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Eugene Ughetti, The Glass Percussion Project Eugene Ughetti, The Glass Percussion Project
photo Andrew Barcham
THE GLASS PERCUSSION PROJECT EMBRACES MANY ARTS: GLASSMAKING, MUSICAL COMPOSITION, SOUND ART, INSTALLATION AND THEATRE. ONE OF A SERIES OF EVENTS COMPRISING THE PROJECT, INTERMEZZO IS SITE-SPECIFIC TO THE ATRIUM, A CAVERNOUS VAULT 15M HIGH AND 50M LONG, LINED WITH CAFES, SHOPS AND BARS, AND FORMING A HUB IN THE FEDERATION SQUARE CULTURAL PRECINCT. THE PERFORMANCE TAKES PLACE IN THE FRACTURE GALLERY, WHICH LIES WITHIN THE ATRIUM’S GLASS WALLS—A DOUBLE LAYER OF CLEAR GLASS ON THE WESTERN SIDE OF THE BUILDING CREATING A 2-3M CAVITY—AND INSIDE WHICH ARE SCAFFOLDING AND LINEN-COVERED TABLES THAT SUPPORT THE 1400 FABULOUS HANDMADE OBJECTS CREATED BY GLASS ARTIST ELAINE MILES.

On display throughout the season, these objects twinkle in the sunlight, especially at sunset. There are many types of glasswork: plates, bowls, decorated rods, wine glasses and abstract shapes. Some resemble familiar musical instruments, such as marimbas, gongs, tubular bells and wind-chimes, but, for this event, all the pieces double as musical instruments.

The percussionists, Eugene Ughetti and Matthias Schack-Arnott, wear protective goggles and white suits resembling Japanese martial arts outfits as they climb around inside the glass gallery to reach the various groups of instruments. The instruments are closely microphoned and the sound is broadcast into the atrium through a complex multi-channel loudspeaker system via a computer and mixing console. The sound the audience hears is at times heavily mediated through Myles Mumford’s live processing. The computer processor is an essential component of the instrumentation, and the performers are cued through click tracks to coordinate their playing with the processing. In effect, two people—the performer at the glasswork and the performer at the computer—are playing some of these instruments. For example, when Schack-Arnott plays the gong, a large windowpane hit with the hands instead of the usual mallets, Mumford bends the pitch to create a deeply resonant sound rich in melodic and harmonic character. Mumford uses processing to extend or abbreviate the duration of sounds, amplify harmonics and resonances, make audible certain pitches that are outside the normal range of hearing and filter out other pitches. The mixer, Michael Hewes, then channels the sound throughout the atrium, emphasising the space in which the performance occurs, and even extending the concept of the instrument to include architectural space itself.

Ughetti’s composition comprises many short elements totalling about an hour and, in constructing it, he responds to the objects themselves, seeking out their sonic and musical potential. He indicated that the glass pieces were carefully selected to ensure the correct sound, especially the tuning. Chromatic, pentatonic and microtonal tunings with quarter and eighth tones are evident. The composition and the performance seem to have evolved simultaneously with the design of the glass pieces as artworks, producing multifaceted objects with great potential. Even where familiar instrumental designs are parodied, such as with the marimbas and bells, the glass instruments produce a sound that establishes them as unique, characterised by the resonant properties of glass as distinct from metal, wood or animal hide. The glass gamelan sound is delightful and, as well, it extends our appreciation of the traditional gamelan form. Ughetti has notated all the elements of the composition, but allows some room for the performer to respond as the performance develops.

Intermezzo is a wonderful work, detailed and nuanced in its orchestration, with moments gentle, introspective, intense and virtuosic, drawing on the full range of percussion artistry. The appreciative audience shuffles about between the balcony and the floor of the atrium to see and hear what is unfolding, or absorbs it sitting with a drink. A CD recorded from a performance was replayed in the atrium at random intervals every day, forming part of the installation, so that passersby would be drawn into the project. Listening to the CD at home is an intimate experience very different from listening to the live performance in the atrium, lacking the ambient noise of human and street traffic that forms part of the live event.

Overall, Intermezzo approaches a gesamkunstwerk with its coherent blend of visual, dramatic, compositional and technical elements, and its production involves a carefully rehearsed and tightly managed team effort. The Glass Percussion Project raises the question of what a musical instrument might be and what a sound installation might be, and bridges the boundary between the visual and sonic arts. The project doesn’t answer any questions, but opens a world of possibilities upon which these and other artists will undoubtedly build.


The Glass Percussion Project, Intermezzo, co-director, composer, percussionist Eugene Ughetti, co-director, glass artist, installation artist Elaine Miles, percussionist Matthias Schack-Arnott, live electronics Myles Mumford, sound diffusion, sound engineer Michael Hewes, lighting designer Richard Vabre; Federation Square, Melbourne Jan 10-Feb 2

RealTime issue #83 Feb-March 2008 pg. 48

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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