Thursday, July 14, 2011

Trimpin: The Sound Of Invention

Trimpin: The Sound Of Invention is a gem that demonstrates re-connection with one’s inner child need not be an excuse for infantilism. Instead, said re-connection is a renewal of the awareness of unconventional possibility in supposed junk. The viewer can appreciate Trimpin’s genius even if they lack the man’s ear for finding potential music in the sound of glass breaking in the bottom of a dumpster.

The German subject of Esmonde’s documentary is what Charles Amirkhanian calls an intermedia artist. Trimpin’s projects may make music, but they’re also works of idiosyncratic art and unexpected invention. Raw materials for previous musical creations have included turkey basters, toy monkeys, and slide projectors. For the German, finding new ways to experiment with making sound is a lifetime endeavor.

Esmonde’s intimate film provides the closest approach many viewers will have to Trimpin’s life and work. The inventor/musician/artist has never allowed commercial recordings of his work, and he doesn’t maintain a Website of any sort. Prior film crews have used Trimpin and his amazing workshop as grist for mad scientist-style ridicule.

By contrast, Trimpin respects and is fascinated by its subject’s amazing creativity. What ordinary people call junk, the intermedia artist calls seeds for new inventions. The man turns a juice dispenser into a musical instrument because he’s willing to experiment with anything just to see what unexpected sounds he can generate from it. That approach is less deliberation and more a willingness to embrace accidental discovery. The idea for the 60-foot self-playing guitar sculpture came about from an offhanded suggestion.

Trimpin’s fascination with unusual ways of creating music came from a memorable Sunday morning childhood visit to a nearby forest. Listening closely to the sounds of wind and trees impressed on him the habit of listening carefully to the world’s sounds. (Perhaps that habit explains why the German dislikes loudspeakers.)

Over the two year period covered by the film, the viewer sees some of the projects growing out of Trimpin’s listening skills. These projects include a “tree” of musical clogs and a marimba which translates earthquake data into music.

But the most ambitious project involves Trimpin’s creating a concert in collaboration with famed avant garde group The Kronos Quartet. Esmonde doesn’t shy away from showing the personality clashes resulting from two very different creative styles. Trimpin’s proposed musical score, for example, is less ordered bars and notes and more hallucinogenic than anything else. While the collaborators’ creative differences are eventually overcome, appreciation of the resulting piece depends on the viewer’s ability to accept non-traditional classical music.

The German intermedia artist’s personality clashes should not come as a surprise. His life has been marked by an idiosyncratic individualism. Standardized education didn’t interest him, and he came off as unstudious. The “Fuck You” file that Trimpin uses for rejection letters makes one wonder about the addressee of the curse. Most significantly, despite his artistic achievements, Trimpin has never had gallery or agent representation.

What ultimately matters to Trimpin is the result of his newest sonic exploration. Whether or not said exploration meets with public appreciation, the man’s experimentation makes us all the artistically richer.