An interview with Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman of Far Off Sounds

Far Off Sounds is the project of independent filmmakers Nick George and Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman, exploring a vast array of obscure and unusual music and musical experiences from around the globe. Having made short films about artists such as Dave Bixby, whose confessional debut album transcended it’s purpose of enticing people to join a religious cult, and Richard Kik, owner of the largest collection of Soviet synthesizers in the U.S.; they embark on their second series of short films. Band on the Wall will proudly present exclusive director’s cuts of the second season at the venue on Saturday 4th June, alongside live music and DJs playing far out sounds. Ahead of the screening, we caught up with Jacob to discuss his and Nick’s introduction to filmmaking, and asked how artists react when they’re approached to be a part of a film.
How did you meet Nick and begin making films together?
We both attended the same small high school in Metro Detroit, where everybody kind of knew each other. From what I remember, Nick was playing on an indoor soccer team (football to the English) where part of the rules were they needed a coach in order to register. The first time we ever really talked, he asked me to “coach” his indoor soccer team. I have no idea why. I’m not athletic and don’t know anything about soccer. But I said yes, and I showed up to practice with a megaphone and blurted nonsense at the team throughout the game. I think our first joint filmmaking endeavour was an awful, insane video we made for Spanish class in high school. You can see it here.
I’ve been travelling internationally and making films seriously since I graduated from college in 2009. Nick had also done some travelling and shooting on music in Indonesia.
Where did the idea for Far Off Sounds come from, and what was the first film you endeavoured to produce?
We became roommates in Detroit around 2012, and at that time, a friend of ours who was a producer at a major online network asked us if we wanted to travel around shooting music festivals for a web series. We thought it would be more interesting to broaden the scope and make mini-docs about how music is used by different people all over the world. That’s how the idea was born. For me at least, this has always been central to Far Off Sounds – the idea that music, at its most elemental, has an ideology, that it’s being used for something outside of pure entertainment or career. And with every episode, a driving question is, how is music being used here?
The first episode was ‘Songs of the Snake Handlers’. We found ourselves in the middle of the Appalachian mountains in Kentucky, trying to unobtrusively embed ourselves into a small community of snake-handling Pentecostal coal-miners.
How do you discover music and the individuals/events that become the subjects of your films?
I suppose the answer is three-fold. One is that we both love music, and we both are curious people, and so, between the two of us, we have heard and seen a lot of stuff we want to know more about and get intimate with.
The second part of it is that we know a lot of people in a lot of different places. Nick has been a musician and show organiser in Detroit for a long time, and so he has a lot of connections in the music world specifically. If we get interested in something, the first thing we do is just start asking people who we should talk to.
The third prong of it is the internet. We actively keep an eye out for amazing music, and interesting stories that are floating around online, waiting to be delved into. And so the internet helps us discover stories, and then the internet usually helps give us clues about how to pursue actually making the film. For example, Iasos’ email address is right on his website.
How do artists typically react when you approach them to make a film about their music? Have you had any unexpected responses?
It really depends. The overwhelming majority of people are very happy to participate, especially now that we’ve got a body of work we can point to and say “it will be kind of like this”. But occasionally, there are people who are reticent or who aren’t seeking publicity. These stories are difficult to film, and often are the most worth it. The snake-handlers in Kentucky were that way. They had no interest in promoting themselves, and in fact, because of the murky legality of domesticating and handling deadly snakes, they had an active interest in shunning publicity. But once we can shake hands with someone, it’s pretty much a done deal. Getting to know a person, live and in the flesh, opens the door to them. There is a relationship that happens, and that’s what I love about this work.
Dave Bixby’s story is especially remarkable, and he seemed overjoyed that you were able to help him tour Michigan and connect with fans he never knew existed. Do you know what Dave is up to at the moment, and does this film feel like the one which has had the biggest impact on the subject and their music?
For Dave’s episode, we brought him to Detroit and were able to introduce him to a lot of younger musicians and music-people there who were huge fans of his music, and that, I believe, ended up resulting in some cool collaborations for him, and of course, in general, the tour was a positive experience for Dave, who hadn’t been able to really feel, viscerally, how many people felt so great about his music from years ago. As for an impact, it’s hard to quantify.
Dave is still living in Arizona, leading the lonesome prairie ranger lifestyle with his wife, and continuing to write and practice music, and even tour a bit. But I think our film, if it did have an impact, was a subtle one, an emotional and social impact.
What makes your filmmaking possible? Are your productions and trips abroad self-funded, and how do you get settled when arriving in a new filming location?
Funding is still a mystery for us. It happens in a bunch of different ways. Our first three episodes were paid for, as pilots, by the online network we first partnered with. Sometimes we’ll have a show or a screening that will pay us for our work. Once we held a silent auction as a Far Off Sounds fundraiser. Dave Bixby was enormously generous and gave us a signed original pressing of ‘Ode To Quetzalcoatl’ for us to sell to partially fund his episode and partially to fund this newest season. So it comes in fits and starts. It’s not really a source of income for us personally (yet), but rather a passion project that other people seem to enjoy.
And getting settled in various filming locations is purely case-by-case. Often we have friends in the area, or we shoot close to where I live (Los Angeles) or where Nick lives (Detroit). There’s usually a friendly face who will give us a roof and a couch or bed.
What does the future hold for the project?
Too early to say. The future, although it hides beyond the horizon, is contained within the present moment. It seems like the energy behind this project is building, but for now all we can do is focus on putting every ounce of attention on what’s in front of us.