Touch the Sound

Mar 29, 2006 at 12:00 am

"There is sound everywhere. You just have to listen."

On the surface, the statement from percussionist Evelyn Glennie seems pretty high on the "duh" factor. But considering Glennie is mostly deaf (she has extremely limited hearing) her idea of "listening" is slightly different. Through a fusion of images, music and everyday sounds, Glennie and filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer have created a profound musing on the nature of music and sound.

Director-cinematographer-editor Riedelsheimer's biographical documentary follows Glennie on a globe-hopping "sound journey." It's a travelogue of sorts that traces the Grammy-winning Scottish musician's exploration of different kinds of percussive music and recording her work. Glennie's been mostly deaf since her adolescence, but the film is not just about challenging the audience's notion of what it means to be deaf — it's more about what it means to hear.

This is a visually-driven film: Riedelsheimer weaves together lots of performance footage, beautiful imagery and a few rather spare interviews to tell Glennie's story, which centers on the concept of hearing as a whole-body experience. Glennie says as much directly, but the interviews aren't as telling as Riedelsheimer's crisp, gorgeous imagery or her own performances.

As Glennie plays, the director captures how the rest of her body seems to fuse with the waves of sound, how the music takes over her whole being. Glennie's hands are lightning quick as she taps out her rhythms on snare drums, xylophones, random exotic instruments or whatever else she has handy. At one point she makes a drum set out of chopsticks, plates, bowls, a glass and some empty cans to put on an impromptu show in a restaurant in Japan.

Riedelsheimer also layers photography with a symphony of every day sounds: In New York, we hear and see suitcases rolling, feet stomping, brakes squealing, motors humming, and a stroll through the city becomes like a music video. Later, as Glennie looks over a Japanese garden in winter, Riedelsheimer's serene images are paired with sounds of ice cracking and a gardener's rake moving across gravel.

Riedelsheimer delivers this bombardment of sight and sound not to highlight what Glennie might be missing, but to show how she weaves together her experiences to create music. Sound is everywhere, she says, and everything has the potential to make sound.

The point is punctuated in one scene in which Glennie and collaborators embark on some sound spelunking in an empty warehouse where they're recording some improvisational work. They run violin bows across old electrical wires, tap high heel shoes on pipes and throw reams of paper from scaffoldings, reveling in each new noise.

The film lacks a traditional narrative thread, and the action skips back and forth from Scotland to New York to Germany to Japan without any warning. Nonetheless, Riedelsheimer manages a cohesive and mesmerizing film.

And although Glennie's philosophizing eventually grows tiresome and a bit hokey, her spirited approach to music and life make her a playful and intriguing subject. Riedelsheimer plays along, accompanying her note for note with images that complement her sometime ethereal, sometimes jubilant music.


Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), at 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 2, and at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, April 3. Call 313-833-3237.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].