Watch & Learn: Touch the Sound — A Sound Journey with Evelyn Glennie

What is Touch the Sound?

Touch the Sound is a documentary about profoundly deaf percussionist, Evelyn Glennie. Made in 2004, the documentary focuses on exploring her experiences with sound, offering us an insight into her world and the impact music has had on her personally. Made by Thomas Riedelsheimer, the film has won several awards and also features appearances and music by Fred Frith, Jason ‘The Fogmaster’, Horacio ‘El Negro’ Hernandez and Za Ondekoza.

At the core of the documentary is Evelyn Glennie’s collaboration with Fred Frith. The two meet in an abandoned sugar factory in Dormagen, Germany, to record a completely improvised album. Most of the music heard in this documentary is from this album, The Sugar Factory. Without pausing anywhere for too long, the film follows Evelyn on her journey through Fuji (Japan), Aberdeenshire (Scotland), Dormagen (Germany) and New York City (USA).

What stood out to us?

The interesting thing about this documentary is that it isn’t as much about Evelyn’s triumph as a musician as it is about her engagement with the phenomenon of sound. While there is plenty of music in the film, the approach to it is almost scientific and not heavily artistic, creating a certain mystical quality around the phenomenon of sound and how we human beings perceive it. The mystery is only heightened by Evelyn’s demeanour and choice of words, which clearly show that her relationship with sound is something that is almost instinctive and yet spiritual. As the title suggests, this film also focuses on the perception of sound and how that is possible even in the absence of hearing. This is where Evelyn’s story really comes to life, becoming especially endearing as she reminisces about her childhood, and when she was first diagnosed with the complete loss of hearing, and how she confronted the thought that she may never be able to play music. She recounts how she and her parents overcame this rather quickly, and this determination is apparent when she teaches a deaf, young schoolgirl about the drums, in what seems like a lesson on being open to sensory experience.

Why watch it?

Besides being an interesting take on the conversation surrounding music, perception and sound, Touch the Sound is a charming and distinctive audiovisual experience. It has the ability to transport you back to the early 2000s and into a world both endearing and strange. A little over an hour, this film is bound to be an insightful watch for anyone interested in considering different ways to approach sound and sensation.

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