SOUND OF VIOLENCE follows Alexis who, as a child, recovered her hearing after witnessing the brutal murder of her family when she was ten. The visceral experience awakened synesthetic abilities in her and started her on an orphaned path of self-discovery through the healing tones of brutal violence. She goes on to pursue a career teaching and experimenting to find new sounds. She is supported and loved by her roommate Marie who is unaware of the dark secrets behind Alexis’ unique music and the part she unknowingly plays. Faced with the likelihood of losing her hearing again, Alexis escalates her pursuit of her masterpiece through gruesome sound experiments and devastating designs. She won’t let anything stop her, not even love.
For the VOD release of SOUND OF VIOLENCE, Nightmarish Conjurings spoke with writer/director Alex Noyer about the film, where we discussed his transition from the documentary genre to horror, how he came to develop those unique kill scenes, and how he incorporated synesthesia into the character of Alexis.
As a general warning, this interview contains SPOILERS. You’ve been warned.
To start things off, what inspired the ideas behind SOUND OF VIOLENCE?
Alex Noyer: The film goes all the way back to a documentary I produced called 808, which is a film about the 808 drum machine, that took five years of my life to get from inception to its release, and essentially got me quite drum machine obsessed. I produced it, but I didn’t direct it. After a while, because it had been about eight years that I’ve been working in documentaries, I needed something new and my wife turned around and told me that it was time I delve into my first love, which is horror movies.
So, I was exploring a few projects. I had a feature in development that was very different, but I had a lightbulb moment that stemmed back from my drum machine obsession that I should kill somebody with a drum machine. That’s where I came up with the idea of the short film, Conductor. Then things started to move quite quickly. We got the short film done, and it was just a short film at the time. There was no idea of expansion or any further plan. I just proved to myself that I can direct as much as it was just to explore that crazy idea I had. But the response was incredible.
We toured it at fantastic festivals and won a couple of awards. But then, there were a lot of questions about the character of Alexis, who was very elusive, and I was also getting pretty obsessed with the character I created. So, I decided it was time to explore it further. I wrote her backstory. I didn’t rule out that it would be a new short, but then I kept going and I created the journey. I stayed with her and I created a journey of experimentation, of musical experimentation through a gruesome twist on instruments.
It’s probably a good idea that you don’t go back to documentaries because who knows what other murders you might come up with.
Alex Noyer: [laughs] Maybe I should revisit my art documentaries and continue with artists.
For Alexis, how did you come upon using synesthesia for the character? I ask because I have an auditory processing disorder, and it was interesting for me to see some of the similarities, but also the added disability element. How did you come upon that and what was the decision process behind including that into her character backstory?
Alex Noyer: For us, it was very important to create a strong sense of motivation. And first, I think it’s worth mentioning that we created a character who, as a young child who had lost her hearing, and then regains it in traumatic circumstances. So, we did a lot of research and reached out to consultants to try to get this right so that we knew how to address the way young Alexis was going to cope with the loss of hearing and regaining it. And then, to really emphasize on the joy that this young mind has to experience regaining her hearing.
We also explored synesthesia as a sort of an extra manifestation of the sense. It’s a condition that a lot more people than we think have, and it manifests itself in very different ways for everybody. It could be just certain words, for example, some people hear numbers and they see colors. There’s a whole bunch of things. There’s a painter called Melissa McCracken, who paints the colors she sees with music as well. There are also various pop stars that have synesthesia. So, it was very interesting to see that to highlight the disassociation of the trauma and the joy of regaining her hearing, we needed to create a feeling of heaven. This is where the sense of synesthesia is allowed to wrap Alexis up in her own world when she has her very deep connection with what she hears. Furthermore, with that big high, based on sound, it also allowed us later on when she feels the threat of losing her hearing again, how much she would be losing.
So, it’s a purposeful, dramatic generalization of her journey of losing and regaining her hearing, and potentially losing it again. And synesthesia is just a wonderful way to personalize the experience that Alexis feels with those sounds, and really also wrap her into her own world when she commits those murders, when she doesn’t actually pay any attention to the victim ever. She doesn’t look at them. She’s not with them. She’s in her audio world, if you will. So, we wanted to create that, to kind of transport the audience into really as powerfully as we could into what Alexis experiences.
I really appreciated the approach that you guys took in SOUND OF VIOLENCE, especially when you incorporated the visual effect of what she was experiencing, but also the sound editing too. I thought her being in her own world, focusing on the sound, I thought that was really realistic.
Alex Noyer: Thank you so much. That means a lot because, you know, it’s a very important part of the story. And when we address such a thing in a horror movie, there are many ways to be very disrespectful, and to kind of make everything a sensational trope. We just didn’t want that to be like that. We wanted that to show how personal of a journey this was for Alexis. Something she experienced. We also obviously, as I said, consulted and we researched so that we could give it as authentic a rendition as we could give. And, for the moments where we pull the sound away from her, we pull it away from the audience, and we want them to feel it. Because again, it is so important for them to understand the deep attachment of, the two-hand grip that Alexis has on sound as perhaps the most valuable thing in her life since she lost it and regained it. So, I really appreciate what you’re saying because it is that element of focus, and we really tried to carefully craft that.
Speaking of the sound, how did you guys go about creating these specific sounds for the kills, because what she’s hearing is almost a little bit different at times than what the audience is hearing. How did you guys come up with that specific…I don’t know if tone is the right word.
Alex Noyer: Well, the whole soundscape of the movie has been one of the biggest ambitious experiments from the short onwards because shifting the paradigm of instruments into weapons and flesh sounds into music was something that…and I’m not a musician. At best, I was a DJ at some point, but that’s pretty much it. I always cared about music and I know music, but I don’t know how to make it. So, I surrounded myself with absolutely an amazing team willing to really push the experimentation to make sure that we could create another escape that’s not been done before, where the sound really is interwoven between the score to a sound that both the audience and the characters hear, and using musically Foley and using musically flesh sounds.
The lead composer Jaakko Manninen, who composed as well the music for the short film, as well as our senior music sound editor and mixer, Jussi Tegelman, who works regularly with Sam Raimi, were really the pillars of this experimentation because I’m very needy, but I really know what I want. These guys were so enthusiastic about the experiment and about trying something like that. We were fully aware that it could have really, really gone terribly wrong and not work. But I’m really, really pleased to say that it works because we pushed it. We really, really pushed it. We also brought on Alexander Burke, who’s an instrumentalist who really has a sense of many of the instruments that are used as weapons. And then Omar El Deeb, who is more of a score composer, allowed us to create that dimension so that Jaakko could focus on the track that Alexis makes. Alexander was focusing on the instruments, and then Omar was focusing on the score. So, it created this multi-layer experiment that hopefully really carries the experience.
Also, I’m a bit playful, and I know that the gruesome onscreen might force some people to close their eyes. So, I just made sure I would get them with the sound. [laughs] If you look away, I’ll get you with the sound. That’s an interesting challenge as a horror filmmaker to try to create, I’m not going to say an inescapable situation, but almost.
Well, I have to say, from my perspective, there are certain films I can’t watch because the sound hurts me too much. You can’t escape. Speaking of things one can’t escape, the kills featured in SOUND OF VIOLENCE are very creative. I giggled at the pitch-tuning scene in the recording booth.
Alex Noyer: We felt that at that moment in the movie, we needed to have a little comic relief to really then be able to engage into the rest of the film. And it’s also perhaps the moment, the pivotal moment for Alexis, where she stops feeling bad about it because we put her in front of somebody who is really almost antagonizing her. And David Gironda, Jr. really did a great job because the way he performed it and how annoying he is really was intentional. I’m hoping that the audience laughs a little.
I definitely laughed. I had to pause my screener because I couldn’t stop.
Alex Noyer: Well, there you go. I’m happy to hear that. You know, the film is very serious. Initially, we start with this very traumatic moment, and then there’s the whole discovery phase. And then we arrive at that scene, and this is where she takes the handbrake off. This is where she’s just experienced the classroom. She’s arriving in that situation. She’s in a state of frustration, and she feels misunderstood. And then she just goes for it. That scene kind of liberates her. When I made the decision to make the story of following an artist rather than a killer, I know that the artistic journey is a very, it’s a neurosis-filled journey. You have ups and downs. It’s a roller coaster of emotion, and there’s a moment where you kind of break the seal, and you kind of go for your vision wholeheartedly. And I believe that this is what happens in the studio.
Of all the different kill sequences in SOUND OF VIOLENCE, what was the most difficult? Whether from conceptualizing it to bringing it to life and, for lack of better terms, executing it, which one was the most difficult?
Alex Noyer: The Art Gallery. The art gallery was extremely complicated, and it’s funny because it looks like the simplest. but it was genuinely the most complicated. The opening scene was recreating some elements from the short, I didn’t want to expand on the short. I wanted to let the short be an inspiration for the future. But the first kill you kind of see is an homage to the short. But I would say that the art gallery was extremely tricky, and I must give massive credits first to my cinematographer, Daphne Qin Wu, who was just fantastic and really wanted every shot to be composed. The gallery looks very Giallo-esque. And, with the high contrast and kind of shooting up and Tara [Elizabeth Cho], the harpist, is fantastic. Also, big credits to Robert Bravo, who I nicknamed my blood wizard, because we had to come up with a compelling way to do that scene, and this is pretty much all practical effects.
I thought it looked mostly practical based on just how the strings were handled and everything.
Alex Noyer: We have a digital moment with the strings to show the stretching but the rest of the performance is Tara, who is a harpist. So, she genuinely played it.
I was thinking more of how the blood came out while she was playing. I was thinking that couldn’t have been visual, digital effects or anything, because that seems like practical blood.
Alex Noyer: Yeah, it was and it was so much fun to shoot. It was very tricky, and I’m extremely OCD when it comes to blood. This is why, you know, Robert Bravo understands me very well. He knows that I need it to be a certain color. I needed it to be no bubbles. There’s a way fresh blood glistens that has to be to work, and having somebody with the quality of Robert Bravo to not push back but rather step up to the challenge to deliver always the blood that I hope is amazing. That scene was tough to shoot as well for the crew. But my producing partner Hannu [Aukia] got a bit queasy while we were watching it, and I went behind the wall and I was almost possessed. I had my arms in the air and I was giving instruction over and there was a certain echo. So, it was a very interesting experience to direct this scene, and the technical challenge was also part of the reason why it was such an enjoyable thing to shoot.
To wrap things up, what was the casting process like for SOUND OF VIOLENCE? What were you looking for? How did everyone get brought on?
Alex Noyer: First of all, to the authenticity. I had written a character with traits that I wanted to deliver authentically. So, I wrote a lot of the parts with a certain element of open questions, so that I could find an actor or an actress that would meet me there, and then meet me the rest of the way. This is where our wonderful casting director Amey René suggested Jasmine Savoy Brown, who I knew from The Leftovers, and I was really amazed by her performance in The Leftovers because it’s a show I loved and I loved the idea. We met and her attention to the character, her care for all the character represented, but also her attention to the decision I made as far as the identity of the character that she also represents. She’s a big LGBTQ activist. So, that part of the representation needed to be authentic. She demanded that I let her play the character as I wrote her because she was happy that the character was not cliched in any way. So, it was that first meeting, I was extremely nervous but very excited. At the end of it, I felt I had met Alexis, and that for a director, especially for a first-time feature director, I might have been a producer for a long time for 17 years, but this was my feature debut. And I had butterflies in my stomach when I was meeting, Jasmine. And afterward, I was just galvanized. The idea that I had met Alexis, and that an actor the quality of jasmine was going to meet me the rest of the way to bring this character to life was fantastic, and I really believe that we were going to deliver the authentic experience there together. She a force to be reckoned with. I know that now we can look forward to seeing her in Scream, and she’s in a new show, Yellowjackets, and I probably would not be able to get her if I tried to do this today. But, I’m extremely lucky.
Similarly, I had been following Lili Simmons for some time. She has a great career. She’s been in many shows that I really love. Also, I love Bone Tomahawk, and she’s an actress who I really hoped to work with. So, when things aligned that she was available, and she loved the script, I was very excited. Furthermore, when Lily and Jasmine met, they immediately clicked and the chemistry was fantastic. I was very excited because that chemistry shows onscreen, and those two fantastic actresses also had a bond that just added that extra level to the relationship between Alexis and Marie. And they were a pleasure to work with because I’m not a native English speaker. So, all my lines, I was happy to work with them, to adapt them to make them sound better and more natural. And they really took the time, and they really wanted to make them authentic, and they wanted to embody those roles with gusto. I was really, I’m a very lucky boy.
Finally, James Jagger is a fantastic guy. We sat down for a coffee to meet, and he told me about how he felt about the script. You know, the first time you receive the script, you kind of skim read it. But he couldn’t. He was just going back to reread everything because he was like Wait, what just happened? He also admitted that he was actually mad at me for the ending, and I was really happy considering the dynamic. So, yeah, we really hit it off. Also, we support the same football team. The same soccer team. We’re both Arsenal fans. So that was an extra bonus. [laughs] But yeah, his role is quite peculiar, right? Because he’s brought in as if he is going to be an antagonist. But he’s a very nice guy, and he’s kind of not intending to bring any disruption, but he gets caught in it all. And James, I didn’t want him to change his accent. I didn’t want him to change. He has a very amicable persona that he has naturally, and I was very excited to get him because I felt that that Duke and James have a lot in common. So, they could be one and the same. That was very interesting. And again, thinking about the gallery scene, there’s a lot of lovely moments there.
SOUND OF VIOLENCE is available via cable and VOD from Gravitas Ventures. To learn more about the film, check out our review!
All images courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.
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