Waxing Sonosophical

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Filmmakers Torben Bernhard and Travis Low share a private moment in the snow. Photo credit: UVU Review archives

Filmmakers Torben Bernhard and Travis Low share a private moment in the snow. Photo credit: UVU Review archives

Alright, I hear the question in your mind: what the hell is sonosophy?  Not an easy one to answer. Loosely defined, it might mean “love of sound,” though that doesn’t go far enough. The concept probably has something to do with both sound and poetry, and maybe their expression within a physical space. What that “something” could be, exactly, is extremely hard to pin down though. And as tough to define is the man who coined the term “sonosophy”, Alex Caldiero — The Sonosopher.

Poly-artist, word shaker, and UVU’s poet-in-residence, Alex is a poet who is meant to be heard, not read, and a soundsmith whose presence is meant to be felt, not described. His art would seem to defy translation to any other medium, unless such a translation was taken on by the very brave, or the very stupid.

Enter filmmakers Torben Bernhard and Travis Low.

Torben and Travis have spent the better part of two years following Alex to Italy and New York, and to every performance he’s made in that time. They have sweat tears and cried blood to create an experiential representation of Alex on film, and on Sept. 25 they are inviting UVU students to a limited fundraising screening of their project.

Travis, Torben, and the Sonosopher himself sat down with us to wax philosoph–, erm, sonosophical about their film.

On feelings about the screening

Alex: I’m excited about it, looking forward to it, nervous about it, I get nervous about any performance.  Looking forward to it being shown in the room.  That’s what I do with performances, you know?  I see the film as a performance.  I’m looking forward to figuring out what people are figuring out.

Torben: Yeah, I feel the same way.  When you’re trying to communicate something, it’s always interesting to see if it’s successful.   I do not think anyone will be indifferent, though.  I don’t think the film allows for that.  I think people will have feelings one way or another. At the very least, I want people to be responsive to the film.  And it’s not that we haven’t tried to create a response, it’s just that once you’ve done that, you have to sit back and enjoy the responses people have.

Alex: I think the most negative response would be to dismiss it as weird.
Torben: Just adding to that, I think that’s what people already do to Alex’s performances.  I think there’s a lot of people who pass it off and dismiss it as weird.  And whenever someone says “Alex’s performance is weird” I always say “Yeah… and so what? Is it weird for the sake of being weird, or is there more to it?” They’re not exploring, they’re not interested in what might be there.

On capturing the levels of a poly-artist

Torben: Our first notion when we started making the film was, we’ll turn on the camera and the experience of being at a performance will be rendered. And we learned quickly that that’s just not the case.  There’s something essential lost just in the filmmaking process. I don’t know what it is, but when you turn the camera on, the performance is not the same as the original experience, it’s just not. You’re not looking around the room in the same way, you’re not experiencing things in your chest in the same way, and so we need to communicate it in a different way.  And so what we tried to do is to render the experience of being at a performance. What the film ends up being is a patchwork of experiences of being with Alex.

On collaboration and relationships

Alex: I think my work was collaborating more than I personally was, you know what I mean?

Travis: It’s complex because when we started we had a different idea about how we would be collaborating.  We have had, no joke, hundreds of hours of conversations about his work, his ideas, and interviews. We’re learning together, we’re trying to get inside of his head. So in that way we’re collaborating.

Torben: Is a relationship collaborative? Like, I think what we have more than collaboration is a relationship. Multiple relationships; Alex is like a teacher, a friend, an uncle, a subject at times.  There are multiple configurations that we operate under. And that relationship with Alex will have multiple masks.  We were in Italy, and Alex would be my teacher.  We were at an art museum and I would ask things like “Why is this piece significant?”  Other times, in Italy, I would miss my wife horribly, because I’d never been away from her that long, ever, and Alex would be a friend.  At other times he’d be a mentor, or like an uncle (laughs). So in that sense it’s been a collaborative process, but more, it’s been the development of a relationship, with all of its peaks and valleys.

On the meaning of the film

Travis: Alex has always told us something to guide us through the filmmaking process, and that is “Listen to everybody’s opinion, but never abandon your own.” And that’s the kind of relationship we’ve had.

Torben: The major focus of the film is in the title: Sonosophy.  We’re trying to communicate what sonosophy is. I’ve been thinking about the film, watching it recently, and I’m not sure if it should be called a documentary.  I think it’s art. I feel like it’s less wrapped up in the facts, and more about trying to communicate essences. I feel like when I’m watching the movie I’m experiencing something about Alex rather than just learning about Alex, and instead I’m learning from this experience. I think people should know off the bat that we did sacrifice a lot of facts to get at that essence. We did something.

The Sonosopher: Alex Caldiero in Life… in Sound will show on September 25 at 7:00 PM in the Ragan Theater. A limited number of tickets are still available at Campus Connection for $5.