Judge Russell Engebretson finds the sounds of silence soothing but sibilant.
Open your ears and your mind will follow.
This 77-minute documentary gives us a brief glimpse into the life of an unusual artist that some critics have proclaimed a genius. The back of the DVD case informs us that Gerhard Trimpin (who only uses his last name) has never recorded for a record label, set up a website, or been represented by an art gallery. Other sources claim he dislikes cell phones, loudspeakers, and modern recording technology. One might reasonably expect that he would come across as a sour curmudgeon, but this short documentary shows us an intelligent, friendly fellow in his late fifties, gray-haired with a neatly trimmed beard, who has a flair for creating unique sound-sculpture gadgets. His work consists mainly of musical—or at least sound-producing—objects created from found bits and pieces, and cleverly handcrafted into sculptures that are difficult to adequately describe in words.
One of his sculptures is a sixty-foot-tall, twisted, inverted-cone tower of 500 electric guitars enmeshed in mechanical devices that pluck and hammer the strings when triggered by controls at its base; another is a room-filling, circular set of metal rails, somewhat like a rollercoaster track—a pseudo perpetual motion machine—along which rolls a large glass sphere. To save the film from becoming nothing more than a display of his inventions, there's a storyline that follows his collaboration with the well-known Kronos Quartet for a partially improvised and wholly bizarre live concert. A few short interviews with Trimpin about his childhood also help to round out the documentary.
Trimpin, whose father was a cabinet maker and musician, grew up in the Black Forest of Germany—land of the cuckoo clock and other ingenious musical contraptions—which no doubt helped to shape his unique artistic sensibilities. In 1980, he immigrated to the United States because his homeland could not provide the castaway industrial detritus he required for his artistic gizmos; Trimpin was also greatly influenced by Conlon Nancarrow, a composer of player piano music that could not be reproduced by human hand, and worked with him in the late eighties.
I found the portions of the doc that dealt with the Kronos Quartet to be the least effective segments of the film. It was interesting to see the string quartet interacting with Trimpin (and amusing to see their sometimes doubtful and bemused reactions), but the brief snippets of the concert convinced me that Trimpin works best as a solo visionary.
Sad to say, for a disc devoted to an examination of visual objects and soundscapes, this is a mediocre, interlaced transfer. The dialogue is clear, but the audio suffers from the usual compressed sound of Dolby Digital. A well-mastered DTS or LPCM track would have greatly enhanced the listening experience. For extras, the DVD includes trailers for the movie, a stills gallery, and four deleted scenes. The best deleted material is a 9-minute scene of Timpin delightedly checking out various micro-tonal instruments in a musical museum devoted to the late Harry Partch. It's telling to see Partch's essentially musical approach (he built special instruments to escape what he saw as the bonds of the twelve-tone scale) as contrasted to Timpin's focus on the instrument as sculptured contraption and mechanized sound device.
It might help to grasp some of the weirdness of Timpin's art by imagining a musical counterpart to the surreal cinema of the Quay Brothers or Jan Švankmajer. If that sounds intriguing, and you have a hankering to imbibe in the far side of art outside the mainstream, Director Peter Esmonde's Trimpin: The Sound of Invention may be just your thing.
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