Review: Sam Green’s ’32 Sounds’

32 Sounds Review - 2023 Sam Green Documentary Film

Vague Visages’ 32 Sounds review contains minor spoilers. Sam Green’s 2022 documentary features himself, Annea Lockwood and JD Samson. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.


Sound is a powerful tool in popular culture. Each and every day, it breathes life into this very site via soundtrack guides for movies and television shows. Music makes life better; it juices up the endorphins. The absence of sound, however, can feel equally exhilarating and/or bittersweet when thinking about noises that will forever float around in our universe or a galaxy far, far away. (May the fourth be with you). 32 Sounds, a 2022 documentary from filmmaker Sam Green, explores how various noises affect different parts of the brain.

32 Sounds succeeds with its show-and-tell approach and unorthodox pacing. Green kicks off the doc by explaining the science of it all, and then swiftly incorporates foley artist Joanna Fang for a moviemaking demonstration. These two specific filmmaking decisions establish a light and playful tone. There’s even a five-minute dance party at one point. In the second half, as composer Annea Lockwood thinks about her deceased partner, Green accentuates the absence of sound and Mother Nature as a healing force. 32 Sounds builds to a hypnotic decrescendo; it’s a spatial audio experience about sound as “social currency” (as deaf musician Christine Sun Kim describes it). The overall vibe reminds me of my first dance with Le choc du futur (2019), a film about falling in love with a musical process.

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32 Sounds Review - 2023 Sam Green Documentary Film

Green’s graphic game could confuse some 32 Sounds viewers. For example, an interstitial accompanies a sound #1 sequence yet the film lacks consistency with its subsequent IDs. But that allows for more rhythm and a better flow. 32 Sounds also benefits from the inclusion of composer JD Samson, who participates in some of the more aesthetically creative segments. 32 Sounds reminds of Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” approach, as Green shifts between big noises and complete silence. And it’s rather jarring to hear the aforementioned Kim recall how she grew up thinking that sound would never be part of life, when in fact it’s now the foundation for her career. 32 Sounds’ editing, courtesy of Green and Nels Bangerter, is also quite impressive, most notably in sequences featuring Lockwood.

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32 Sounds Review - 2023 Sam Green Documentary Film

Green truly hears the collective subjects of 32 Sounds. Viewers unfamiliar with the director’s filmography will immediately notice his open-minded perspective, one that sits quietly in the back of the frame. At the front, there’s plenty of insight to process, along with moving personal anecdotes from the director himself. If sound is a social currency, then Green’s doc could inspire a valuable franchise, à la the “Up” series from across the pond. We’re going to need more cowbell.

32 Sounds released theatrically in April 2023 at Film Forum in New York City. 

Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.

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