The first time The Heart is a Drum Machine caught my eye was sometime in March when it popped up on my Netflix Instant queue. It looked interesting -- but I quickly moved on to something else -- probably something with explosions or monsters or some obscure foreign film that put me to sleep. Either way, it took a few months for it to pop back into my sight, and this time I latched onto it and spent some time with it -- which I'm happy to report was well worth my and time deserves yours as well.
The point of The Heart is a Drum Machine is to interlay the proven with the theoretical -- that is to say, the weird things musicians think with some scientific facts. We're treated to the ramblings of Maynard James Keenan, Wayne Coyne, Elijah Wood (for some reason), Kimya Dawson, George Clinton and many, many more, as they attempt to answer the seemingly simple question: what is music?
The documentary has a kind of tripped-out spacey vibe -- which is likely exacerbated by Flaming Lips member Steven Drozd's tripped-out spacey soundtrack. The sound bites are filled with the sort of shit you'd hear from members of Sun Ra -- music as a conduit for Truth -- but it's not all about the metaphysical. The Heart is a Drum Machine does an excellent job of hopping from subject to subject -- from pop-music mainstays to music-nobodies -- without, ahem, skipping a beat. The film actually kicks off talking to Ann Druyan in conversation about the Golden Record on NASA's Voyager (still, to this day, my favorite music related story of all time), which sets us up for the back and forth between the creative and the scientific.
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It all starts to come to a head when we meet Dr. Orli Peter, who's music therapy converts EEGs to musical sounds -- which, along with studies from others proves that all brains make unique music. We also learn about the effects of different BPM rates on depression, cognition and emotion. It's all rather interesting stuff, and it's nice to see the ways director Christopher Pomerenke is able to juxtapose the science and the art throughout.
What I found in the end was a light-hearted but earnest attempt to understand music-- The Heart is a Drum Machine walks a thin line between PBS and MTV, but the inclusion of so many artistic and scientific anecdotes makes it a nice reprieve from a ninety-degree summer day. It somehow manages to be entertaining and educational all in one sitting -- a feat not easily met by most light-hearted documentaries.