Have you ever gone to the park and seen a scrappy man pressing a handful of leaves to his ear? A lost German beating himself with sticks? A yeti with square-framed glasses honking the horn on a toy fire engine? All of the above? It’s a long shot, but possible, that you were actually watching the obscure inventor/composer Trimpin.

My first instinct, naturally, would be to tease the beast with beef jerky and high five my hiking buddies. But if I’ve learned anything from those commercials, and I have, it’s that no matter how much extra beef jerky I have, the Sasquatch is very sensitive. So humor the man. Listen to his stories.

Trimpin (that’s his name, honestly, I can’t do anything about it) is an “artist” based out of Seattle. He goes to scrap yards and landfills and wherever else there are idle mattresses to sleep on and buys a bunch of crap. Then he fuses all the crap together to make giant, fused-together, crap. Some of it plays music.

He is celebrated as a kind of anti-Art figure because he doesn’t have a cellphone.
As much as I want to make fun of this man, and will, some of the crap he makes is freakishly elaborate. Examples. About 50 clogs hanging from strings that have mini drum pedals inside them that bang in rhythm to make a floating clog symphony. Water dripping into buckets filled with different amounts of water to create a long, water-based, IDM track. A wheel with designs on it and a mechanical arm that rotates around it sensing the changes in light on the wheel and playing notes in accordance. He’s a one-man Santa’s workshop.

He is celebrated as a kind of anti-Art figure because he doesn’t have a cellphone. Not having a phone makes you a martyr. That’s why I threw mine in the bay years ago. Okay, so it was actually my ex-girlfriend who threw it and it was out of my moving car. But the point is I don’t have a phone, mom.

He also doesn’t have a website. I learned that from this documentary’s blog.

Some of the stuff is so complicated and arcane that it’s interesting. Oh but I almost forgot, this is a documentary. It follows Trimpin doing three things: developing a large glass perpetual motion machine, working with the Kronos Quartet to compose a show mixing toy instruments and real ones, and creating a massive guitar sculpture. The Kronos Quartet project gets the most attention and if you watch closely, it’s a complete debacle. They have very little idea what they’re trying to say, and Trimpin’s “graphical scores” that look like unicorn vomit aren’t helping.

In an hour and a half following one man, you learn astonishingly little about him. In fact you learn astonishingly little about anything. Such is the way of most contemporary documentaries. They pick a subject, follow it, edit together the most entertaining parts, and hope it’s roughly the right length. No story, no argument. Just scenes cut together and my “experimental electronic” playlist in the background. Much like a poor Trimpin sculpture.

It did include my favorite sound bite in recent memory though. Spoken by the man who (begrudgingly, it seems) commissioned Trimpin for the guitar project. Describing him, he says in confused wonder, “He’s really just amusing himself, and it happens to be a slightly viable way to live.”

Trimpin plays as part of SF Doc Fest Saturday at 7 pm and Thursday at 9:15pm at the Roxie.

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