percussion maximal

sam gillies: speak percussion, flesh and ghost, thnmf

Speak Percussion, Flesh and Ghost, THNMF 2011

Speak Percussion, Flesh and Ghost, THNMF 2011

Speak Percussion, Flesh and Ghost, THNMF 2011

SPEAK PERCUSSION’S FINAL PERFORMANCE AT THE STATE THEATRE’S STUDIO UNDERGROUND FOR THE TOTALLY HUGE NEW MUSIC FESTIVAL WAS A TRUE SHOWCASE OF AUSTRALIAN TALENT. PERFORMING FOUR COMMISSIONED WORKS FROM AUSTRALIAN COMPOSERS LUKE PAULDING, THOMAS MEADOWCROFT AND LONG TIME COLLABORATOR ANTHONY PATERAS, SPEAK PERCUSSION, WITH ASSISTANCE FROM PERTH-BASED PERCUSSIONISTS, PERFORMED A FLAWLESS SET OF INSPIRATIONAL WORKS.

Refractions, an Anthony Pateras composition, was the oldest piece in the program, originally premiered by Speak Percussion in 2009. A piece for six performers, the work utilises a wide variety of percussion instruments, from bass drums, gongs and snares to glass bottles, keys and wine glasses. Refractions has a real emphasis on texture, ranging from harsh and brutal to moments of delicate beauty. The arrangement of sound for the acoustic ensemble is akin to experiments in electronic music. Very fast motifs fuse sounds together to form complex timbres and Pateras’ manipulation of the orchestration takes on, in parts, an almost granular character.

The ensemble is laid out in a semi-circle, with identical instruments arranged opposite one another. This allows for acoustic manipulations of the stereo field of perception, with sounds appearing to transition from one side of the ensemble to the other through the use of slight delays and subtle pitch relationships. Here, Speak Percussion demonstrate their formidable performative abilities in realising the subtleties of these sound movements, moving between various states of solid sound mass via moments of sonic fluidity that kept the audience mesmerised.

Speak Percussion, Great Knot, THNMF 2011

Speak Percussion, Great Knot, THNMF 2011

Speak Percussion, Great Knot, THNMF 2011

Thomas Meadowcroft’s The Great Knot followed. Alluding to a domestic environment through the incorporation of a variety of household objects laid out on a large kitchen table, Meadowcroft’s composition begins gently. A slow melody is performed on the thin sounding CASIO keyboard as the three performers create long drones from perfectly pitched wine glasses. With occasional inclusions of additional recorder drones and the noisy sound of marbles being spun in CD containers and mixing bowls, the piece feels almost synthetic, approaching the calm tranquillity of the synthesis works of Alva Noto.

Just as the audience begins to settle into a state of reflection however, backing music built from the sounds of the CASIO keyboard is triggered. Sounding like a campy soundtrack to an 8-bit video game from the 1980s, the change is totally unexpected. Noisy textures continue to be performed by the ensemble, and while the composition doesn’t exactly build to a climax, it is certainly clear that the music is getting busier. Somehow, this sudden change climbs above a simple shock tactic and takes the piece to a new level. What began as a quiet, contemplative composition by the end displays a playful sense of parody that seems to delight in so easily manipulating the listener’s expectations.

Luke Paulding’s work Surface Given Radiance was the first piece following the intermission. Utilising pitched-metal resonating instruments, the emphasis of this work is on the sound possibilities of the 80 microtonally tuned aluminium tubes and their interaction with the vibraphones and crotales. The latter instruments create a mesmerising blur of sound, a thick washy texture against which the dampened, microtonal pitches of the aluminium tubes can be sounded. The end result is an overwhelming sound mass that appears tonal, but which allows for various subtle microtonal fluctuations to be played out over time, brought out perfectly by the measured performance of Speak Percussion.

The final piece was Anthony Pateras’ second composition for the evening, Flesh & Ghost. The piece was premiered by Speak Percussion earlier this year at MONA FOMA (see RT102, p5), and was originally received on the eve of Speak’s 10th birthday. As with Refractions there is a strong spatial element to this work. Maximising the performance possibilities of all 12 performers, frequencies are sent up and down the length of the ensemble and bounced from performer to performer, elegantly curving in precise patterns. New material muscles its way through old material to propel the work forward, and while the general structure of the piece consists of blocks of rapidly developing rhythmic material, the general emphasis of the piece is on the movement of and relationship between different sounds. Thunderous toms and intense bursts of marimba disguise what is essentially a playful manipulation of frequencies and sound relationships and the variety of ways sound can be manipulated by the ensemble.

Speak Percussion’s final major performance for the Totally Huge New Music Festival (they had one more performance including a repeat of The Great Knot at The West Australian Academy of Performing Arts on Sept 20) was an excellent demonstration of some of the most exciting new Australian music written in recent times. Speak Percussion’s skill and dedication in realising these pieces is impressive and only serves to reinforce how much better off the Australian music scene is for their interest in commissioning new and original works.

Totally Huge New Music Festival 2011: Speak Percussion, Flesh and Ghost, composers Anthony Pateras, Luke Paulding, Thomas Meadowcroft, performers Eugene Ughetti (artistic director), Matthias Schack-Arnott, Peter Neville, Leah Scholes, Matthew Horsley Louise Devenish; presented by Tura New Music; Studio Underground, Perth State Theatre Center; Sept 17; http://www.tura.com.au/totally-huge-music-festival/about

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 38

© Sam Gillies; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

18 September 2011