“How about I kill somebody with a drum machine?” thought Alex Noyer, director of Sound of Violence (Review) (Trailer) and the short film Conductor on which it was based. Noyer first hit our radar when his short dropped on YouTube and, naturally, we took an interest. When the opportunity to actually sit down and speak with him presented itself, our curiosity was piqued.
In stark contrast to the “absurd violence” of Noyer’s film, he’s quite cheerful, friendly, and chiefly British. The nearly hour-long, spoiler filled conversation will be available on the Not Suitable For Anyone podcast after Sound of Violence drops on May 21, 2021. But read on for an advanced peek at some of the more spoiler-free topics, including the short film,
Noyer came to Conductor fresh off a long, grueling documentary production about the Roland 808 drum machine. “I made the short … to deal with all the all the ghosts I still had in my head from producing the documentary 808,” Noyer explains. A film which, he notes, “took five years of my life.” He’s not complaining, mind you. “We traveled the world. We interviewed amazing people, and it was quite an uphill battle to make sure that it could release properly.”
Afterwards, though, he decided not to continue with documentaries and his wife encouraged him to consider making a horror movie. God bless Mrs. Noyer, because it led to an epiphany. “I said, ‘Oh, you know, now I know everything about a drum machine. How about I kill somebody with a drum machine?’ And that was just the basic impetus that that led me to writing Conductor up.”
Finding a way to bookend his documentarian career and transition into into the genre he loves, he created the mysterious character of Alexis in the process. As he toured with the short, he found that most of the feedback was centered around her. “Who is she? Why and how come?” And that’s what led to the expanding universe of Sound of Violence and the exploration of an intriguing new female protagonist.
By the way, when a filmmaker named Alex creates a super-intelligent, murderous character named “Alexis,” I had to ask how much of the movie is ultimately autobiographical. He quickly shuts that down, “No relation. She has parts of me for sure, but she’s not me.” It’s just a name that stuck with him since the short. “I’m not that megalomaniacal,” he adds. “When I make music, it just sounds bad. It doesn’t kill people, though.”
In any event, the feedback from the festival circuit is what Noyer says invited him to explore the backstory of Alexis, which became the opening of the feature. It’s a compliment to Noyer’s short that fans wanted to know more about this enigmatic character. “I wanted her to be a bit of a mystery and also really live up to the to the name ‘conductor,'” he notes. “The fact that she never touches anything, but somehow you know that her involvement is kind of overwhelming.”
That, ultimately, is how he settled on the name Conductor. “That and the fact that drum machines are generally based on semiconductor technology,” he explains. “It was a funny way to do a play on words that probably very few people got.”
Transitioning to his horror influences, he addresses the 800-lb Rube Goldberg gorilla right off the bat. “Obviously, I get a lot of the the Saw comparison, and initially I was actually quite a bit irked by it.” Noting that the motivations—a musical artistic endeavor vs. punishment—trump the “contraption” aspect of the film in his mind.
Over time, though, he’s softened on this stance. “I take it very much as flattery because I do enjoy this whole franchise. I’m very much looking forward to Spiral, and I just do love the creativity of it.” There’s also the “idea of the the who’s behind the curtain.” Ultimately, however, he sees a paradigm shift between John Kramer, “an old guy on his deathbed building industrial-sized contraptions” and Alexis, “a young woman who’s rigging musical instruments.”
On the contrary, he jokes that the inspiration was more of a mashup: “Phantom of the Opera meets American Psycho.” What’s more, he notes “the idea of having music as a driving force for horror was really a testament to my love for Cronenberg, and my love also for movies like Phantom of the Paradise.”
As the son of an artist, he’s interacted with artists his whole life, seeing the “roller coaster journey” of it all. “And then I wanted to transfer that into horror with all the love for movies like Misery, Evil Dead, or even Chopping Mall.” Not satisfied with paying homage to any one film, Sound of Violence is chock full of easter eggs. “There’s a whole bunch there.”
Another significant aspect of Noyer’s work is the visceral violence and its interplay with music. The use of “musical instruments as weapons and and flesh as music” is something unique, indeed. “I’m very proud to say [it] has never been done before,” Noyer notes. The result is a “multi sensorial experience that the audience cannot run away from.”
Elaborating, he explains “If I’m going to shock you on screen visually and you close your eyes, the sound will get you. And that intensity was something that we really worked hard to create with the amazing composers.” Jaakko Manninen worked on both the short and the feature. “He’s a regular collaborator of Sam Raimi’s and he knows horror as much as he knows music,” Noyer boasts. Alexander Burke and Omar El-Deeb were also brought on for the feature.
“I just want the music to be a weapon,” he told them. “I want to create music out of flesh. I want to harmonize.” Noyer explains how the drum machine is “inherently violent” due to the beats of varying intensity and delivery. “And I wanted to create something that might match up the delivery of a drum machine, but in a horror context.”
In fact, Noyer’s original vision was even gorier than the blood-soaked final product. In refining the script, he admits, “I removed 24 pages of gore, and I rebuilt the human relationship to be this sort of weird triangle” between Alexis, her music, and her friends. The changes, in Noyer’s view, give the movie “a sort of human journey as well that kind of allows you to take a breath between between the artistry.”
Nevertheless, the central thesis of the film is the inherent violence of music itself. But Noyer also touches on themes of trauma and disability, among others. “We created an environment that was part of her motivation, but we also made sure we researched it to not do it in a sort of exploit that took away more. We wanted to just say there are moments in this young woman’s life that … should make you understand her.”
Regarding Alexis’s violent past, he explains, “We also stopped, to a point, addressing the trauma because this was not supposed to be that journey.” Explaining that the moments of trauma are very clear and obvious, he continues, “Their effects are very, very felt on her. … But then we also didn’t want to go so deep into it that we are gonna make it so much about that that we’re we’re gonna probably do a disservice. … So this is where the main focus had to remain on her artistic motivation and the creative impetus that …. drives her forward.” In doing so, Noyer created a three dimensional character that isn’t defined by her disability or her past.
Pivoting to the reaction from fans, Noyer expressed surprise at the overwhelming positive reaction. “If you make an experimental horror movie with a lot of gore and a bit of a crazy setup, you know, of course, some people are just not going to like it. And that’s okay. We’re in the business of generating reactions.” He’d rather have people getting mad at the movie, as opposed to being completely uninterested in it. “Forgettable, that would be, I think, one thing that would hurt me the most is if if the consensus was that they watched it and then didn’t think about it anymore.” Personally, imagery from Sound of Violence will haunt my nightmares for years to come.
Lastly, I was unable to resist the chance to ask Noyer about his documentary, 808. “It’s a love letter to the most influential drum machine of all time, … and we are in the works to actually relaunch the movie.” While we will have to keep waiting for official news on the relaunch, it did break new ground by being Apple’s first original documentary.
Audiences will be able to experience Sound of Violence beginning Friday, May 21, 2021 on digital and VOD.