I’m a performer in the upcoming Speak Percussion work, Assembly Operation and have been working with composer and director Eugene Ughetti during the creative development process. This is really Eugene’s baby and he has been chipping away at it for several years. In that time, it has been realised in several different formats and this most recent manifestation of the work has come together as a collaborative project with dramaturge Clare Britton, video artist Cyrus Tang and ceramicist Jia Jia Chen. The process has centred around shaping this sonic and theatrical space around core concepts of modernity, tradition, growth, value, packaging and consumerism. It has been really exciting to see Eugene pull all these ideas together and then navigate through the complex world he has created. Being part of the creative development has been fascinating, particularly spending time creating such a unique sound world that the ceramic instruments have created – it’s an incredibly tactile and resonant material and having the opportunity to be part of an exchange with the artist as we have had with Jia Jia has been special. It’s not often that you get to work alongside the person who is making you an instrument, so this process of refining and shaping the sounds has been interesting.
The concept of creative development really stems from the world of dance and performance art and is all about trying out ideas and forming a work through the act of making and doing, rather than an internal compositional process that gets refined and “completed” before going to the performers. Eugene and I both use a combination of the two in our composition process: the conventional internal stewing comes first, followed by a creative development period in the space with the performers and lights and instruments. This open creative phase is really important as it’s where everything gets tested – some things work and some things fall over, which you wouldn’t know if you didn’t try in this setting. The culture at Speak Percussion is very non-hierarchical and we all chip in during discussions. Being in the physical space makes a big difference to the process as it means you can switch from speaking about a musical idea to discussing the theatrical context of a movement to considering how an audience member might experience the performance. Nothing is off the table which allows you the brain space to solve problems that might arise in a creative way.
Being part of creative development processes like this one has really helped shape my own skills in creating new work. Being around composers working on projects and new sound worlds has given me a sense of what it takes to transform an idea into a fully realised project and how that development differs for every creative person. Through working with a diverse array of creative people, I’ve learnt that there is no wrong way to create music: everyone really does have a completely unique process. If you work with integrity you can achieve anything - that learning has been formative. I was quite young when I started working in these environments and I believe exposure to these creative spaces and opportunities can alleviate some anxiety around how you engage with music. For a variety of reasons, we all grow up thinking there’s a certain “right” way to make and think about creativity and while this is initially helpful as it allows you to develop a strong technical framework, it was certainly liberating for me to enter this space where I can shape my own musical ideas. That’s what we’re trying to do through our education program at Speak: inviting high school students to come and look at things from a different perspective while they’re still in a system that provides the bread and butter learning but doesn’t necessarily allow time for pure creation. It’s pretty cool working with 14 and 15-year-olds who are just getting into Stockhausen and watching them figure out that they can make music like that too and there are leading artists who are not that different to them in how they think about and approach music-making.
Having room to realise my own musical world has been a huge part of my development as a composer and I’ve found that working with artists from different disciplines is a necessary path to realising my percussive ideas. I don’t necessarily set out to collaborate with different kinds of artists initially, but I often realise that the musical ideas I am working on require engineers or architects or technicians to make them possible! I end up collaborating with a team of amazingly talented people as a result. With Assembly Operation, part of the impetus for Eugene was creating a theatrical space for the work to inhabit, so it was natural for him to bring in a dramaturge, a ceramicist and a visual artist to help create this world and pick at the set of conceptual ideas from different angles. As a result of those collaborations, it’s much more of a performance work with those different elements coming together like in theatre for a more heightened audience experience.
The intention with this work is to create a space that has a complexity of experience and ideas that will create a fertile ground for the audience to inhabit. The three percussive artists engaging with different found, constructed and traditional instruments have symbolic and theatrical meaning in this context and everything we do syncs up with and speaks to a bespoke video work that shows the objects that we are working with disintegrating and crumbling. It is a very immersive experience that has layers the audience can move through and contemplate.
Speak Percussion presents Assembly Operation at Arts House from September 5. Tickets and further information available here.