Louise Devenish’s impact on the Australian percussion scene can’t be quantified in one blog post, but I thought I’d give it a go! Devenish is head of percussion at the University of Western Australian and her doctorate on the development of Australian percussion music will soon be published in book form. She is part of four nationwide ensembles and about to launch her fifth group Intercurrent this month. Best of all she is based in Perth and you can read about her contagious energy here, in this last Celebrity Soft Spot post for 2016.

Louise Devenish c Nik Babic

What music gets your heart racing?

I like a lot of different musics, anything that is played with passion and commitment is exciting to listen to. As far as playing goes, anything that I am learning for the first time and have almost memorised gets my heart racing! When something is almost but not quite memorised there is definitely adrenalin in those final run-throughs…

What calms you down?

In terms of calming music, I like Susumu Yokota, Oren Ambarchi, Toru Takemitsu and Erik Satie.

What do you sing along to?

I am a big car singer – and I love singing to pop music or anything instrumental I can figure out a way to sing to in the car! Snarky Puppy, Avishai Cohen, Flume and Bobby McFerrin are always in there.

What first drew you into percussion?

I can’t remember exactly why I chose percussion, but I can very clearly remember the form I filled out listing it as my first preference to learn at high school – it was an opportunity to try something new, my dad suggested percussion and that was it. Percussion was a natural progression from piano, and once I started I was hooked.

Performing David Pye’s Rebana Loops

You have carved out a thriving international career as a freelance percussionist with The Sound Collectors, Decibel and Speak Percussion. Despite performing with orchestras including the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra you have chosen a freelance rather than an orchestral career. Is it the appeal of chamber music, the freedom, the repertoire or…?

The thing with freelancing is that sometimes it chooses the direction that you go in! I love orchestral music and chamber music, but in different ways, and I’m certain that the skills I learned in an orchestra benefited my chamber ensemble skills. New chamber music is really great for a percussionist – the ever-evolving role of percussion in new music can lead to so many different things. Last week, my instruments were built using fluros, LEDs and strobe lights, this week it’s marimba and vibraphone. It changes week to week because we don’t really even know where the boundaries of percussion actually lie yet, and it is really exciting to explore that. I also love the close collaborative relationships that develop in making chamber music, and that chamber music can really be performed anywhere (anywhere with a reasonable load-in, that is!).

Exploring the boundaries of percussion in 2015 Sound Collectors:Confluence Project

What inspired the formation of your new group Intercurrent?

Friendship in music. Lachlan, Ashley, Emily and I have known each other a long time and have worked together in various combinations over the years. We decided it was time to do something together and there truly is nothing like making good music with great friends.

How are you preparing for the launch on December 14th?

At the moment, a lot of marimba practice! Lachlan has composed a new work for this concert and there are a fair few notes to learn. We will be rehearsing at the UWA School of Music, along with guest percussionist Adam Tan.

Mark Applebaum says music should be above all else be interesting. What do you think is the most important role of music?

Mark Applebaum is one of my favourite composers, and he certainly makes interesting music! One of the great things about music is the way it connects you to other people, and can challenge or change your perspective on the world.

You dedicate a lot of time to teaching – you are head of percussion at the University of WA where you are regularly nominated for excellence in teaching awards. What inspires you? 

My students inspire me – I have some truly wonderful students at UWA who are full of ideas and questions and it is part of what keeps me questioning and learning too. Plus it is heaps of fun! I love teaching at UWA and feel lucky to be able to teach across a wide range of areas that I really enjoy, including performance, listening, world music and music research. We have a really cool season of concerts with Pinata Percussion lined up for 2017 that I’m looking forward to.

Devenish performing a work she commissioned from Kate Moore

You have a soft spot for the music of Australian composers – you’ve commissioned over 40 new works and completed a Doctor of Musical Arts researching the development of Australian contemporary percussion music. What is the appeal of this repertoire?

It’s really good. Sometimes when you are close to something, it can be hard to see it clearly and I think that sometimes happens with Australian music. There are some world-leading composers living and working in Australia (and there have been for decades), making unique music unlike what is coming out of other cultural hotspots around the world, and there are some truly astounding performers like Vanessa Tomlinson, Genevieve Lacey and Marshall Maguire championing this music. As far as making my own projects goes, it just makes sense to me to work with the excellent Australian artists surrounding me, because it can done in person!

You have a super supportive music teacher husband – where do you two call home?

Luke is super supportive – not only does he come to all the concerts, but he is such a legend with helping move percussion gear and any logistics on gigs when help is needed. Without his help I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near as much done! We are happy to call Bayswater home, especially when the sun is out.

Where did you learn the skills to build your own career?

I think I’m still learning that! My strategy is to try anything that might be interesting because it usually is.

Devenish with Steve Reich

What is your favourite place in Perth?

Our back yard.

Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the music?

Music is certainly a big part of my life, but I am also into yoga and chatting with friends and family in cafes.

Many thanks to Louise Devenish for participating in the final Celebrity Soft Spot for the year. You can watch Louise perform at the launch of Intercurrent as part of the final Scale Variable concert for the year on 14th December. For more information on Louise go to her website http://www.louisedevenish.com.au There is also a fabulous ABC Classic FM podcast on Louise and her research into Australian percussion music here.