Harry Potter!
Cinema Signal:

Good Vibrations
by Evelyn Glennie
Her Greatest Hits
Evelyn Glennie

. "Touch the Sound"

Evelyn Glennie's accomplishments in music are as unpredictable and against all norms as are Lance Armstrong's in sports. Just as we might find ourselves in a little awe over a cancer survivor breaking records in one of the most grueling bike racing contests, so we might gasp in wonder at a deaf Scot becoming a virtuoso percussionist on the world stage--a lady who was told by doctors at age 12 that she wouldn't be able to pursue music. What her life proves, it would seem, is that when it's in your soul you find a way.

Thomas Riedelsheimer documents Glennie, her ideas about music and sound, her constant experimentation with percussive effects, her lightning wizardry with drum sticks and, in general, her unique world. "How can a profoundly deaf person become a musician," an interviewer asks. Glennie, articulate as she may be, has no answer besides the demonstration of her profound talent. What she really wants to talk about is rhythm and vibration, oscillation and repetition, the power of music to renew. In her universe of sound and feeling, everything "speaks" and Riedelsheimer's compositons augmeent the idea visually.

Her film tour covers a lot of ground, from California and New York to Belfast, Scotland, England and Japan. She plays with Cuban jazz drummer Horazio Hernandez, the Japanese Taiko drummers of Ondekoza, avant garde guitarist Fred Frith, street tap dancers and an advanced robot dog. In moments of spontaneous inspiration, she plays the snare drum in the main concourse of New York's Grand Central Station, in the lobby of the Guggenheim museum and with chop sticks on plates, a violin, an ashtray and an empty beer can on the floor of a Japanese coffee shop. This musician adds her own beats to the term, improvisation.

She is model-slender and workout fit as she focuses her excited, prodigious energy into the attack on her instrument, ranging from quiet delicacy to rhythms that wallop the senses. If you're one for a strong beat, you'll love her work as much as the orchestras she plays with do, and the composers whom she commissions. She seems to shun her physical beauty as much as the fact of deafness, but her colorful tastes in clothes and hair coloring perhaps gives away that she's a shopper. We see her as a blond, a brunette and a redhead--physical attributes that are clearly besides the point of her many dissertations on sound and its meanings in life. More important is how she uses her body as a resonating chamber.

Riedelsheimer augments her ideas and music with his own set of incisive images and common sounds which he expertly harmonizes with the closeup ruminations and the musical riffs. His photography is clean, masterfully composed and insightful. But, as good a visual documentarian as he demonstrates himself to be, and as glamorous and impressive as the talent in front of his lens, he allows too much theoretical musing to diffuse impact. Glennie just goes on too repetitiously and instructively on the importance of sound until there is a dissipation of the wonder we feel in witnessing her remarkable talent. Less is more, and we got it times six.

Her recordings range from this year's exceptional collaboration with her countryman, Irish composer James MacMillan, on "Veni, Veni, Emmanuel" (On Catalyst label and, for my money, the best album of the year) to the Bartok "Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion" with something like "Reflected in Brass: Evelyn Glennie meets the Black Dyke Band" thrown in. "Perpetual Motion" with Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer is another nice classical collaboration.

If this documentary does nothing else, it will introduce a master musician to those who haven't yet made the discovery, and prepare the viewer for a presence that might show up in many a musical place. In her case, it's not just touching the sound, it's creating it. And this is not just a documentary, it's something of a musical education.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Blond Evelyn Glennie
At work on a rooftop

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