Touch the Sound
is arguably the best percussionist in the world. you mention her name around percussionists and improvised music lovers and their ears perk up. the thing that makes her so special is that she manages to make such sensitive, emotive, and far-reaching music despite being "profoundly deaf" - her ears still work, but very little actually comes through. she perceives sound literally by feeling the vibrations through her skin and body, kind of like reverse synesthesia, and something us normal-eared folks just couldn't possibly understand. our bodies do affect and contribute to our hearing but more as a means of channeling vibrations to our ears (the way everyone hears their own voice being a prime example) than of actual sound perception. touch the sound
, a documentary about glennie given through the framework of a recording session with fred frith, takes that disconnect in perception as a starting point and attempts to demonstrate it by essentially making our ears *more* sensitive to sounds around us. good chunks of the film (especially early on) are spent with montages of "typical" activities of modern western industrial society with the ambient sound boosted much beyond its typical low-level hum. it's not so much making the case that all sounds are musical as showing us that there is so much sound out there that we take for granted. glennie has a really fascinating theoretical approach to her music which she talks about in depth in a glorious scottish brogue. interestingly, her speech doesn't have the strange cadence or stunted inflection that is typical of the deaf, probably because she didn't lose her hearing until she was about 10. the most interesting part of the movie is the improvisations she does with frith. they took over an abandoned factory in northern germany and pretty much just went nuts, frith with his assorted guitars and strange ways of playing them, glennie with her myriad percussion instruments. some of the improvisations are better than others - I find her marimba playing to be a little overly emotional, using fairly conventional progressions, and playing the whole "tugging at the heart strings" thing. but when she starts clattering with non-pitched or non-standard instruments, she does some truly amazing things (especially great are the times she's playing with a koto ensemble and when she makes a drum set out of dishes and chopsticks at a sushi restaurant). her playing is remarkably sympathetic to whatever setting she's in, and she always seems to be having fun with whatever she's doing. at one point frith comments that the key to being a good improvising musician is to essentially never loose that childhood sense of play. and he's totally right.