Trimpin: the Sound of Invention
dir: Peter Esmonde
Trimpin (no surname) is a German inventor and composer who lives in Seattle and builds musical instruments out of junk. As the production notes to this documentary about his life and work helpfully point out, the junk includes the following:
cathode ray tubes
electrical fan blades
a 10,000-volt neon transformer
So far, so quirky. “Childlike” outsiders who display artistic genius are a topic beloved of American documentarists — if you like that sort of thing, Realms of the Unreal (2004), about the artist Henry Darger, and The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005), about the eponymous singer-songwriter, are good examples. At first it seems as if Trimpin falls neatly into this mould, but the film turns out to be a more serious exploration of how human beings perceive sound, particularly in a world where music can be generated — even composed — by machines.
Two highlights: seeing the very earnest members of San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet try to keep a straight face when Trimpin gives them a selection of toy violins to play, and a brief introduction to one of the 20th century’s more unusual composers, Conlon Nancarrow, who mainly wrote music for the player piano.
And so we’re off. Coming up soon: Michael Haneke pokes around in the dark corners of rural Germany.