As co-host of the American public radio show Radiolab, Jad Nicholas Abumrad is usually in the business of giving you sounds on their own. You provide the mental images. But in a stimulating new film from director Mac Premo, thoughts become images as well as sounds.

It’s a fitting conversation. Abumrad (a Lebanese-American, as I am) comes from a background in music composition. Premo, apart from being a filmmaker and commercial director, is an artist. Both live in New York. So what we get is a counterpoint of two imaginations running at once: sonic and visual, musical and optical.

And the question is one we can ponder: what is music, anyway? Why do we make it? What’s its significance to us?

In answering that question, Abumrad plunges more deeply into the question of who we are as humans.


The Function of Music with Jad Abumrad from mac premo on Vimeo.

I love, meanwhile, the sculptural creations that are woven into the film. It makes me long for some new constructions at the next concert. Inspiring stuff.

  • Dubby Labby


  • bcomnes

    Great idea, ruined by jumpy presentation, take your ADHD meds before you watch this , seriously

    • Robert Chambers

      I rather enjoyed the visual aspect. It was thematically consistent as it was cut to the audio.

    • Robert Chambers

      I rather enjoyed the visual aspect. It was thematically consistent as it was cut to the audio.

    • Polite Society

      I’m having trouble watching it as well, though i quite liked the presentation.

  • Adrian Powhart

    Nice… it was nice 🙂

  • Polite Society

    This video brings me back to that question of the nature of emotion we get from different sounds and music. Like for example, the sax at the end of the video makes me feel sad, reminds me of city streets at night, and a lone detective smoking a cigarette, but how much of that is conditioning, we’ve been fed certain sounds for certain situations our entire life, and so we associate sound with emotion and location so intently. I would kind of love to be able to pluck someone from 100 years ago, and play them a bunch of musical scores from movies and ask them how each piece made them feel (after they calmed down about the whole temporal abduction situation).

    I’ve heard that at some point military or intelligence agencies used to put important information that was too sensitive to be written down into lyrics for music to be listened to by agents solidly for a time before destroying it, theoretically they should be able to recall that information when the music was played again in the future. I don’t know if that’s true, or what point i was going to make, but that’s a thing.

    So the function of music? I wouldn’t say it has no function. For creators, it’s a way of self expression, of communicating of a higher level than words alone could ever do. It’s a form of catharsis, it’s a cry for help, or a way of living. For listeners, it’s calming, it’s energising, it’s a form of nostalgia, comforting, arousing, it’s an exploration, a journey, sharing music with other people forms connections. There are so many things that music does, how could you say it has no function?