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The Sound and the Flurries

Posted at 9:05 AM on December 24, 2006 by Valerie Kahler

Nice little snow dumpage in the Cities Thursday. Happily, Thursday was a day off for me so it was a lovely opportunity to lay in some snacks & hot cocoa, curl up with the mate and the kitties and watch DVDs. To my great delight, Mr. had brought home "Touch the Sound." It is filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer's vision of percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who's been deaf since age 12.

Glennie's junior high band teacher had her close her eyes and place her hand on the wall of the band room. He played widely-spaced intervals on a pair of tympani and asked her where in her palm she felt them. He gradually decreased the size of the intervals until she could identify the minutest difference in pitch by where she felt it in her palm. We were both moved to tears by the spirit of exploration and discovery demonstrated by her teacher. (I think even the cats got misty. And they're tough.)

The movie itself is a feast for the ears, of course...but also for the eyes. Watching Glennie play strange gamelan instruments in a cavernous, echoing warehouse or hammer out a jaw-dropping snaredrum solo in Grand Central Station is...wow. Since we, the viewers, can't feel the sounds in the same way through the TV screen, Riedelsheimer takes pains to show us the sounds. From plastic tubes (smacked against fellow musician Fred Frith, who has a lovely resonant chest) to rattling trains and the thwapping of tires on a bridge, Riedelsheimer's images are a powerful complement to the sounds.

If you're doing a little holiday nesting, rent "Touch the Sound" and another Thomas Riedelsheimer movie, "Rivers and Tides," which follows artist Andy Goldsworthy as he creates delicate, fleeting sculptures from fallen leaves and precarious towers of stone that are doomed to be swallowed by the next high tide. It's one of the most gorgeous things I've seen, and with "Touch the Sound," makes for a groovy double feature.