by Jennifer Nemo
In Thomas Riedelshiemer’s latest documentary, “Touch the Sound,” we meet 40 year-old, Scottish-born Evelyn Glennie: the Grammy-winning classical percussionist … who is also profoundly deaf.
Not deterred since losing 80% of her hearing at the age of 12, Glennie pursued her love of music to become a classically trained pianist and percussionist, eventually winning Grammys and worldwide acclaim for her musical accomplishments. Perhaps best known as the first person in musical history to successfully sustain a career as a full-time percussionist—Glennie has commissioned more than 133 works for solo percussion from some of the world’s most famous composers.
than focus solely on a standard story narrative about her life as a deaf person,
Riedelsheimer’s film explores Glennie’s creative processes as an
artist through footage of her world travels (with stops in Germany, Scotland,
Ireland, Japan, California and New York City) and musical performances, her
time spent teaching percussion to deaf students, to her collaborations with
avant-garde composer Fred Frith and Japanese musician Keiko Abe.
Riedelshiemer’s film also presents the portrait of an engaging, cheerful
woman whose life is guided by sound. Using her arms, fingers, torso and bare
feet to feel acoustic sensations as she performs, Glennie transforms her body
into a conduit of sound, or as she puts it, “a sort of reso-nating chamber.”
“Hearing is a form of touch,” Glennie says. “I hear it through
the body, by opening myself up. Sometimes it almost hits you in
Thus, we are given an opportunity in Riedelshiemer’s film to experience
Glennie’s world as she sees and feels it. Through
numerous performance sequences, Glennie demonstrates her unique ability to create
music through the use of her environment; from playing her snare drum in the
center of New York City’s Central Station, to using chopsticks and dishes
in a Japanese restaurant, to playing scattered objects throughout her family’s
farm in Aberdeen, Scotland. Glennie shows what an imaginative, extraordinary
musician she is, regardless of her hearing impairment.
“My whole life is about sound,” Glennie says. “It’s
what makes me tick, as a human being.”
Glennie’s relationships with the musicians and composers with whom she
collaborates form the core of the film. Her deafness is never the focus and
that is something Glennie avoids on purpose. On her website (Evelyn.co.uk)
Glennie writes, that “the first sensory impressions a person experiences
[in life] are vibrations, rhythms, and sounds. The heartbeat of a mother, the
way breathing makes the abdomen rise and fall … our own heart connects
us to the world—it is our own personal metronome. It beats and tells us
about ourselves and our illnesses, our fears and longings—its rhythm is
the most important unit of measurement.”
Since Glennie’s profound deafness forced her to consciously listen to
sounds using her body instead of her ears, she in turn sets out to share how
everyone (including the non-hearing impaired) can learn to re-connect with their
own body, and “touch the sound[s]” that make up their daily lives.
The film screens through Dec. 15 at the Bell Auditorium at 7:15 & 9:15
p.m. nightly with additional screenings Saturday & Sunday at 3:15 &
5:15 p.m. $5/$4 for MFA members. 10 Church St. SE, Mpls. 612-331-7563.
More information can be found at mnFilmArts.org/Bell.