Thursday, December 3, 2009

Trimpin Film out

"There's a Trimpin film out!" Edgy Varrez exclaimed as he zoomed into Starkland headquarters. Indeed there is. The documentary "TRIMPIN: The Sound of Invention" premiered earlier this year, and has been making the rounds of film festivals in San Francisco, Vancouver, London, Denver, Barcelona, more. There's both a blog and website for the film, which has attracted some fine reviews.

For the uninitiated, Trimpin (that's his full name) is a wonderfully obsessive individual. Sui generis, par excellence. He creatively merges sculpture and music in unexpected ways, from a six-story-high microtonal xylophone to his own inventions that mechanically play nearly every instrument in the orchestra.

Perhaps his most famous undertaking is a tornado-shaped column of electric guitars called Roots and Branches, installed in Seattle's Experience Music Project (designed by Frank Gehry and financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen). The guitars are both played and self-tuned automatically via Trimpin's mechanical wizardry.

Photo: EMP|SFM

Edgy eased himself into the Starkland mastering engineer's Aeron chair, popped open a sugar-free Red Bull, and began to reminisce.

"Back in 1989, I attended a new music festival in Telluride, Colorado, of all places." He explained most concerts took place that town's delightfully diminutive Sheridan Opera House, which seats 238.

"Upon entering the opera house, I immediately noticed that, hanging in a horseshoe shape from the balcony, there were about 100 Dutch wooden shoes. I learned each shoe contained a tiny mallet, which could be triggered to produce a sharp klonk via wires from each shoe that were attached to a Mac computer. All this had been built and assembled by the guy on stage, Trimpin." The music heard met the audience's expectations inspired by this elaborate setup. Complex, rapid patterns were especially clear because of the spatial configuration, achieving superhuman rhythmic effects.

Trimpin's wooden shoes, equipped with tiny mallets

Conlon Nancarrow was also in attendance, and somehow Trimpin ended up programming Nancarrow music to be performed on the encircling wooden shoes.

"One of the most magical evenings ever," said Edgy Varrez.

Trimpin sums his work up as:
"extending the traditional boundaries of instruments and the sounds they're capable of producing by mechanically operating them. Although they're computer-driven, they're still real instruments making real sounds, but with another dimension added, that of spatial distribution. What I'm trying to do is go beyond human physical limitations to play instruments in such a way that no matter how complex the composition of the timing, it can be pushed over the limits."
Since those days, Trimpin has won considerable fame, including a MacArthur "Genius" Award in 1997. A fine article appeared in The New Yorker in 2006.

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