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#HotDocs23 Review: Echo of Everything

April 29, 2023

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2023 Hot Docs Film Festival runs from April 27th to May 7th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Where does music come from and how is it able to connect us across cultures? Following a profound experience around a campfire that inspired him to start playing guitar in his forties as a way to heal from a midlife crisis, director Can Christiansen decided to ask these essential questions about the power of harmony and rhythm.

The result is Echo of Everything, an often experimental film that is more visual essay than traditional talking-heads documentary, as Christiansen tackles the subject of music from theoretical, philosophical, scientific, and sociological angles. Christiansen starts by exploring the idea of what Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca called “duende,” a powerful demon or spirit summoned by music. From here, the film explores how African cultures traditionally used music, before drumming was suppressed by British colonizers, with music being used as a form of both celebration and protest, including during the George Floyd protests in 2020.

Using Lorca’s writing about music as a sort of narrative through-line, the filmmaker consults a variety of musicians and musicologists who lend their insights to the film. The subjects include classical composer Dan Tepfer, whose Natural Machines project has him converting his music into 3D harmonic patterns, as well as physicist and jazz musician Stephon Alexander who authored The Jazz of Physics. This is all tied together through creative visual flourishes, including silent, black-and-white interludes done in a German expressionist style, featuring British musician Andy Curtis as a stand-in for Christiansen discovering music.

At a packed 75 minutes, the film’s reach does occasionally exceed its grasp, with Christiansen ultimately tracing the presence of rhythmic patterns all the way back to the Big Bang. The film has a tendency to flit from subject to subject, but there are some genuinely interesting ideas presented throughout, and the dancing and musical performances on display keep it energetic and entertaining. The film is at its best when embracing being a visual and sonic experience, with its colourful imagery and immersive sound design.

Screenings: Saturday, April 29th, 5:45 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2; Friday, May 5th, 2:15 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 6. Tickets can be purchased here, and the film will also be streaming online across Canada from May 5th to 9th.

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