed with this. He is eccentric and determined and goes from house to house to see if noises in one’s homes clash. He then makes the slightest adjustments to appease one’s equilibrium. Peter’s philosophy is that one has a relationship with the home as if it was a partner and nearly all of one’s problems can be boiled down to this relationship being in a bad condition. He goes all over Manhattan and has been working towards his bigger project of mapping the shared tone of each neighborhood, which approves his accuracy at solving the problems of his clients.

Living a life of solitary obsession, Peter who lives a life of solitary obsession but he slightly opens up when he meets his new client Ellen who believes that her exhaustion might have to do with the soundscape of her apartment. As he awkwardly sits on her bed and asks her with a solemn sincerity if she’s a side sleeper, we see the kind of humor that we will have here. Peter is the kind of guy who senses a disturbance in his apartment and so he walks up flights of stairs to his roof to shut a door that was left ajar to fix the problem.

Director Tyburski looks at some potentially compelling threads. Peter  has invented a useful tool that corporations have utilized for mass consumption, but he’s never been interested in this capitalistic route. He sees himself as an explorer and leader in the field and not a salesman. When he is offered a chance to take his methods to the population by a corporation, he turns it down.  He sticks to his values.

It is not the narrative that pulls you in; rather it is the performances. Peter is quite successful in his profession. There is a  poignancy to the film and because Peter is a character who works with sound frequencies, the sound mixing is fantastic and it plays as its own character. When those frequencies go away, so do his emotions.

The biggest problem here is how the narrative is set. It’s a subtle romantic drama that is enjoyable to watch but the comedy often falls flat. The romance between Ellen and Peter is the best thing about the movie and also the worst because it is so vanilla. The relationship is presented as something where the balance comes from each other, but the way it takes place is silly and leaves questions. While the film is quiet, short, and has a lot to appreciate but some it falls flat. The film is defined by sound and the lack of it.

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