Articulating ideas about the sound of ritual, or the way ritual informs soundmaking is the predominant part of our story in this issue of Sound American. It feels hollow, however, to separate the ontology of the thing into epistemology. So many words, sincere as they are, are not able to begin to get at the heart of ritual. They dance around it, and through that we gain a certain kind of understanding, but as anyone who has been conscious enough to understand when they are inside a ritual knows, this articulated knowledge is just a surface understanding of something deeper and indefinably human.

It would be naïve to assume that a very basic website could begin to approach something deeper than this kind of peripheral learning, but I set out to find a way of showing - rather than telling – what the sound of ritual can mean. In that search, I stumbled upon the films of Vincent Moon, an independent French filmmaker who, along with filming rock, electronic, and experimental music, has the unique ability to capture the spirit and experience of ritual events around the world for his Petite Planètes collection.

 Filmmaker Vincent Moon's Ted Talk on Music Rituals

I spoke with Moon (real name Mathieu Sara) while he was in Brazil, working on a new film project called Híbridos, the Spirits of Brazil with his wife, Priscilla Telmon, due for release in the spring of 2016. About the project he said:


It’s a deep look inside rituals and trances, all around the country, as Brazil offers a fabulous playgrounds in terms of cults and the re-invention of spirituality - a lot of it has to do with the new uses of the plant Ayahuasca in urban settings, but it also involves research based on new forms of mixes between Afro-brazilian syncretic cults, indigenous traditions and European scientific minds, including Kardecism: a form of codification of spiritism originating from France in the 19th century. All this research is also of course a quest for new forms of music, emerging from the visions and the relationships to spirit entities.


The result of the project will be an 'expanded' cinema experience, from a 2 hours long experimental documentary to a collection of more than 70 films on rituals, to sound pieces to museum installations to vinyl releases and books etc.*

My early acquaintance with Moon’s work was through his films that followed experimental rock and electronic music, and so I wondered when and how the fascination with ritual surfaced.


I just found the need to travel and discover something else based on pure curiosity. I ended up listening less and less to rock music, but listening more and more [to] music which was a means to a very ancient way of being together. That’s something I really didn’t expect at all. I didn’t enter with any [preconceived] ideas. And I ended up realizing that music was a way of originating some sacred relationship with people and nature, and when I bumped into this, I was so moved by the relationship that people were having with music in the moment, which was not a relationship with musicians at all, but purely social and human. [I was in a] state that where I was not existing anymore in a sense… that I was not a viewer but a participant.

And in that, that respect, my mode of conception of what was music is about completely switched. Little by little, I dedicated all my time and energy into really diving into rituals and try to keep making this [work]

Moon's work has the rare ability to involve the viewer in the ritual in a way that doesn't feel invasive, studied, or manipulative; a difficult task for such an intimate proposal. I asked him what how he thought he had developed the respect necessary to be allowed to take part in events that are special and often sacred to their cultures.

Being allowed in such rituals is an experimental practice that I have been pursuing as much with my own body as in an experimental cinematic adventure. I am not an anthropologist, and i have no desire to actually explain anything about such rituals. My knowledge of some of those cultures is often quite limited, and this limit is actually what allows me to approach them. As i can not communicate with the word, i use the body, with the pretext (always a pretext) of the camera.

The might of such ceremonies resides in a big part in the untold, in the ‘impossible word’. My work in a sense has more to do with an experimental ethnography (the subtitle i gave to the entire Collection Petites Planètes) than anything else - a potentially poetic ethnography who could rework some characteristics of the culture itself, telling another story instead, a story based on vibrations more than words. I am thinking a lot about the fabulous cinema work of Robert Gardner around his 1986s ‘Forest of Bliss’ and the refusal of information. As with certain simplification of the language of cinema (getting rid of the voice over, of the subtext), comes a complexification of the relationship to the other. And we might seriously need this distance nowadays - how to rebuild cerebral distance while at the same time building bridges between bodies?

The respect to such cultures comes from your body language first thing - and developing this body language in parallel to your own cinema language has been a great adventure in those past years traveling around the world, in quest of the sacred in general and the trance in particular. The only way to document a trance ritual would be then to make a trance cinema. We are going this way.

This simplification of cinematic language has allowed Moon to present ritual in a way that is powerful and meaningful, as the films attest. They are not studies of a culture from the outside, but a purely cinematic existential experience made by an artist that is interested in being over understanding. They are made with a thirst to be a part of rare and special human events.

Moon chose four movies to make up an exclusively curated set for Sound American’s ritual issue. We feature each on a page of its own, with an introduction by the filmmaker, to reduce visual clutter and promote easier viewing. It’s our hope that these very special films provide a visceral experience to enhance the other modes of our study of ritual in this issue.


More information on Vincent Moon and his films may be found in the following sites:




Vincent Moon (real name Mathieu Saura, born August 25, 1979)[1] is an independent filmmaker, photographer, and sound artist from Paris. He was the main director of the Blogotheque's Take Away Shows, a web-based project recording field work music videos of indie rock related musicians as well as some notable mainstream artists like Tom Jones, R.E.M., or Arcade Fire.

Vincent Moon is known for traveling around the globe with a camera in his backpack, documenting local folklores, sacred music and religious rituals, for his label Collection Petites Planètes. He works alone or with people he finds on the road, and most of the time without money involved in the projects. He shares much of his work, films and music recordings, for free on internet, under Creative Commons license. In 2009 his documentary on artist Kazuki Tomokawa, La Faute Des Fleurs, won the Sound & Vision Award at the Copenhagen International Documentary Festival, and his film Esperando el Tsunami was nominated for the same award in 2011.