Copyright ©2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

(Soundbite of drumming)

BLOCK: In the cavernous main hall of New York's Grand Central Terminal, a woman is drumming. She's wearing jeans and a red tank top that exposes a tattoo on one shoulder. She dips her body close into the snare as her drumsticks dance in patterns. She's absorbing the sound.

(Soundbite of drumming)

BLOCK: It's a scene from the new documentary about the Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie called "Touch the Sound." Evelyn Glennie has been deaf since she was 12.

(Soundbite of "Touch the Sound")

Ms. EVELYN GLENNIE: Hearing is a form of touch: sound that comes to you. You know, you can feel as though you can literally sort of almost reach out to that sound and feel that sound.

BLOCK: The film was made by Thomas Riedelsheimer. He's German, best-known in the US for his documentary about the artist Andy Goldsworthy called "Rivers and Tides." Riedelsheimer says just as Evelyn Glennie feels the sound, he wants his viewers to see the sound.

Mr. THOMAS RIEDELSHEIMER (Filmmaker): With this film I try to transfer acoustics or sound ideas into images. This was the biggest challenge of the whole film. Still, I try to find images that are metaphors for these sounds, and that was a great challenge and a great piece of work to do actually.

BLOCK: Metaphors for the sound.

Mr. RIEDELSHEIMER: Metaphors, yes. I mean, there's this image of the airplane in the blue sky and leaves behind this trace of white, and that was scene through a pond, so it was reflecting. And in the beginning it was totally straight and then someone threw a stone in the pond and the surface gets these ripples and the whole line that was straight became a wave.

(Soundbite of "Touch the Sound")

BLOCK: Sound, of course, a wave as well.

Mr. RIEDELSHEIMER: Mm-hmm. Of course, yes. And you can bring it down, I think, to everything. This idea that something is stable, still, static like a piece of metal or something like that--there's still atomic, nucleus things and there's a lot of air around and everything holds together through spinning, vibrating, energetic movements. And probably you can even hear them if you would be able to.

(Soundbite of "Touch the Sound")

Mr. RIEDELSHEIMER: It's totally different from anything that is still, stable and static, which probably is close to death, as Evelyn said in the movie.

(Soundbite of "Touch the Sound")

BLOCK: It's great fun to watch Evelyn Glennie in this film create sound worlds for herself. There's a scene where she goes back to the farm in Scotland where she grew up. She hasn't been there for a long time, and she finds a whole store of pipes and sheet metal and tubing, and all of a sudden there's a little orchestra that she's created for herself.

(Soundbite of "Touch the Sound")

Mr. RIEDELSHEIMER: Yes, absolutely. I mean, this comes together with the surrounding sounds and she turns it into musical stuff, and she's very--she's inventing music or percussive instrument out of everything. I mean, there's the sequence as well when she's playing with chopsticks in a Japanese bar that I like very much. It's very tiny things.

(Soundbite of "Touch the Sound")

BLOCK: How did this come about? What happened?

Mr. RIEDELSHEIMER: We've been in a restaurant and she's been asking the barkeeper if she could have chopsticks and was kneeling down on the floor and had some actually used plates and cans and turned-down glasses and things like that, and started a very nice, vivid rhythm with it, and immediately the noises died down and everyone was listening. It was just a very private and intimate situation; very beautiful.

(Soundbite of "Touch the Sound")

BLOCK: How important was it to you in making this movie not only to explore Evelyn Glennie and her music and the whole concept of sound but also to explore her deafness?

Mr. RIEDELSHEIMER: That's a good point because normally this is a big issue in all her life, and she's not very much pleased to lay too much stress on it, and it's always this, `Well, that's the deaf musician. How can that be?' so that's the first issue. On the other hand, of course, it was always important to talk about it because the film is about sound as a physical thing, something that really hits you, something that you can feel and she's perfect to illustrate that. So my idea always was not to start with that and not make it the main issue of the film. I think you go through the film for half an hour or something like that, 20 minutes, and then you learn about her deafness and it doesn't play that big role in the rest of the film, but still you know it. The worst thing that could happen to me was when the film would turn out to be a film about a disabled person who finally made it or something like that, so I never wanted to do that.

BLOCK: There's a moment, almost at the end of the movie, where Evelyn Glennie talks about the enormous landscape of the senses.

(Soundbite of "Touch the Sound")

Ms. GLENNIE: Touch is just something that a little bit like hearing. It's just so vast. You know, we need all our senses for the others to function. We just do.

BLOCK: I wonder, as you were making this film, if you began hearing in a different way, if you found that your senses were expanding.

Mr. RIEDELSHEIMER: Yes, I would say so. I mean, it helps me being more aware of what's going on soundwise, and occasionally I really enjoy sitting in a metro station or somewhere else and start listening and listening, whatever, women passing by with high heels and, you know, this `clack, clack, clack, clack' thing going on. I guess it helps me being more aware and using more of my senses than I probably would if I had not been around with Evelyn for a whole year.

BLOCK: Making you hypersensitive in a way, maybe.

Mr. RIEDELSHEIMER: Not hyper. I think maybe to a normal degree sensitive. I think it's more the other way that we are starting to lose this ability of being aware, and we probably lose the ability to hear in the right way because this is--there's too many things that are too loud, are going on that are too simple, and then there's maybe not enough thinking about the things that are around us, so this all adds up to an awareness or an openness of taking things in and really working with them.

BLOCK: Thomas Riedelsheimer, thanks very much.

Mr. RIEDELSHEIMER: Thank you.

BLOCK: Thomas Riedelsheimer's film is called "Touch the Sound."

(Soundbite of "Touch the Sound")

BLOCK: The music you're hearing was improvised and performed by Evelyn Glennie and Fred Frith. You can watch scenes from the film at our Web site, npr.org.

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.