3 stars (out of four)
Evelyn Glennie, the world-famous percussionist who is the subject of the musical documentary "Touch the Sound," also happens to be more than 80 percent deaf: "profoundly deaf" in medical parlance.
But you'd never guess it when you hear her music.
Utterly absorbed, wrapped up in her music and that of her collaboratorsfrom playful British composer-guitarist Fred Frith to stoic-looking Japanese musician Za OndekozaGlennie seems to be moving without any effort through complex and absolutely delightful sonic landscapes. When she speaks of her world of rhythm and beats, she seems lit from within.
"Touch the Sound" is beautifully shot and filled with gorgeous music, but one of the most inspiring things about it is the way it erases the idea of Glennie's deafness as a handicap. Her hearing deterioration began when she was 12, and already fascinated with the piano and the snare drum. But somehow this slight, tawny-haired lady from Scotland turned that handicap into an advantage, creating and performing powerful music even though, like Ludwig van Beethoven in his later years, she hears only a fraction of what she plays.
As Glennie says, and as we've heard before, the other senses grow to compensate for the one that's damaged. But somehow, it means more when she says and demonstrates this, when we see her feeling the music and "touching the sound." As we watch Glennie, eyes closed, hitting drums and xylophones with exquisite precision or wild abandon, we begin to feel it too.
Thomas Riedelsheimer, who directed, photographed and edited "Touch the Sound," is an award-winning German documentarian, and he has a polished and evocative style whether he's showing Glennie, or patchwork bits of color and neon in a Tokyo panorama.
Actually, "Touch the Sound" seems descended from three different genres of documentary. First there's the study of an exceptional person. Then there's the music film, with a number of striking performances dominated by the recurring images of Glennie and Frith in a huge, barnlike German soundstage, rehearsing and recording a new CD. Finally there's a poetic record of the land and cityscapes, a film, somewhat like the "city symphonies" that began with Paul Strand's 1921 "Manhatta" and here gives us a poetic record of New York, Tokyo and that green, rolling Aberdeen farm.
When I was a boy, I'd get sad or sentimental thinking of Beethoven at the first performance of his 9th Symphony and the "Ode to Joy," the great, deaf composer conducting music he couldn't hear. But Glennie, who is not completely deaf, gives a different perspective. Watching her play, you feel some measure of triumph and that of anyone who rises above a seeming handicap. In the end, if you're responding to "Touch the Sound," you'll not only be swinging to its rhythms but moving with the musicians, feeling the beat with that gloriously "different" drummer, Evelyn Glennie.
'Touch the Sound'
Directed, photographed and edited by Thomas Riedelsheimer; music by Evelyn Glennie, Fred Frith and others; sound design by Marc von Stuerler, Gregor Kuschel, Christoph von Schoenburg, Hubertus Rath; produced by Stefan Tolz, Leslie Hills, Trevor Davies. A Shadow Distribution release; opens Friday at The Music Box Theatre. Running time: 1:39. No MPAA rating (family).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun