DVD Review: Trimpin: The Sound of Invention

Article first published as DVD Review: Trimpin: The Sound of Invention on Blogcritics.

Have you ever wondered what magic sounds like? It might sound a little like the music of Trimpin: cacophonic clicks and wheezes and zoops intermingled with ethereal angel tones, sonorous shimmers in unexpected audio combinations.

“I didn’t want to be a technician or an engineer or just a musician or a composer. The interest was laying in between,” says Trimpin in the opening lines of this enchanting documentary, Trimpin: The Sound of Invention.

Trimpin, who goes by only his last name, does not look like the popular conception of an artist, more like the eccentric, fae-touched inventor in a German folktale. He favors cardigans and plaid shirts and is balding, bearded and bespectacled, with a heavily German-accented voice. He has no cell phone or website. He does not use social media. Despite no agent or gallery representation, his work is seen in museums and public spaces around the world. He is like Mozart crossed with Doc Brown from Back to the Future.

Trimpin’s studio is a combination of Wonderland, Oz and a junk heap. Nothing is quite as it seems; everything is repurposed. Rusty bits and bobs and Elvis posters pile up alongside a typewriter that plays like a piano. His creations source found objects to manifest magic. A room full of hanging wooden Dutch shoes (“Klompen”) becomes a clattering, clicking fusillade of rhythmic moments.

“Klompen” by Trimpin
Sounds evoke memories. A favorite song might remind us of a special evening or a lost love. Trimpin hears music differently, sees things differently. His existence is solely aural-focused; he discovers a new sound and so explores it with boyish glee. His eyes light up behind his spectacles like neon.

With little editorializing, director Peter Esmonde allows Trimpin to tell his story. Trimpin explains he left Germany in search of affordable junk…which led him to America, the land of the disposable. Trimpin talks of his childhood experimentation in the Black Forest, land of cuckoo clocks, “as a kid I was always exposed to these kind of gadgets that could make music and move.”

Much of Trimpin: The Sound of Invention follows a collaborative project with famed contemporary classical music group, The Kronos Quartet. There’s much fun in watching these seasoned musicians face instruments built out of disemboweled cellos and plastic guitars. Trimpin’s graphical scores, magnificent colored graph and composition paper, look more like architectural plans than a musical staff.


Trimpin was not always a critical darling. During the documentary, he pulls out file folders full of rejection letters. Ultimately, he was a recipient of MacArthur Genius Grant, a tribute to his persistence when the world had no use for his art.

Trimpin himself is endearingly whimsical, riding a giant tricycle and playing a one-man accordian band. He is unselfconsciously playful, much like the children who interact with his sculptures and inventions. One little boy dances to Trimpin’s music the way we all should dance – like no one is watching.

Trimpin: The Sound of Invention culminates with the collaborative concert with The Kronos Quartet, a melange of music, mayhem and magnificence that deconstructs the idea of performance art and then reassembles it. Just like Trimpin would do.

Release date: 8/30/11
76 minutes
Microcinema International


Is there any more happy accident than serendipity?

For once, the dictionary is no help. It describes serendipity as (n) the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident. It is a pat description, but little explains that shivery feeling that true serendipity creates. Serendipity is where coincidence and destiny intersect. 

The word was coined by Horace Walpole (1717-92) in a letter to Mann (dated Jan. 28); he said he formed it from the Persian fairy tale “The Three Princes of Serendip,” whose heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” (dictionary.com)

Perhaps I am a Princess of Serendip. My father has always been a strong believer in serendipity. He told me to look for it and be ready when it comes. I have always kept one eye to the happenstance that leads to consequence.

My latest experience with serendipity has been a startling one. This blog is newish and I am continually refining the design, to make it more pleasing to the idea and easy to read. I find big chunks of text without pictures to be exhausting, much like Alice (“What is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations!”).

To that end, I had added an image of this painting to the sidebar:

Casper David Friedrich, Woman at the Window

I had actually never seen this painting before, in any of my art history classes. I was familiar with the artist, Casper David Friedrich (1774-1840). Below is his most famous work, which is in every art history textbook under Romanticism.

Casper David Friedrich, The Wanderer

I remembered the way this painting had made me feel, its capture of infinite possibilities. I wondered if the artist had other works that featured a woman and that same sense of yearning. So I googled his name and found the window painting and put it up. I was thrilled at how it looked on the page and complemented the wallpaper of the vintage photo of the girl at the window (which incidentally I found at a curiosities shop in Adare, Ireland). So I arranged it and promptly forgot about it…

Until four days later when my mother called and left a mysterious message on my voice mail. She sounded odd. When I called her back, she asked when I had put up the painting on my blog. When I told her, she was silent. Then she said, “I just bought you a book with that painting on the cover. I just saw that painting.”

My mother had just returned from New York City, where she spent the weekend. She and her best girl friend headed off to The Met, as any artistically-minded traveler would do. There, she was attracted by a special exhibition called Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century. One painting in particular caught her eye – she said it reminded her of me – and it was actually the featured painting in the exhibit. She sat there for a long time looking at it, the patinated greens of the dress and the soft brushwork. She loved it so much that she had to buy the exhibition catalog, which featured it on the cover, for my birthday. She knew I would love it too. She almost bought the poster, but the color match wasn’t true enough. I’m sure you’re following along, dear reader. The painting was this:

Casper David Friedrich, Woman at the Window

 And the exhibit was here: Metropolitan Museum: Rooms With a View, The Open Window in the 19th Century

It was no doubt rather a shock to load up my blog when she got home and see that exact painting pop up. It startled her so much that she left the cryptic message on my phone. Cue shivery feeling.

My mother and I are very compatible in our tastes, so it’s no surprise that we would both love such a dreamy, Romantic painting. What I cannot seem to explain is how, completely independent of each other, we both found a painting that we had never seen before in the same moment.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – Hamlet

The Library’s Whispers

Should I ever end my gypsy ways, I might actually have a home of my own. Despite the various perils of the real estate market, it seems to me there is not much more glamour in moving on a yearly basis, existing out of boxes, or continually living in places that cannot be made one’s own. Today, I spent twenty minutes fruitlessly hunting for a book that I finally located, shelved with my DVDs.

For I must have a library one day – I must. Personal libraries are quite different from institutional ones, which are forced to cater to the many not the few. They also close in the middle of the night, which is quite inconvenient for the night readers amongst us. Who reading this has not read by the dim light of a nightlight or flashlight, long after they were supposed to be abed?

Old Library – Trinity College

With no budget limitations in my mind, I have composed a list of rules for my library-to-be:
A. The library must have art.

The art needn’t be particularly expensive. In fact, general shabbiness of the room is permitted, as long as the art is especially beautiful. There should definitely be a marble bust somewhere, a bronze, some portraits of long-dead and smiling, patrician-nosed people in flaking gilt frames.

I’d like a few engravings too, pertaining to reading.

Girls in the Library – Forbidden Fruit

B. The library must not have a television. Or a stereo.

Then it is a rec room or entertainment room. Anyone who reads books voraciously knows that books -are- the entertainment. Books are your friends when you have none. Who can be lonely with Cyrano and Porthos making you laugh? A favorite book will never let you down and you always know how it ends…and how it begins.

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it”

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the riverbank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book’, thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?'”

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

The loss of music is a real one. I do love music, but it definitely occupies my mind when reading. It should be as pure a moment as possible, when hours slip by with each page and sleepless nights filled with 1001 tales.

C. The library’s furniture must be more functional than decorative.

It must have deep, squishy chairs, cozy wells for wallowing by the fireplace. One must have the proper rolling ladders along the cases, which must be wood and not particleboard or metal. There should be a reading stand which highlights some particularly excellent first edition or illuminated manuscript, next to a wooden globe. The draperies should be slightly dusty, but the books never. The floors should be wood parquet or faded oriental rugs, but never tile or linoleum. Wood paneling is a nice plus.

A Rather Proper Example of a Library.

The light that filters in the window should slide across the room in syrupy golden pools as the day wanes. Fluorescent light is verboten; I don’t care how much electricity it saves. Light should shine from Tiffany-like lamps and stained glass and a bay window seat, piled with pillows, with a view over a vast lawn.

If there is no music room, the piano may grace the library, but it ought to be only sounded when no one is reading.

And while I’m dreaming, why not have a tree in its midst?

Digital artwork by Brian Miller

There are those who claim that it’s just a matter of years that books will be defunct. That we will be able to read any book in the world, digitized, in moments…off a screen.

The Luddite in me scoffs at this proclamation. There will always be those who love the smell and the feel of books, the crackle of paper and the crisp print on the page. They can make the digital readers user-friendly, they can cover them in fabric and format them like books all they wish…but they will never replace books. Books were once so precious that they were copied and recopied by hand. Books are a uniquely human creation. Books contain all that we know or ever wish to know.

And so in this bright, shiny future where everyone carries their plastic reader…you’ll find me in my library, behind oak-paneled doors, curled up on my bay window seat…with a book in my hand.