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Docurama presents
Touch The Sound (2004)

"My whole world is about sound. It's what makes me tick as a human being."
- Evelyn Glennie

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: June 01, 2006

Stars: Evelyn Glennie
Other Stars: Fred Frith, Fogmaster Jason
Director: Thomas Riedelsheimer

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:39m:17s
Release Date: May 30, 2006
UPC: 767685975534
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A-BA+ B

DVD Review

According to her bio, Evelyn Glennie has the distinction of being "the first person in musical history to create and sustain a full-time career as a solo percussionist," and if you add in the words "Grammy winner"—received in 1988 for her CD Bartok's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion—then that would be understandably impressive; if you further factor in that the Scottish-born Glennie is deaf, her achievements become all the more fascinating.

Glennie is the subject of this musically rich documentary from German filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer, who had tread on similar ground with Rivers and Tides, a doc about environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy. What that means is that Touch the Sound isn't the usual "story of my life" doc bio, and the artistic theme this time is percussive music, whether it be natural or derived from found objects or man-made instruments, and how it somehow exists as part of the expressive and personal nature of Glennie's work.

Riedelsheimer literally allows music and sound to do the talking here, and if you were to take all of the spoken words in his film I bet it would only make up a third of the total runtime. The majority is spent with Riedelsheimer focusing on the evolution and mixture of sound and silence, merging performance and everyday rhythms into a lazy arc of dramatic images and movement that in some way tries to emulate what Glennie is creating.

And all that fancy talk means Touch the Sound is almost an art film, a sensory journey rather than narrative, and if you come to terms with that then Riedelsheimer's interpretations of Glennie's work can easily get under your skin and take hold. There is a bare minimum of purely biographical information on Glennie—we learn she lost her hearing around the age of 12—but we aren't given really much more about her personal life, because Riedelsheimer chooses to channel the intensity of Glennie's work into a long-form, overall experience that tries to link what we hear and how we hear it. There are, however, brief moments where we see Glennie the person, as when she is teaching a young deaf girl about the power of percussion, and how she can feel the sounds that the hearing audience cannot, or when she returns to her family farm to look through old photo albums with her brother.

It's a globe-trotting odyssey, bounding from New York to Scotland to Japan to Germany, where much of the film's best performance segments come from as part of Glennie's collaboration with celebrated guitarist Fred Frith in a massive warehouse-turned-impromptu studio. Even with a lack of formal narrative, Riedelsheimer easily shows us that Glennie is an artist, a musician who doesn't write songs, but pulls personally connected sound out of her vast array of unusual instruments.

And her deafness makes the intensity of her performances rather exhilarating, because it is the way she uses her body as a resonance chamber that demands the pieces she creates be bold and perhaps a bit manic. Late in the film a tragic event occurs that spawns a musical piece between Glennie and Frith that perfectly captures that synthesis between art and life that is sad and haunting, and in that one moment the level of creative emotion is so high that it is damn near impossible to not be moved.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Documentaries aren't typically known for particularly eye-catching transfers, but Touch The Sound comes from Docurama in an especially sharp-looking 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, one that looks its best when the director gets the most artistic. During the performance sequences—where Riedelsheimer's camera is in constant motion—reveals a great level of detail on the various instruments, more so than during some of the standard transitional moments focused on Glennie in transit. This slight imbalance aside, strong color saturation throughout balanced by decent black levels.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Here's something you don't see everyday, and that would be a documentary issued with audio tracks in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and DTS (as well as old faithful 2.0 stereo). Unusual yes, but wholly essential, as the 5.1 and DTS try to replicate the percussive sensations that Evelyn Glennie feels as part of her art. Voice clarity is typically average across the board, always clear and understandable though dialogue is very minimal, but it is the frequent percussion sequences that are truly thunderous and deep, and if your system is properly calibrated the sound experience is wonderfully loud and resonant. The stereo track lacks this quality, so use that only as a last resort.


Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back, Paradise Lost, Andy Goldsworthy: Rivers and Tides, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
6 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: There's a set of six deleted scenes (30m:07s), the best of which feature more performance footage from Frith and Glennie. Some of the segments, such as the piece on the bowmaker, are far less engaging. A short doc called The Making of Touch the Sound (22m:50s) on the menu has an actual onscreen title of Impressions of the Shooting for Touch the Sound. Regardless, it offers up mostly the comments of director Thomas Riedelsheimer, who states "the idea that music is static or stable is an illusion." We're given glimpses of shooting the airport sequence and the huge warehouse/studio that serves as homebase for much of the film, and optional English subs are available, as Riedelsheimer speaks German for much of the doc.

Extras wrap with bios on Glennie and Riedelsheimer, as well as a few trailers. The disc is cut into 24 chapters.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Hardly your run-of-the-mill doc, Touch the Sound is about the wealth of natural and human-made rhythmic sound, with deaf Grammy-winning solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie as the center of the universe. The presentation is more on being cinematic and artistic rather than a standard issue talking head bio, and the lazy tempo of this one may be off putting if you're not in the right frame of mind.

It's difficult not to get excited by Glennie's personal expression of music, and the available DTS audio mix delivers the necessary edge to make the experience deeply rewarding.

Highly recommended.


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