Sleeping beasts and spectacular contraptions

27 October 2017

Review: Speak Percussion presents Fluorophone ◆
Tura New Music Totally Huge New Music Festival, 25 October ◆
Review by Tiffany Ha ◆

Arriving at the Subiaco Arts Centre on Wednesday night we made our way along the winding footpaths that lead from the carpark to the Centre’s entrance via a long, lamp-lined overpass. As we shuffled in that entrance there came an announcement over the P.A.: a warning about seizures and photosensitivity. I was intrigued, a little anxious. I’ve been to enough “new music” concerts to know (mostly) what to expect – but interdisciplinary new music? I wouldn’t recommend it for a first-date or a grandparent-outing, unless your first-date or grandparent is Yoko Ono.

Inside the main auditorium the stage was set with an assortment of props, trinkets and instruments blanketed by a dim, grey light. Suddenly, we were plunged into darkness, signalling the start of Rendition Clinic by Sydney-based composer Damien Ricketson.

A bright light flickers on, revealing one of the performers. It goes off. Clack. The same thing happens stage left, revealing another one of the performers. By this point we can see the faint silhouette of the third performer in the middle, conducting the flashes and erratic noises coming from each side. The rest of the piece unfolds in what Ricketson describes as “a quartet of sonic-visual relationship”‘, with perception-shifting strobes, hair-raising synth tones and ominous whirring.

The next piece – Pyrite Gland by Speak Percussion’s artistic director, Eugene Ughetti – features an assortment of zany ways to play a tom-tom. The three percussionists push air-mattress inflaters with their feet, screech their fingernails along the drum surfaces, pluck strings that are tied to the drum skins, scrape corrugated air tubes and rub balloons over contact microphones. The sounds are amplified and distorted, evoking children’s fairy tales – sleeping beasts, creeping ships, and, according to Ughetti, a curious character (called The Dong) with a luminous nose.

The highlight (pun intended) of the evening was witnessing the fluorophone in action. The spectacular contraption, consisting of fluorescent tubes in a triangular configuration, seems more like an alien spaceship than a musical instrument. It sits upon a raised platform where four performers push foot pedals and pull wires held like reins to control each segment of light and its corresponding sound. It is as if Daft Punk has planned a performance-art tribute to video game The Legend of Zelda.

To the audience’s surprise, half-way through the piece there comes a gentle “ting” as the centrepiece of the contraption is revealed: a metal triangle, the humble hand-percussion instrument often relegated to “the least musical kid in the school orchestra”. Finally, the triangle gets its revenge. Never again will I underestimate its power, lest the fluorophone appears by my bedside at night, devouring me to fuel its relentless battle cry.

If this kind of thing tickles your fancy, don’t miss Speak Percussion’s A wave and waves (featuring a hundred percussionists) this Sunday 29 October at the Midland Railway Workshops.


Top: The flurophone. Photo: Robert McFadzean.

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Author —
Tiffany Ha

Tiffany Ha is a pianist, composer, arranger, music educator and vocalist with a soft spot for anything a cappella. She has degrees in Music (Composition) and Arts (English) from UWA and works as a freelance musician. Her favourite playground equipment is anything that involves climbing and balance: monkey bars, rope towers, trees, human pyramids!

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