As the opening question of Dutch filmmaker Ramon Gvieling’s About Canto, which screened in competition for Best Documentary Film at IDFA last November, the query is one that spanned several films during those twelve days of documentary. In addition to the festival’s new program, IDFA PLAY, a competitive selection of music documentaries, a handful of docs in other sections lyrically considered the intuitive relationship between music and human emotions.

“Musicophilia” is a term used by neurologist Oliver Sacks to suggest the uplifting effects of music. It has also been used to describe an obsession with or spiritual connection to music. Most would believe that musicophilia applies to everyone in some way. Of course that is not entirely true, some consider music as merely background ambience while others are entirely unmoved and uninterested. Yet in the worlds of these film subjects, music has transcended its simplistic function to become something altogether godly.

About Canto dissects the notion of social music – compositions that make the world a little bigger by connecting individuals. From 1976 to 1979, Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt composed Canto Ostinato, a 3-hour 4-piano work that would become a sensational hit in the contemporary classical music world, with numerous recordings and performances still circulating the globe. Ramon Gieling’s film is a collection of interviews with various devotees of the work who, with intense emotionality, explain their personal connection to the composition.

A woman gave birth to her son while listening to Canto Ostinato; a man had a portion of the score tattooed on this upper arm; an architect claims that the scenery around him comes together when Canto plays. Dutch actress Halina Reijn recalls how the music affected her training, while scientist Johannes discovered similarities between Canto and the design of roundabouts: four pianos and four entrance and exits points, feeding into each other and filtering out. Canto Ostinato has no conductor, like a roundabout has no traffic lights. “This is how science should sound,” says Johannes.
Boiled down, About Canto is about one thing, which is that music is about one thing: emotion.

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