The Heart is a Drum Machine

Christo, Wayne and Ryan.  Wayne Coyne is now in The Heart Is A Drum Machine!

Wayne Coyne on the set of The Heart is a Drum Machine

Christopher Pomerenke’s documentary The Heart is a Drum Machine – featuring Wayne Coyne and Flaming Lips cohorts’ (Modest Mouse’s) Isaac Brock, Elijah Wood, (MGMT’s) Andrew VanWyngarden, (The Postal Service’s) Jimmy Tamborello, Janet Weiss (of Quasi, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks and formerly of Sleater-Kinney), John Frusciante, Juliette Lewis, (KCRW’s) Nic Harcourt, (Tool’s) Maynard James Keenan, among many others, including several scientists – was released on DVD March 9, 2010 and became available On Demand April 1, 2010.  Additionally, it screened in Portland January 30, 2010 and in Hollywood on March 10, 2010 (it was also in L.A. – and Seattle – in April 2009).

The Heart is a Drum Machine


This thought-provoking, often fun (occasionally funny), scientific, musical and insightful film pokes questions and explores the nature of music and its relationship to human nature, most basically (according to its promo tag):

“What is music? Many of today’s top artists and scholars grapple with the question in this cinematic look at a uniquely human obsession.”

Wired called it “a head trip about the heart, and openly appeals to both without pretension. [Natural scientist] Carl Sagan would be proud.”  

These psych explorations of our musical hearts were scored (in the vein of Christmas on Mars) by Steven Drozd (more on that here), which includes a cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” by with Maynard James Keenan (more on that here). “What is music?  The question – though examined by countless musicians, scientists, and philosophers over the centuries – continues to befuddle humans with its indeterminate and often esoteric properties.  More perplexing still is the mystery of why we are so obsessively drawn to music.  It’s easy to side with Leonard Bernstein, who once famously alleged that, “Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”  For those still tirelessly searching for something more tangible than Lenny’s conjecture however, there’s The Heart Is a Drum Machine – an indie documentary by filmmakers Ryan Page and Christopher Pomerenke.  Featuring commentary from an impossibly hip personnel roster that includes the likes of Maynard James Keenan, Wayne Coyne, John Frusciante, and MGMT, the movie merges pop/rock cool with Nova-esque science education, meaning that the accompanying soundtrack had best be scored by someone with hipster cred who can also cut some astral tunes suited for the local planetarium.”

order from Netflix


Back in 2009, after it’s February 6

première at the Phoenix Art Museum, noted:

  • “Carl Sagan’s wife Ann Druyan talking about the Voyager Golden Record really was the highlight of the film, as hinted at in Serene’s story.”
  • “Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips did an amazing job scoring the film. Minimalistic but perfect.”
  •  “I could have used less interviews with actors. Obviously it’s a movie, so it makes sense to have actors in it, but I could do without Frodo plugging his record label.”

Steven’s take on The Heart is a Drum Machine via

  • “I was glad that nobody asked me for any input because I don’t know how I’d respond. However, physiologically speaking, I believe in the vibrations of music.”
  • “I recorded the entire song with Maynard James Keenan virtually via iChat & e-mail. I recently heard that Elton John & his camp loved it which is so great.” 
  • “My dad was a musician from the age of sixteen. I remember watching him play polka clubs as a kid. I remember listening to KISS with my brother. I’d say that my musical focus began around at the age of seven.”

Steven elaborated on these thoughts to circa the release of his score for the film in early 2011: “They talked about having me do a scene in the movie and we never got to but it’s like I don’t know where to start. No one really answers the question, I mean who could answer the question, you know. But I do feel like there is some deep…there must be some evolutionary primordial connection between vibration and rhythm and human beings. There’s got to be.

Everything has rhythms to it, the rotation of the earth, the days, the hours of the day, everything. Life and death all have rhythm and stuff, so I think it’s just something that has evolved over millions of years. I guess the complicated thing is how it affects people differently, like a melody could mean nothing to one person and make another person cry. I don’t know, to say what is music, you can’t really answer it in a quick sentence, I wish I knew a good answer.

There’s some connection with hearing and like I said, vibrations, and how our bodies react to it. I wish I knew what it all meant. I’m not a spiritual person but I feel like there is some deep, deep connection between rhythm and vibrations and human beings. Not just human beings but all animals, all living things and then we’ve just evolved and progressed over the last several million years and music itself in the last one thousand years.

Where it came from and where it is now. So it’s a pretty incredible thing really. I thought it was a pretty gargantuan task for them to try to pin it down in an eighty-minute, ninety-minute documentary.

I think I’m probably more sensitive to it than most people. I think for most people, you go into a Walgreens or something there is music playing they just block it out or tune it out. It can actually put me in a better mood or put me in a worse mood depending on what’s going on so I’m probably a little more sensitive than most people.

As I’m sure most music people or musicians are. And again, like I said, melody can make me cry, all those hokey things. I’ve been playing music all my life so I’m kinda trained to hear it and listen to it.”


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