Most artists who star in a documentary are dead or sliding into dotage, which is why I'm excited about Trimpin: The Sound of Invention—a superb portrait of a thriving Seattle-based artist whose mammoth and often-whimsical installations unite sound and sculpture.
By capturing Trimpin in his prime, producer–director Peter Esmonde avoids the hagiography endemic to documentaries made in the sunset years of the life of a "great artist." No portentous narrator renders a verdict, as in Ken Burns's Jazz or the CBS profile Stravinsky. Instead, the cameras capture Trimpin tinkering, negotiating with musicians, futzing, installing his work, performing, and, perhaps most importantly, shopping.
Cameras follow Trimpin trolling a salvage yard. He holds up a propeller, putters through some bins, and ends up buying an olio of gears, O-rings, and broken gadgets destined for a future installation.
Expert talking heads appear, but not too many: Trimpin's sister and father recall the artist's precocious youth in Germany. Composer Kyle Gann explains Trimpin's connection to Conlon Nancarrow, the 20th century's kingpin of rhythmic complexity and unwitting godfather of sonifying data into music. Sound poet and festival impresario Charles Amirkhanian chimes in as well.
But Trimpin does most of the talking in the film, and the most telling moments arise when he works with the Kronos Quartet. Almost every composer craves a commission from Kronos, but Trimpin holds his own when Kronos violinist David Harrington questions Trimpin's suggestion to smash a violin. "I have philosophical issues with that," Harrington declares. Unflustered, Trimpin listens intently to various objections. A less-experienced artist would fight or abjectly yield, but Trimpin takes the middle path; he lightens the room's gloomy mood by suggesting, "We could smash a cheap cello, too." Everyone laughs, and the discussions continue. No violin gets smashed, but the film concludes with the resulting collaboration: Kronos performing with an array of toys and custom-built instruments.
At a recent private screening in Seattle, Trimpin stood before the audience and, after the requisite thank-yous, testified to the film's down-to-earth approach. "There was no phony-baloney stuff," he recalled. "The camera crew was invisible. I was never asked to 'Stand over there' or 'Gee, could you say that again?' I was lucky to work with Peter [Esmonde], who really understands my work." Indeed.
Look for Trimpin: The Sound of Invention on the film-festival circuit in late 2008 and early 2009.
The saxophonist who funked up dozens of hits for James Brown—notably "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," "Mother Popcorn," "Cold Sweat," "Funky Drummer," and "Doing It to Death"—has become a virtuoso bandleader himself. Count on a slew of soul-jazz classics, including "Pass the Peas." Through Sun Sept 28. Jazz Alley, 2033 Sixth Ave, 441-9729, 7:30 pm, $45.
Kvetch if you will about Gerry Schwarz, but his performances of Mahler almost always deliver the goods. A squad of soloists and the Northwest Boychoir join the symphony and the chorale for Mahler's mammoth, rafters-raising Symphony No. 8, nicknamed the "Symphony of a Thousand." Also Sat Sept 27 at 8 pm and Sun Sept 28 at 2 pm. Benaroya Hall, 200 University St, 215-4747, 7:30 pm, $17–$105.
I rarely recommend concerts in the UW's President's Piano Series; typically, the programs exalt the warhorses of the solo piano repertoire while occasionally deigning to add a token contemporary piece. Simmons, a stunningly talented pianist, takes a different tack, stocking her program with two semisafe bets—preludes by Gershwin and Samuel Barber's imposing Piano Sonata—with several works by living composers: John Corigliano's Etude Fantasy, TaleSpin for piano and tape by Russell Pinkston, and selections from the Hip-Hop Studies and Etudes of Daniel Bernard Roumain. Avant diehards might still crave Helmut Lachenmann's fierce clusters or the strafing counterpoint of Chris Dench, but this gutsy program gets my vote. Preconcert talk at 7:10 pm. Meany Hall, UW Campus, 543-4880, 8 pm, $20/$31/$34.
The two night "Optical" section of this electronic-music event pairs experimental sound and video artists. The first night features the return of Jeff Greinke, a seminal part of the Seattle scene in the 1990s. Also, William Basinski, chiefly known for the marvelous Disintegration Loops, pairs up with video artist Scott Pagano. Sat Sept 27 showcases Akira Rabelais, maker of the cryptic freeware Argeïphontes Lyre, Kamran Sadeghi (aka Son of Rose), and others. Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave, 800-838-3006, 6 pm, $18.
Here's the crate digger's equivalent of a chamber-music concert: A few august hits such as Poulenc's Sonata for Clarinet and Piano and four selections from Shosatakovich's brilliant Preludes and Fugues for solo piano mingle with the Prokofiev's Sonata for Flute and Piano in D major, op. 94 and morsels by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921). Fourth floor Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, 547-8127, 7:30 pm, $15/$25.
A fleet-fingered guitarist and jazz-rock pioneer returns in the classic jazz organ trio format. With Los Angeles keyboard stalwart Joe Bagg at the Hammond B-3 and ex–Weather Report drummer Alphonse Mouzon. Also Wed Oct 1. Jazz Alley, 2033 Sixth Ave, 441-9729, 7:30 pm, $24.50.
SPICCIATI AND GRINSTEINER
Pianist Amy Grinsteiner and UW faculty oboist Shannon Spicciati perform Poulenc's pastoral Sonata for Oboe and Piano along with compositions by Boismortier, Ravel, Ibert, and Messiaen. Brechemin Auditorium in the Music Building, UW campus, 685-8384, 7:30 pm, $10.
This Berlin-based sound artist and improviser reimagines the prepared piano of John Cage by carefully amplifying the microscopic sounds made by rattling screws, vibrating rods, and other shivering detritus between the strings. A marvelous presence at the 2006 Seattle Improvised Music Festival (SIMF), she appears here in an "inside the piano" duet with Gust Burns as well as among a quintet that includes violist Mara Sedlins and the seldom-seen bassist Mark Collins. A benefit for the 2009 SIMF. Free Sheep Foundation, 2400 Third Ave, 8 pm, $10 suggested donation.