Trimpin – The Sound of Invention (2011)

by | Aug 12, 2011 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Trimpin – The Sound of Invention (2011)

Documentary on German artist/composer/inventor
Director: Peter Esmonde
Studio: Microcinema MC-1267 [8/30/11]
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: English & German, DD 5.1, PCM stereo
Subtitles: English
Length: 77 minutes
Rating: *****

Trimpin (he goes by just his last name) is a really unique creative genius going his very own way and never mind the establishment. He has no gallery representation or manager, and no website. He’s never made a commercial recording and doesn’t even like to listen to any recordings. He creates amazing freestyle musical sculptures that often fill a huge room, and are loved by young and old, artists, composers, sculptors, tinkerers, and museums around the world.

Trimpin constructs most of his musical creations out of junk, not being able in his beginnings to afford purchasing new parts. In fact he tells us that one of the reasons he moved from Germany to the U.S. (he is now based in Seattle) was that we had such an amazing quantity of high-class junk available!  His workshop looks like the abode of some crazed wizard. There are piles of toy pianos, mechanical dolls of various sorts, tubes, wires, solenoids, electronic and mechanical parts, you name it. But it’s not a mess – things are organized; he is, after all, German. He loves to make both small and large homemade instruments and has a John Cage-like appreciation for any sort of sound – though leaning more in the tonal musical direction than the avant-gardist. One shot in the film shows him attaching gadgets to make a sound on the front of what looks like a glass envelope of a CRT TV tube. But then he happens to rub his finger on the small base of the glass at its rear and gets a brief sound like Mozart’s glass harmonica. He ends up getting a bow and playing his new discovery.  

I interviewed Trimpin for my national radio series and made binaural recordings of a couple of his museum installations. My favorite grew out of his asking some female performer (or impersonator) about her absurdly high heel shoes. When her show was over she gave them to him, and eventually he got a number of people to give their old shoes to him to create a new musical sculpture. He ended up with many Dutch wooden shoes, into which he placed small solenoids operating a striker hammer. They were all controlled by a computer and floated on a pond. Later he suspended them in a cluster from the ceiling of a museum, which is seen and heard in the film.  Sometimes his musical creations can be controlled by the public who can touch various sensors or keyboards.  His most lavish creation so far is probably the giant 60-foot tower of self-playing electric guitars which he built for Paul Allen’s Jimmy Hendrix Museum in Seattle.  He still wanted only used electric guitars, but even so, the cost must have been sizable.

There are shots of Trimpin working with piano-roll composer Conlon Nancarrow; piano- rolls and big musicbox discs are at the heart of some of Trimpin’s creations. Composer/sound poet Charles Amirkhanian is also one of the talking heads. A long section is devoted to Trimpin working closely with the Kronos Quartet on a concert using entirely toy instruments. Though I found it not as interesting musically as most of his constructions, the process of their creating an entirely different improvised concert experience was unique. Trimpin also goes back to visit his parents in Germany to look into his early childhood and how he became the unique inventive composer he is today.

 — John Sunier


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