Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Documentary Channel "Trimpin"

During the month of December, the Documentary Channel is presenting a "Best of" series of some of the most honored documentaries of the past few years. I will be reviewing several of these films during the month.

Trimpin: The Sound of Invention is a highly entertaining look at a man who hears music in every sound he encounters. It's also an engaging look at an inventor/composer/visionary who is truly one of a kind.

Trimpin - he uses only his last name - was born in the Black Forest section of Germany, an area where cuckoo clocks are crafted and it seems that the mechanisms and music of these clocks heavily influenced him in his lifelong journey in creating novel sounds. Now living on the West Coast of America, Trimpin buys all sorts of junk as well as scrap metal and plastics and assembles any manner of strange and unique machines as well as musical instruments.

Director Peter Esmonde does a wonderful job telling the artist's story, as he moves from simple tools to more complex structures that are assembled in his warehouse, which is bursting with all sorts of random parts. Trimpin works with the ridiculous - plastic violins and guitars - to the sublime - often building megastructures made from various pipes and tubes that are whimsical musical entities.

One of the most ingenous of these sound sculptures is what Trimpin calls a Seismaton. This is a series of tubes linked up to marimbas and xylophones that play notes according to the seismic movement of the earth! Trimpin points out how the melodies vary, whether the tremors occur in Asia (thus music based on the pentatonic scale), Europe (western-oriented music) or Africa (polytonal). What an imagination this man has!

Esmonde shoes us in great detail how he creates a special musical concert, along with the input of the performing musicians. He also has a few enlightening scenes of Trimpin back in Germany, as he notes the sounds of the Rhine River as well as the wind rustling through the trees that he first heard as a child; the artist notes these influences in his life. "I knew this would be a lifetime investigation," declares Trimpin and indeed it has been.

Though never represented by an agent and despite the fact he has no website, Trimpin has garnered much attention; his $250,000 grant from the MacArthur foundation (the so-called "genius" grant) is evidence of that. Yet I'm certain that very few people know who this creative man is or what he does. Thankfully, Esmonde in his wonderful film, gives us a captivating glimpse into this man's life and work. This is a highly recommended film.

Trimpin: The Sound of Invention will be shown on Documentary Channel on Thursday, December 29 at 8:00 and 11:00 (EST)

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