Avant-garde percussionist Evelyn Glennie started going deaf in early adolescence. One day, a few years into the decline, she removed her hearing aid during a music class to find out what she could really hear. She discovered that her whole skeletal system was like a sounding board, capable of picking up the subtlest vibrations. In his documentary Touch The Sound: A Sound Journey With Evelyn Glennie, director Thomas Riedelsheimer gets inside Glennie's world, starting with what banging and clanging does to her body. He opens with Glennie hammering a gong, the sound of which rises from complete silence to deafening noise while she stands by in a blissful stupor. Later, he shoots her in Grand Central Station, beating on a snare so intently that her whole upper torso vibrates and her bra strap slowly slips down her shoulder.
Touch The Sound lets Glennie tell some of her story, and it's also the document of an event: a recording session with Fred Frith for an improvised avant-garde album. (Their experimental music-making is probably more fun to watch than it would be to listen to.) Just as Riedelsheimer's last film, Rivers And Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time observed the painstaking processes of an environmental artist, so Touch The Sound leans on impressionistic sequences that convey the percussive qualities of Glennie's everyday life. Riedelsheimer focuses on the sound of suitcase wheels on tile floors, and automobile tires crossing a bridge. He catches the industrial hum of an office complex and the visual and aural dissonance of a Japanese food court. And he finds visuals to match the white noise, from animated billboards in a city square to the blur of Glennie's drumsticks in rapid motion.
Touch The Sound may be too heady to take in one sitting. Even given relatively calm passages—like a hushed tour through the courtyard of a Scottish castle or a mediation on ripples in a pond—there's just too much to absorb, especially since all the sequences essentially deliver the same message, that sound is everywhere. Still, like superior tracks on an exhausting double album, the individual moments of wonder in Touch The Sound are too powerful to dismiss. And it's notable that in two consecutive documentaries, Riedelsheimer has used one of the most permanent of artistic mediums to record art that disappears.