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Touch the Sound

An Aural and Visual Ride Worth Taking

Touch the Sound: A Sound Journey with Evelyn Glennie, the latest documentary from filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer (Andy Goldsworthy: Rivers and Tides) takes as its subject Scottish-born, solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie, a hearing impaired musician. Due to a neurological disorder, Glennie began to lose her hearing at an early age. By twelve, she was almost completely deaf. As a Grammy-award winning classical percussionist, Glennie has transformed her disability into an opportunity to "hear" music in a profoundly different manner than non-deaf musicians, through waves and vibrations, in effect using her body as a resonating chamber.

As a documentary focusing on an artist and the medium she works in, Touch the Sound unsurprisingly covers Glennie's back story, including extensive interviews with Glennie herself, a visit to the family farm in Scotland operated by her taciturn, reserved older brother, and a visit to the school for the deaf where she learned how to play percussion instruments. At the school, she benefited from a far-seeing instructor, who experimented with teaching her how to play percussion instruments through touch and feel (he obviously succeeded).

In a series of interviews conducted over the better part of a year, Glennie discusses the profound difference becoming a percussionist has made in her life. It's given her life purpose, shape, unique insights into music, the ability to travel and, in an extended sequence, the ability to collaborate with other musicians ranging from street performers in New York City and a Latin drummer on a rooftop to Grand Central Station and an abandoned industrial warehouse in Germany where she performs and improvises with avant-garde instrumentalist Fred Firth.

As in his previous documentary, Rivers and Tides, an exploration of Andy Goldsworthy's ephemeral, nature-bound sculptures, Thomas Riedelsheimer complements Glennie's story and performances through editing, cinematography, and, of course, sound design. Through editing and photography, Riedelsheimer moves from the abstract and the particular to sights and images from Glennie's peregrinations abroad. Through the sound design, Riedelsheimer reminds his audience both of what Glennie lost when she lost her hearing, and what we tend to ignore or tune out, specifically natural and man-made sounds.

Where Riedelsheimer falters, however, is in overindulging some of Glennie's more cryptic, and sometimes repetitious, pronouncements or in allowing some musical excerpts or interludes to run too long. Still, Riedelsheimer should be commended for bringing a little-known artist and her work to a wider public. Given his emphasis on sculpture in his previous documentary and on music in Touch the Sound, most likely Riedelsheimer's next documentary will examine the efforts of another artist working in a different expressive medium.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars