Tura New Music’s launch of percussionist Louise Devenish’s national tour attracted a capacity crowd in Perth on Tuesday night. Devenish is head of percussion at the University of Western Australia Conservatorium of Music and her advocacy for percussion includes a book on Australian contemporary percussion history (soon to be published by Routledge) and commissions for over 50 works for percussion. The national tour features live performances of pieces from her album Music for Percussion and Electronics, an album of experimental Australian compositions released by Tall Poppies in 2017. Watching the music performed live makes it easier to distinguish between the electronic and percussion sounds and also gives insight into the techniques behind Devenish’s incredibly nuanced playing. The concert is complemented by visual projections by New York artist Ross Karre.
Devenish took centre stage for an uninterrupted 60 minutes, delivering complicated experimental music with poised artistry. She made the intricate polyrhythmic ratios underpinning Andrian Pertout’s Exposiciones appear naively simple, her fluid phrasing on the glockenspiel creating sweetly melodic phrases even while coordinating the complicated patterns with the electronic punctuations.
Stuart James’ Kinabuhi | Kamatayon used electronic processing to accentuate the beating reverberations produced by Balinese gongs. The scratch of a stick around the rims contrasted with the pentatonic glowing warmth of the gongs. The electronics buzzed and whispered an accompaniment and then matched Devenish in a duet of cross-rhythms and thrumming overtones. There was a moment of near-industrial cacophony before the work returned to a slower pace with expanding and contracting phrases creating a dreamy, breath-like ending.
Karre’s video projection design seemed at odds with the unfolding beauty of James’ sound world. Images of what looked like microscopic worms crawling out of the gongs squirmed and distracted; eventually I closed my eyes.
In Cat Hope’s Tone Being for tam-tam and subwoofer the suspended tam-tam was lit like a disco ball, highlighting the actions of Devenish as she scraped, cupped, scratched hieroglyphics and drew out the deep wide warmth of the gong. This was a finely wrought exploration of sonority, underpinned by the rumbling bass drone distinctive to much of Hope’s music.
Kate Moore’s Coral Speak featured the silken tones of the vibraphone contrasted with the electronic accompaniment of brittle clinking shells. Moore’s work is often inspired by the environment and her depiction of the flowing beauty of a coral reef included a melancholic middle movement given a watery blurring by vibraphone pedalling and rolling waves of rhythms sounding like gentle questions. Again the frenetic gravel textures of Karre’s video projection were mismatched with Moore’s delicate patterns and Devenish’s calm sculpting. In fact the fascinating program needed no extraneous support; its strength was Devenish whose incredibly deft and compelling performance held the Perth audience spellbound.
Tura New Music’s Music for Percussion and Electronics continues at Z Ward, Adelaide 20th May; Jugglers Art Space Brisbane 22 May; Monash University Auditorium, Melbourne 24th May.
This review was first published in Limelight magazine May 2018.