SIFF ’09 review – Trimpin: The Sound of Invention

Trimpin: The Sound of Invention, directed by Peter Esmonde (USA, 2008) 79 min.
Festival Screenings:
May 22, 7:00pm, SIFF Cinema
May 23, 1:30pm, SIFF Cinema

If you’d like a pair of tickets for tonight’s show, email us now. The first 3 people will win a pair of tickets, but you must be able to pick the tickets up at the station before 6PM today.

review by masakaman

Who is Trimpin? He uses only his last name, and was born 1951 in Istein, Germany (incidentally the area where cuckoo clock was created) but lives and works in Seattle, and enjoys treasure hunts at the junkyards to find objects he can use to create super cool pieces of sound driven art installations and music instruments controlled by computers. When Trimpin visited Washington back in the 70’s, he discovered a vast junk heaven and was so impressed that he decided to move to America. Today, he is a recognized 21st century artist and his work is displayed in museums around our world. People call him a magician, a mad scientist, and everything in between. But those labels don’t seem as important to him as long as he is just having fun. He has no cell phone or website, no dealer or manager, and has never been represented by a gallery. He dislikes recorded music and detests the loud speakers. As you’d expect, there are no commercial recordings of Trimpin’s music. His approach to the sound is very acoustical, in his belief that the sound of space is as important as the sound of instruments. He also uses very strange items for musical instruments, such as slide projectors, aircraft cables, and turkey basters, to name few. If it works, why not! And his graphical music scores are visually stimulating art by themselves, but he’s maybe the only one who can read them. Trimpin did not want become an engineer or technician nor composer nor even a musician. He wanted become all of them combined and he may very well have done that.

The documentary Trimpin: The Sound of Invention explores the world of Trimpin — which to say is complicated and eccentric would be an understatement — but at the same time it is simply an 80 minute fun ride to showcase his works and collaborations. The movie starts with early footage of Trimpin hitting the old fashion black typewriter at his desk. His typing is perfectly synched with sound of piano as if it’s inside of typewriter, but there is no piano in the typewriter or at the site. Still, you know it’s him typing that typewriter and somehow playing the piano you don’t see. You realize that he’s modified the typewriter to be used as a MIDI controller and thus as a mechanical piano. Like all of the works retrofitted and built by Trimpin, he admits he never knows if it’s going to work “but it’s a risk you have to take,” adding “Of course you don’t tell anybody and hope for the best. It worked so far without major disaster.”

When Trimpin was a kid, he was fascinated by old (1924) book Elektrotechnisches Bastelbuch (Harpers Electricity Book for Boys), which he found in his grandfather’s library. It showed how to build basic electronic gadgets like an “electronic trumpet” (think of door buzzer if you will) from scratch. He even installed a rotating dial out of old style telephone on his room door. Only a dialed correct number will unlock the door, and a wrong number will sound the alarm. His deep interest in sound developed at an early age, mostly from his surroundings. His father was cabinetmaker and taught music to children in the town where Trimpin grew up. He played brass instruments for a while, but an allergy to metal made him give up playing. But Trimpin promised to himself when he was a kid that he would continue to go on in life with the same interests — not an easy thing to do, even if you wanted to. How many people do you know have work project file folders with names like “Singing Textiles,” “Duck Calls,” “Fauxboo Reeds,” or “Infrared Sensor”?

Overall, the film is very inspiring and I was simply amazed by the end of it. I also think many kids will have a great time watching it, as it is filled with strange supplies and mysterious tech gadgets, which will thrill aspiring young stars who still enjoy and appreciate simple things in life. Sadly, many kids will eventually be consumed and used by tech gadgets instead of using them. But who knows, this film may change something for them or for you.

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