New documentary on noise musicians: a way out of constraints

In the beginning was the gunshot: The film festival "Unerhort!" is streaming the documentary "My Life Is a Gunshot" about noise musician Joke Lanz.

Here almost puppy-like, otherwise rather noisy: Noise musician Joke Lanz Photo: Promo

Joke Lanz was 13 years old when his father shot himself. The boy was not directly there, but he heard the bang of the assault rifle. This event shaped Lanz, not only as a person, but also as an artist.

"My Life Is a Gunshot" is the name of the documentary film that was made about him. Everything that is shown from the life and work of the musician from Switzerland, who has been living in Berlin for many years, revolves again and again around this primal scene from back then that made him who he is today.

Fortunately, the wonderful portrait that Swiss director Marcel Derek Ramsey has managed to create here can now be seen again for a few days as part of Hamburg’s "Unerhort!" music film festival. Like its Berlin partner festival "Soundwatch," it had to take the program out of theaters and stream it instead. "My Life Is a Gunshot," which already screened at Berlin Wolf Kino and Brotfabrik for a few days earlier this year.

There can’t be enough opportunities to see this powerful film, which carries you along even if you have little use for Lanz’s extreme art. And you don’t think his music under the name Sudden Infant is music, but only noise. Which would be okay, because Lanz is also a so-called noise musician, for whom noises are more interesting than any melodies.

More than just an artist portrait

Director Marcel Derek Ramsay has known Joke Lanz since his youth. As a child, the musician moved with his family from Basel to the small town of Wohlen in the canton of Aargau. In a film interview that the "Unerhort!" festival has thankfully posted online, Ramsey says Lanz was a "hero in Aargau" back when they were punk and became friends.

Ramsay, like Lanz in his mid-50s, is not actually a film director; "My Life Is a Gunshot" is his debut feature and was made almost entirely without grant money. He simply accompanied the friend and hero of his story with his camera for several years, accumulating a lot of material in the process, as he says himself. Originally, he was more interested in the study of a solitary artist, but then it quickly became clear.

There is more to the material than just a classic portrait of an artist. So he went back with Lanz to his parents’ house, where his mother was still living at the time of filming, and let the musician process the events of that time again in front of the camera. Above all, he brings in his son Celeste, to whom Lanz in his own way wants to be the father he himself lost far too early. Although he admits that he knows nothing about noise music, studies law and rarely sees his father.

A super life

The film is almost a collage of images – Lanz in his Berlin apartment, then on the train to Switzerland, in the mountains, at a performance. In the process, the story Ramsey wants to tell slowly emerges, of someone who realized that his father’s suicide was a way out of the constraints to which he must have felt subjected.

The father loved the mountains, nature and the freedom he found there. And then he always had to be the breadwinner for his family. Lanz has decided that he does not want to shoulder this burden, which broke his father, even in a radical departure from his father’s life. "I’ve built my own universe," he says at one point in the film.

In this universe, he lives alone in his surprisingly not yet renovated apartment in Prenzlauer Berg. He travels the world as an internationally acclaimed performance artist and musician, which admittedly only barely pays the rent. At the end of the month, it sometimes gets tight, he says, but still thinks: "I have a great life.