The Secret Life of Sound

Touch the Sound
Touch the Sound
Touch the Sound (Germany)
Directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer
Featuring: Evelyn Glennie & Fred Frith

For those who have ever wondered where a musician draws her inspiration or wondered about the origins of sound, Touch the Sound provides one woman’s explanation and exploration of the wonderful world of sound. Although many viewers watching this abstract documentary might consider it cinema, it is more about the breath and spirit behind music. The vertiginous opening shots draw viewers into a series of chaotic scenes in which Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie pounds out beats on a snare drum in a train station in New York City.

Eventually, our eyes and our ears are inundated what could only be called noise and sight pollution, but also moments of pastoral beauty. Throughout the film, we are exposed to a multitude of sounds from snow falling on leaves, to the crashing surf on Scotland and the California coast, to the demolition of skyscrapers, a vibrant grocery store in Tokyo and oh, yes, avant-garde music. We are also exposed to overwhelming advertisements in the form of neon lights, billboards and video ads in such cities as New York and Tokyo. It is after all, the world we live in and the one some of us would like
to escape.

About half way through the film, we learn that Evelyn Glennie is deaf. She explains that she hears sound through vibration captured in her body. She brings up the question on how people without hearing disabilities feel or hear sound. We can see that Evelyn is not only a strong and capable human being, but in fact, a phenomenal musician who has mastered a variety of percussion instruments, although the snare drum is her favorite. She globe trots throughout the duration of the film, to Cologne Germany, where she records an improvisational project with guitarist Fred Frith, to a rooftop in Manhattan
where she joins another drummer in an all-out jam session, to Fuji City and Tokyo, Japan where she converses in beats with master traditional drummers. She visits her childhood farm in Scotland where she discovers and plays with scrap metal capable of creating unique timbre and rhythm.

Sound has its own universe. It is described on the film’s web site as, “Life is rhythm–at the heart of every life form their is rhythm. Movement, flow, change, renewal and repe-tition are all based in rhythm. It is only rhythm, that we can experience time.” Percussionists would never take rhythm or the silence between beats for granted, in fact, no musician would since rhythm is the root of all music and it is a common language spoken between musicians and every being on the planet. Evelyn and German filmmaker, Thomas Riedelsheimer show us that rhythm through film footage that flows and punctuates to the beats Evelyn plays on various instruments, both conventional and unconventional. Her musical collaborator, Frith is no stranger to this world of sound and is in fact, a renowned avant-garde musician. As he collaborates on guitar and prepared guitars, we see him caught up in Evelyn’s enchanted world, tossing rolls of paper from a loft in a decaying industrial warehouse. And it is as Evelyn mentioned earlier in the film, we can see sound as streams of paper arc in the
vast industrial space.

Touch the Sound gives a new meaning to “playing” music. Frith mentions that musicians are like children experimenting with sound. They are enchanted with all the sounds that they can make on musical instruments and found objects. This is a liberating documentary that speaks of freeing the breath (Japan) and allowing one to play with musical instruments the way a child plays with toys.
Musicians after all, enjoy breaking down cultural barriers, journeying into sound and grabbing their inspiration wherever possible. For artists, inspiration can come from any source at any time, as is the case with Frith who began composing a violin concerto while enduring a medical test. Certainly, this documentary will delight musicians of varying stripes, although it might act as a sleeping aid to those folks who do not immerse themselves in any artistic outlet. Only those who truly love music will enjoy this film, and others who only collect music for materialistic sake, will most likely fall asleep during the film. This documentary marries a 1960’s art happening with the joy of music.
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