Touch the Sound: A Sound Journey With Evelyn Glennie (2004)

Kathryn Atwood

A beautiful, interesting but somewhat shapeless collage on the subject of sound.

Touch the Sound: A Sound Journey With Evelyn Glennie

Director: Thomas Riedelsheimer
Cast: The Fogmaster Jason, Fred Frith, Evelyn Glennie
Distributor: New Video Group
MPAA rating: Unrated
Studio: Filmquadrat GbR
First date: 2004
US DVD Release Date: 2006-05-30
UK DVD Release Date: Available as import
"There’s sound absolutely everywhere."

-- Evelyn Glennie

How does one perceive sound? Which sounds are worthy of perception? Touch the Sound, a documentary by German filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer, seeks to answer these questions by exploring sound in a myriad of its manifestations. It is a beautiful, interesting but somewhat shapeless collage on the subject of sound.

The film opens with a close-up of percussionist Evelyn Glennie pounding on a gong. The camera then quickly backs away from this scene and out of the building, where you can still hear the sound of the gong. The camera then moves to a close-up of a car wheel in motion, then to a busy highway, then to a snare drum solo by Glennie in NYC’s Grand Central Station. The entire film basically follows this course: it constantly travels from one type of sound to another, covering everything from short performances by several world-class percussionists to anonymous human footsteps in an airport.

Although most of us would probably rather watch a 99-minute film of professional musical performances rather than one which puts such glorious fare on equal footing with traffic noise, this film has a quite an interesting and unusual take on the subject of sound, and with good reason: it’s main star is deaf.

Glennie, a highly acclaimed Scottish musician sometimes known as “the first full-time solo percussionist”, became deaf as a schoolgirl and decided to continue her musical studies in spite of contrary advice, eventually switching from piano to percussion (where she could more easily “hear” her instruments). Although the film is filled with Glennie’s sound-related opines, the most insightful window into her dual passions for music and sound comes when she asks a deaf student to lay her hand on a drum after Glennie has pounded on it. She then tells the student, “we’re hearing the sound because we’re feeling the sound far longer than an audience member. As a matter of fact, we’re hearing more.”

Glennie, who likes to perform bare-footed in order to “hear” more, not only has broken the sound barrier (so to speak) into professional musicianship, but is probably more passionate and thoughtful on the subject of sound than anyone. What is the opposite of sound? Most of us would say that it’s silence. Glennie disagrees: “The opposite of sound definitely isn’t silence . . . I don’t know if there is such a thing. Well, there must be an opposite actually, but what it is I don’t know . . . it’s the closest thing I can imagine to death.”

At the center of the film (if there is such a thing in Touch the Sound), is a completely improvised CD by Glennie and composer/guitarist Fred Firth, wherein they take different items (some essentially musical and some definitely not) and record the different sounds in a huge abandoned factory. While it looked like they were having a lot of fun doing this, these sessions have a strangely immature feel, as if you’re watching two world class musicians walk into a grammar school Orff class (which is very nearly what you are seeing). I kept thinking, when are these talented performers going to make some real music?*

Apparently director Riedelsheimer had the same question in his mind. In the "making of" extra, he tells how he was hoping that the improvised Glennie/Firth CD would eventually take some shape, thus creating the "spine" of his film. The "making-of" shows him approach Firth with this idea and then receive the following response: "Here we are in this incredible space where it suggests many things as we play. And rather than make any more of that, [we should] just allow the space to tell us what we should be and what we should be doing."

Whatever frustrations Riedelsheimer may have felt about his unstructured "spine" however, he obviously had a load of creative freedom with the cinematography and it’s a visually stimulating and often gorgeous piece of work. The film is focused on sound but is also very easy on the eyes; Riedelsheimer has made certain that both sensory components complement each other beautifully.

Because Touch the Sound is most definitely non-linear in its approach, it requires a certain laid-back state of mind while viewing, but once you’re there, this film is a lot of fun. From the waves crashing on the Scottish coast to the vibrations on the top of Glennie’s snare drum, Touch the Sound leaves no sound or accompanying sight left unexplored.

*Near the end of the film, Glennie and Firth do make some beautiful guitar/marimba music together, and while it’s absolutely lovely, the DVD extras reveal that unlike their concert in the factory, this was not improvised.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.