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Speak Percussion
Speak Percussion

Melbourne ensemble Speak Percussion bring their biggest and brightest performances to Perth this month as part of the Totally Huge New Music Festival running October 19 to October 29. This includes the dazzling electronic sound and light show Fluorophone at Subiaco Arts Centre on Wednesday, October 25 and the epic 100 piece percussion composition A Wave and Waves sending the festival out at the Midland Railway Workshops on Sunday, October 29. BRAYDEN EDWARDS spoke to Speak Percussion’s Artistic Director Eugene Ughetti about the two performances, how they recruited 100 percussionists for a show, and why the simplest of elements like rice, lentils and pebbles can create the richest, most complex sonic compositions of all.

Let me begin with asking just how the performance Fluorophone works? It’s a sound and lighting show but are you focusing on one of those elements in particular and setting it up to trigger the other?

The idea is that the light and the sound are very much one and the same thing. We’re playing fluorescent lights and using strobe lights to create visual and sonic effects at the same time. It’s about the relationship between light and sound and using energy to create those sonic and visual elements simultaneously. The vast majority of it is live but we do enrich the sound with some automated elements as well.

You’ve toured this production all over the world through Europe, Asia and Australia. What is involved in touring a show like this? I imagine there’s a lot of special and specific equipment required to pull it all off?

We tour with most of our own gear. It’s normally about five or six suitcases but sometimes we do need to freight some of it. Some of the really basic stuff like the PA and lighting are generally provided by the venues we perform in. It actually really tours quite well.


It’s a real integration between creative arts and technical skills. Where do the ideas for these shows emerge from? Is there someone who visualises these things in a creative sense and then handballs it off to someone with more technical nouse to make it happen or is it more of a combined approach?

There’s a big collaborative team working on the project. Everyone has their own particular role that has a technical dimension to it. It all started with a couple of European composers that wanted to write something for us and both had already been working with light sources in their own ways. One of them was Juliana Hodkinson who had been working with matches and the other was who was working with fluorescent lights. That’s where we commissioned a new work that dealt with new and other sources of light as well…strobe lights and LEDs and different types of fluorescents.

A Wave and Waves is another performance you are involved in. What’s your role in that one?

I’m the Director so it’s my job to rehearse the ensemble and put the whole performance together.

I’ve heard there are 100 percussionists taking part in this performance. How do you go about recruiting that number of people?

The head of the Percussion Department at UWA Dr Louise Devenish has been in charge of that. She just put a call out and got responses. I’m not sure what strategy she used but I think it involved a whole lot of students and professional players from Perth and different community groups that were interested in getting involved.

I imagine you still have a core team that are involved that are orchestrating that or are all the percussionists sourced from WA?

For A Wave and Waves there are four Speak Percussion performers and 96 guests.

Speak Percussion
The Midland Railway Workshops

It involves a broad range of different textural and percussive elements. What variety of sounds are used in that mix to create the effect you are after?

The sound varies from the shortest driest sounds through to completely long uninterrupted resonant sounds. It’s an extreme variety of sound material and some of that is created by using things like rice or lentils or pebbles. A whole clump of them are slowly and gradually dropped onto the instruments. It’s almost like this textural wash that has a really organic feel, but there’s a slight irregularity about the way the beads and pulses fall onto the objects.

Is it all organic or do you use any digital or electronic elements as well?

In A Wave and Waves it’s all organic without any electronics whatsoever so there are 100 players doing nothing but acoustic sounds. But of course in Fluorophone it’s completely different.

What other acts or performances are you looking forward to catching at the festival?

I think Decibel are an amazing group so I’d be fascinated to see them in action. They’re a great Perth-based music ensemble and I’m really excited to see them perform again.

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