FILMMAKER Sam Green tells EDWIN GILSON about his live documentary A Thousand Thoughts, based around seminal classical group Kronos Quartet – who also provide a live soundtrack

SAM Green reckons music is like sex, in a way.

“It’s a great and profound subject that very few people have anything interesting to say about,” says the American filmmaker. “It’s hard to talk about.”

And yet music is at the heart of his latest film A Thousand Thoughts, which is screened at Brighton Dome with a live accompaniment from San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet, the influential ensemble who formed in 1973.

The movie takes up part one of the Festival event, while part two sees the quartet return to the stage for a collaborative performance with Malian band Trio Da Kali.

Sam has made a career out of presenting unorthodox live cinema experiences – another project involved working closely with US indie stalwarts Yo La Tengo, for instance.

When he was approached by Kronos Quartet’s manager about making a film charting the group’s long lifespan, though, Sam hesitated.

“My heart kind of sank because, generally, I don’t like music documentaries,” he says. “They are always so predictable. There are a million ways you could make a horrible documentary about Kronos.”

Initially, Sam said thanks but no thanks to the invitation. But the quartet lingered in the filmmakers’ mind. Such was their popularity at one point in the 70s that certain quarters of the media christened them the “rock stars” of classical music.

One sweet moment from A Thousand Thoughts sees the quartet joined by Sesame Street’s Big Bird. The point is, they crossed over to the mainstream like no other chamber ensemble before them.

“The more I learned about them, the more I was taken with their story,” says Sam. “It stayed with me and at a certain point I thought, ‘wait a minute, I’ve been doing all these live cinema pieces, why don’t I do something like that here?’.”

The quartet were on board with the idea, although they were a little unsure what format the film would actually take. The group’s David Harrington had a few questions for Sam.

“He said, ‘would it be a movie or a concert of a lecture?’” says Sam. “I said it would kind of be all three. I don’t think they really understood what it was until we premiered it.”

The filmmaker adds that the “last thing Kronos wanted was a tribute to them”, and, at any rate, Sam’s portrait of the band was a platform to explore “bigger ideas”.

Namely, what music is and why it has such a power over us.

In the trailer for the film pioneers such as Terry Riley and Philip Glass, both of who have collaborated regularly with Kronos, try and get to the bottom of these themes. These talking head segments are interspersed with archive footage of the quartet and newspaper clippings.

The show is tightly choreographed, with Sam’s live narration giving way to Kronos’s musical interjections and vice versa. Sam says there is a certain positive vibe that comes with this approach.

“People love musicians in a way they don’t live filmmakers, that’s for sure,” he laughs. “To see a band you love brings something out of you that a traditional music documentary doesn’t.” He cites his work with Yo La Tengo as an example.

“When the band would come out on stage, there’d be a reaction from the audience. People would be thrilled and there would be this instant energy.”

You can bet the same kind of magic will be in the air when Sam and the rock stars of classical music arrive in Brighton.

Brighton Festival: Kronos Quartet With Sam Green And Trio Da Kali

Brighton Dome, Sunday, 7.30pm