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23 July 2014

Speak's winter: Barrett, Transducer and emerging artists

Eugene Ughetti and Robin Fox Image: Eugene Ughetti and Robin Fox  

Melbourne-based Speak Percussion's winter activities include another showing of Robin Fox and Eugene Ughetti's Transducer, a portrait concert of the British composer Richard Barrett, presented in collaboration with RMIT University's Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory (SIAL), a free event 'Circuit' at Iwaki Auditorium on 16 August with music by Matthew Shlomowitz and Thomas Meadowcroft, as well as an Emerging Artist Program involving Barrett as tutor. Joel Carnegie had a chat with Speak's Eugene Ughetti and Richard Barrett, who has sometimes been labelled as the thought leader of the 'new complexity' movement. The discussion started off with a debate about that very definition.

'As far as I'm concerned, there's no such "movement", and if there is I don't belong to it and never have done. I would prefer people take the music on its own terms, and on their own terms, or not at all, rather than attach it to some journalistic label or other…' Barrett said.

'Music doesn't define itself, it's defined by others. Mozart wasn't thinking whilst writing his music, "I'm writing in the classical period". It's something that coalesces with hindsight, just like any other kind of history. But music that's being produced is always in the present; (it) is always contemporary music. That's something worth bearing in mind I think,' he continued.

Speak Percussion's artistic director, Eugene Ughetti, offers a different view. 'I see new complexity as an obvious, albeit extreme, development in Western classical music ideals that occurred predominantly in the 1980s. Much of the work created under this banner makes me reflect on how it must have been in the late Romantic period, listening to composer/performers like Liszt or Paganini. Conceptually, new complexity takes a rigorous approach to all of the musical elements and blows them up into highly manicured and complex systems in their own right. Speak Percussion plays a bit of this music, we are attracted to this approach but are by no means defined by it.'

Speak Percussion's Emerging Artist Program, this year involving Richard Barrett as tutor and organised in partnership with RMIT's SIAL, provides professional development opportunities for 18-28-year-old percussionists, drummers and composers. The program's participants are composers Andrew Aronowicz, Josten Myburgh and James Paul; percussionists Kaylie Melville, Therese Ng and Thea Rossen; and drummers Michael McNab and James Mclean.

Director of SIAL, Lawrence Harvey, says this is the largest collaboration undertaken at the SIAL Sound Studios to date, with participants involved in the program utilising cutting-edge technology.

'In a traditional instrumental performance, the sound is often located on an instrument in a single location. We hear the direct sound and reflections from the instrument bouncing off reflective surfaces of the hall. Through various pieces of technology and sound system, we're taking it and extending it further - to feature direct sound from all around the room, so that the sound of the instrument begins to fill the space. Consider the difference between 2D visual art compared to situating yourself inside a 3D version of that', Harvey said.

Lawrence Harvey suggests that our musical experiences aren't just isolated to music devices, the car radio or concert halls. 'There is some interesting work happening at the moment to incorporate electroacoustic sound and exploration of city soundscapes. From the moment you get up in the morning, we live in a sonically rich world, most of which is accidental', he said.

So how will this all play out in the future? How will this be described in the future analysis of contemporary music?

Whilst Richard Barrett believes that foreshadowing the direction of musical development over the next 10-15 years is 'a pointless exercise', Lawrence Harvey predicts that the future of music lies in the merging and experience of both musical and spatial intelligence.

'Others might assume that musically we've "done it all", but I don't see imagination as dead. Humans have an innate ability to think up and do amazing things. From our perspective, the linking of those two intelligences, thinking about music and space in this particular way, is where this will play out…' Harvey said.

Spatialisation will also play a large role in a suite of winter activities for Speak Percussion. A new electroacoustic, spatialised work Transducer, a collaboration with the new media artist Robin Fox, explores the microphone as a sonic object. The venture evolved out of a challenge set up by Ughetti: to create a percussion work without any percussion instruments, where nothing is 'struck' in a percussive sense at all.

Attempting to blur the roles of musician, performer and instrument, the work examines the place of the percussionist and places them more in the role of technician controlling physical systems rather than a percussionist in the traditional sense. 'Addressing questions and examining roles is central to making work in an experimerolental way. It draws you away from the predictable or established methodologies and asks you to think outside of your training', Robin Fox said.

Joining performers on stage at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, the audience will be immersed in sounds coming from multiple point sources. 'Like life, Transducer is about transformation. It'll be cold, but it will be exciting', said Fox.

A version of this article was originally published in The Age and is reproduced on Resonate by permission of the writer.

Further links

Speak Percussion
Richard Barrett: Percussion portrait on Saturday 26 July at 7pm, RMIT University Design Hub, Melbourne, Victoria - for details, see the Speak Percussion website

Speak Percussion
Robin Fox & Eugene Ughetti: Transducer
1 & 2 August at 7:30pm, Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne, Victoria - for details, see the AMC Calendar

Subjects discussed by this article:

Joel Carnegie is an award-winning presenter/reporter, producer, writer and musician who has worked across the ABC, commercial and community media for many years. He is currently lead & founder of the Space Company - a media production house generating stories and content for ABC Radio National, Deutsche Welle, Fairfax Media, ABC Classic FM and others. He holds a BMus (Hons) from the University of Melbourne, and is currently completing a Master of Arts (Media & Communications). He is passionate about telling stories that challenge and deepen our understanding and relationship with the world around us and loves being immersed in music of all styles, shapes, forms and colours


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