Speak Percussion: Melbourne Festival Preparations

This year I've been working for Speak Percussion as their Young Artist in Residence. It's been an incredible learning experience, involving both performance opportunities and the chance to see how much planning goes on behind the scenes. Percussionists tend to be organised people, and I'm a fairly obsessive list-maker, but Speak's 2015 Melbourne Festival project has pushed my organisation skills to a whole new level!

For this year's festival, Speak are coordinating the world premiere performance of Michael Pisaro's A wave and waves for one hundred performers. As you might have guessed from that number, this piece is tremendous in scale! We began recruiting the players months ago, and immediately discovered that trying to keep track of one hundred different availabilities is a daunting task. Other challenges have included sourcing the instruments, rewriting every single part into a smaller cheat-sheet, custom designing a  and working out catchment systems for performers playing their instruments with rice/seeds/pebbles (you'd be surprised how far and how quickly those suckers can roll!).

This weekend we kicked off our first rehearsals for the project. Given that these sessions were optional and we were facing off with gorgeous weather, a long weekend and Australia's biggest sporting event of the year, it was incredible to see almost seventy of our performers on the Sunday afternoon. The individual parts of A wave and waves mostly consist of fragile and soft sounds, but the way they shift and combine to create new textures is thrilling to hear. Even after months of looking at the parts and the instrument list, I found myself listening with my eyes closed and wondering where particular sounds were coming from. Crackling tin foil? Pebbles on a tam tam. Creaking floor boards? Seeds on a bass drum.

Michael Pisaro arrives in Australia this week, along with his longtime collaborator Greg Stuart. Greg, an extremely talented and particularly dedicated percussionist, recorded all one hundred parts of A wave and waves - so the work exists as a recording but has never been performed live! It's so exciting for us to hear the piece coming to life, and I'm so glad that Michael and Greg will be here to share the experience with us.

What's next?  

  • Wild Percussion week at ANAM, exploring the works of John Zorn with the 2014 Grammy nominated percussionist William Winant
  • The world premiere of Caitlin Rees' Double bass is cool... okay? with Robert Nicholls at the University of Melbourne
  • The second and final weekend of rehearsals for A wave and waves. Here we go!