Touch the Sound

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Touch the Sound
2004 German film poster
Directed byThomas Riedelsheimer[1]
Written byThomas Riedelsheimer
Produced byLeslie Hills
Stefan Tolz
Trevor Davies[1]
StarringEvelyn Glennie
Fred Frith[1]
CinematographyThomas Riedelsheimer[1]
Edited byThomas Riedelsheimer[1]
Music byEvelyn Glennie
Fred Frith[1]
Distributed byPiffl Medien GmbH (Germany)[1]
Release date
  • 4 November 2004 (2004-11-04) (Germany)[2]
Running time
99 min.[1]
United Kingdom[2]

Touch the Sound: A Sound Journey with Evelyn Glennie is a 2004 German documentary film directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer about profoundly deaf Scottish classical percussionist Evelyn Glennie.[3] In the film Glennie, who won a Grammy Award in 1989,[4] collaborates with English experimental musician Fred Frith and others, and explains how she perceives sound.[5][6] The film appeared at over 20 film festivals across the world,[7] and won several awards, including "Best Documentary" at the 2004 BAFTA Awards, Scotland.[8]

A soundtrack of Touch the Sound featuring Glennie and Frith, plus additional music and sounds from the film, was released in 2004.[9] An album based on Glennie and Frith's performances in the film entitled The Sugar Factory was released in 2007.[10]


German filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer's previous film Rivers and Tides (2001) received several awards, including Best Documentary awards by the German Film Critics Association, the San Diego Film Critics Society and the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.[11] The soundtrack of the film was composed and performed by English experimental musician Fred Frith.[12]

In 2003 Riedelsheimer asked Frith to perform with Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie in Touch the Sound. The venue was an abandoned sugar factory in Dormagen, Germany, and their performance was filmed under the pretext of "making a record". Frith and Glennie had never worked together before and their entire performance was improvised. For the purpose of the documentary the musicians performed 100 feet (30 m) apart in the huge empty factory, which Frith said "was great visually, but limited in other ways".[10][13]

In addition to appearing on the soundtrack of Touch the Sound, music from Frith and Glennie's performance in the sugar factory was later reworked and released by the pair on a CD in 2007 entitled The Sugar Factory.[9][10]

Riedelsheimer explained why he chose to create a film about Glennie: "I was so struck by her. What was amazing was not so much the music itself but the way she is in it. That finally became the subject – not music, but sound and the ability to feel the sounds around us."[14] He said that the "biggest challenge" of the project was to "transfer acoustics or sound ideas into images" and "to find images that are metaphors for these sounds".[15] Riedelsheimer did not want to make a film about a deaf person who succeeds as a musician, he wanted a film about the physical nature of sound, something that can be felt, and Glennie was ideal to demonstrate it.[15] The film took three years to make, one year to raise money, one year filming at 16 locations around the world, and another year editing the results in post-production. It was shot on 16 mm film with one microphone and one camera, and later blown up to 35 mm during editing.[14]


"Hearing is a form of touch. You feel it through your body, and sometimes it almost hits your face."

—Evelyn Glennie in Touch the Sound [16]

Touch the Sound explores Evelyn Glennie's career as a musician and how, despite being profoundly deaf, she is able to perceive sounds other than with her ears.[5][6] Glennie explains how a neurological disorder struck her as a child, and by the age of eight, soon after she had started to play the piano, she began to lose her hearing. When she was 13 an audiologist said it was no longer possible for her to play music and suggested she be moved to a school for the deaf. But Glennie remained at her school, and switched from piano to percussion, the vibrations of which, she discovered, she could sense with her sense of touch.[6] Glennie developed this ability to feel sound and later went on to become "one of the world's foremost solo percussionists".[5]

In the film Glennie performs and is interviewed at several locations around the world. She visits the farm in Aberdeenshire, Scotland where she grew up, and reminisces on her childhood and how she overcame her hearing loss. She collaborates with English experimental musician Fred Frith in an abandoned sugar factory in Dormagen, Germany, as they record a CD together. She also plays snare drums in Grand Central Station in Manhattan, performs with Cuban percussionist Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez on a New York City rooftop, and performs with Ondekoza, a taiko drum troupe in Japan.[14]


Touch the Sound was generally well received by critics, with Allmovie giving it four stars out of five,[3] and scoring 75 at[17]

Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr called Touch the Sound "a documentary of immense and mysterious power" that enables us to hear what Glennie hears.[18] Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan said the film is a "potent and imaginative creative biography" of Glennie that successfully conveys her perception of the world to audiences.[5] He described the sugar factory improvisations as a "mesmerizing interplay of sounds", and called it the film's "central event".[5] Film critic Stephen Holden writing in a review in The New York Times, called the film an "impressionistic documentary" and a "mystical exploration of the sensory world" of Glennie. Holden said the film is "a duet within a duet": Glennie's collaboration with Fred Frith, and her collaboration with filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer.[16]

Music critic Tim Page said in The Washington Post that Touch the Sound is "at its best" when Glennie is making music, but criticised the film for its "vacuous" interviews with her, who he felt, "seems positively incapable of saying anything substantial".[19] Page also complained about the amount of filler in the film, and that "most of the music [is not] very good", although he did like Glennie's final collaboration with Frith where, after the "usual 'free jazz' shtick", they "suddenly [...] find a point of agreement".[19] But Page did feel that Glennie's achievements are "little short of miraculous, and that human victory is ultimately the best news one takes away from Touch the Sound."[19]


Touch the Sound has won five awards.[8]


A soundtrack of Touch the Sound by Evelyn Glennie was released on CD in 2004.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Touch the Sound credits". AllRovi. Retrieved 16 April 2013.
  2. ^ a b "Touch the Sound: A Sound Journey with Evelyn Glennie". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 16 April 2013.
  3. ^ a b Deming, Mark. "Touch the Sound". AllRovi. Retrieved 16 April 2013.
  4. ^ "1988 Grammy Awards". Grammy Award. Retrieved 8 May 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d e Turan, Kenneth (9 September 2005). "Touch the Sound". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 5 September 2008. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
  6. ^ a b c Fox, Ken. "Touch the Sound". TV Guide. Retrieved 8 May 2013.
  7. ^ "Touch the Sound: Festivals and Awards". Touch the Sound homepage. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
  8. ^ a b "Touch the Sound: A Sound Journey with Evelyn Glennie awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  9. ^ a b Eddins, Stephen. "Touch the Sound". AllMusic. Retrieved 16 April 2013.
  10. ^ a b c Jurek, Thom. "The Sugar Factory". AllMusic. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  11. ^ "Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
  12. ^ Westergaard, Sean. "Rivers and Tides: Working With Time". AllMusic. Retrieved 19 April 2013.
  13. ^ Frith, Fred (2007). The Sugar Factory (CD). Fred Frith and Evelyn Glennie. New York City: Tzadik Records.
  14. ^ a b c Pasles, Chris (9 September 2005). "To hear, one must truly listen". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
  15. ^ a b "Interview: Thomas Riedelsheimer discusses stretching the senses in "Touch the Sound"". NPR. 30 September 2005. Archived from the original on 15 March 2016. Retrieved 5 April 2013. (subscription required)
  16. ^ a b Holden, Stephen (7 September 2005). "How Sound Feels to Musician Who Lost Her Hearing". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
  17. ^ "Touch the Sound: A Sound Journey with Evelyn Glennie". Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  18. ^ Burr, Ty (14 October 2005). "Percussionist's Life Resonates Deeply". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 25 March 2016. Retrieved 5 April 2013. (subscription required)
  19. ^ a b c Page, Tim (4 November 2005). "'Sound': A Turkey, With Drumsticks". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 15 April 2016. Retrieved 5 April 2013. (subscription required)

External links[edit]