Island drummer, Rick Bausman. Photo by Brian Jolley
Island drummer, Rick Bausman. Photos by Brian Jolley

Rick Bausman touches the sound

By Brooks Robards - January 26, 2006

Arriving in 1980 to work with the disabled at Camp Jabberwocky in Vineyard Haven, Rick Bausman has been drumming full time on Martha's Vineyard since 1986. So when Silver Screen Society Director Richard Paradise decided to look for someone who could give a drumming demonstration before the January 28 screening of "Touch the Sound," Mr. Bausman made the perfect candidate.

"Touch the Sound" is a documentary film about Grammy- award-winning Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who is profoundly deaf. It will be shown at 7:30 pm at Vineyard Haven's Katharine Cornell Theatre, with a special participatory drum workshop led by Rick Bausman at 6:30 pm.

Rick Bausman. Photo by Brian Jolley
Look for Rick Bausman's demonstration before Saturday's film.

The 45-minute workshop will explore the connections between touch and percussion that enable the movie's subject to make music. Up to 20 audience members can register for the workshop, and this group will give a brief performance for the rest of the audience before the film starts at 7:30 pm.

"I have been a drummer since I was three," Mr. Bausman says. Specializing in Haitian ritual music, he performed with rock and jazz bands during his high school and college years, then with Island musical groups the Ululators, the African-based traditional ensemble Die Kunst der Drum, and Entrain.

As Entrain began to perform off-Island with increasing frequency, Mr. Bausman dropped out to pursue on-Island drum projects. His non-profit workshops offer drumming for all ages and kinds of people.

Evelyn Glennie
Evelyn Glennie is the subject of "Touch the Sound."

"The emphasis is on nurturing a sense of community and self-esteem," Mr. Bausman says. Building a national clientele, he has worked with many different populations, including the handicapped, prison inmates, the elderly, and individuals with long-term illnesses.

Mr. Bausman has written curriculum guides, produced CDs, devised instructional manuals to train other teachers and acted as a facilitator to establish other drumming programs and keep them going. Since he became a single dad raising three children, he has limited his traveling to focus on Island drumming.

"It's really allowed me to explore a lot of programming ideas here," he says. He teaches in the Edgartown School once a week, in the West Tisbury School, in Island senior centers and youth centers. His CD "Conga Cycle" recently won a "Parents Choice" award.

"Hearing is just interpreting vibrations," Mr. Bausman says, adding that Ms. Glennie "must have a very good internal sense of rhythm."

Focus on unique musician
"Touch the Sound," is directed by German filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer, who also made "Rivers and Tides" about environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy.

Beautifully photographed, "Touch the Sound" explores how Evelyn Glennie makes music on many different instruments. The film begins with her using a Chinese gong. Then the audience sees her performing on a snare drum in New York's Grand Central Station. Wearing jeans and a sleeveless t-shirt, Ms. Glennie looks much like the other street musicians who make music in the city's subways for small change.

"Touch the Sound" does not use a conventional biographical narrative track, instead showing Ms. Glennie in a variety of contexts. One that recurs is her collaboration with California-based guitarist Fred Frith in a cavernous factory building where the two are making a CD. Called the godfather of the international improv scene, Mr. Frith himself has been the subject of a documentary, "Step Across the Border."

Ms. Glennie uses many kinds of sticks or batons, some flexible, some muffled, some traditional. "Hearing is a form of touch," she says. "You feel it through your body, and sometimes it almost hits your face."

Ms. Glennie performs barefooted so she can feel sound vibrations with her feet. "I think it's what's coming through the earth that affects me," she says.

Raised on a farm in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, Evelyn Glennie began losing her hearing at age eight and by 11 was wearing hearing aids. An audiologist told the piano-playing child she could not play music, but Glennie never stopped. A percussion teacher taught her to distinguish subtle differences by using her body as a resonating chamber.

In a Japanese restaurant, Ms. Glennie finds plates, bottles, glasses to make music. She gives a vibraphone performance accompanied by a pianist. Everything resonates for her, even grains of sand at the beach. Working in the factory building, she and Mr. Frith toss rolls of graph paper through the cavernous space, experimenting like two children.

"Silence is one of the heaviest sounds," Ms. Glennie says. "It's the closest thing I can imagine to death."

Director Riedelsheimer triangulates with Ms. Glennie and her music, combining imagery, ambient sounds and her percussion to investigate what sound means. The cinematography often isolates beautiful images - wires, buildings, urban gear, grass blowing, wind on the surface of water - to help make an extraordinary statement about an extraordinary woman. u

"Touch the Sound," Saturday, Jan. 28, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Spring Street, Vineyard Haven. Free drum workshop with Rick Bausman starts at 6:30 pm. Register by calling 627-3786 or at or show up by 6:30 pm.

Brooks Robards is a poet, author, and former college film instructor. She frequently contributes stories on art, film, and poetry to The Times.