Since their first performance in 2000, experimental ensemble Speak Percussion has become increasingly renowned for innovative and virtuosic musical explorations. Artistic Director Eugene Ughetti is a composer, conductor and percussionist who has worked with a dazzling array of international conductors, musicians and ensembles, including occasional stints with the MSO. For Fluorophone, Ughetti was joined by Speak Percussion Artistic Associate Matthias Schack-Arnott, Sounds Unheard Coordinator Kaylie Melville and Perth-based percussionist and member of the Decibel New Music Ensemble, Louise Devenish.
The interconnectivity between sound and light sources was thrillingly evident in the works performed in Fluorophone. Award-winning composer Damien Ricketson is the founder of another eminent group of Australian performers, Ensemble Offspring; his Rendition Clinic (2015) is for two percussionists and a strobe light operator, and is a minimalist consideration of the interplay between light and sound. The performers played in complete darkness, lit only by intermittent flashes of white light in conjunction with electrically generated sonic snaps. Eugene Ughetti’s Pyrite Gland removed the tom-tom drum from its usual role as component of a traditional drum kit. Three players explored the textural possibilities of this instrument using foot pumps, hoses, balloons, electronics and effects pedals to create a breathily organic sound world.
Two works by Danish composer Simon Løffler explored the possibilities for interplay between sound, light and performers. e (2016-17) used the central symbol of the triangle, set within a neon frame of interconnected triangles, while four performers generated and conducted electronic hum through their bodies using effects pedals. b (2012) worked with similar ideas using single horizontal neon lights as part of a ‘workbench’ of sound-generating materials, including the end (jack) of a cable, and made the use of bodies (arms, hands) as electrical sound conductors more explicit.
Speak Percussion commissioned Lightness (2015) from Denmark-based composer Juliana Hodkinson. This extraordinary work uses amplified matches as simultaneous light and sound generators in a choreographed, dance-like formation that is aurally and visually hypnotic. The ephemeral nature of matches as both sound and light sources is emphasised by their essential unreliability – sometimes they don’t strike properly, or burn out faster than expected, lending an element of chance to the work that ensures that no two performances will be identical.
Fluorophone finds Speak Percussion continuing their mission to explore ever more expansive conceptions of what percussion entails, and how those might find performative expression. Ughetti makes a point of developing relationships with composers and working with them over a series of projects, enabling deeper levels of collaborative understanding for both parties, and this was a virtuosic, mind-expanding performance from a world-renowned Australian ensemble.