Contemporary Music Review Volume 36 Issue 1-2

Contemporary Music Review Volume 36 Issue 1-2 February–April 2017
Contemporary Music Review provides a forum for musicians and musicologists to discuss recent musical currents in both breadth and depth. The main concern of the journal is the critical study of music today in all its aspects—its techniques of performance and composition, texts and contexts, aesthetics, technologies, and relationships with other disciplines and currents of thought. The journal may also serve as a vehicle to communicate documentary materials, interviews, and other items of interest to contemporary music scholars. All articles are subjected to rigorous peer review before publication. Proposals for themed issues are welcomed.

Contemporary percussion explorations in twenty-first-century Australia


Contemporary Percussion Explorations in Twenty-First-Century Australia
Louise Devenish
To be a percussionist active in contemporary music is to be involved in research: designing new instruments and developing new techniques, commissioning and creating new work, utilising and developing technology, and engaging in interdisciplinary collaboration. In the twenty-first century, percussionists and their collaborators are more prolific than ever before, and their creative research leads innovations in contemporary music around the world. In recent years, the collective community has sought new avenues to share the findings of this creative research. In addition to a wide range of performances, festivals, and short courses aimed at tertiary students or early career artists, percussion gatherings inclusive of conference presentations, round tables and panel discussions have begun to appear in the international contemporary music calendar. Examples include the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, Australian Percussion Gathering, and Transplanted Roots Percussion Research Symposium. This is linked with the gradual increase in scholarly publications focused on contemporary percussion activity. New publications have emerged since the 2006 release of Steven Schick’s The percussionist’s art: Same bed, different dreams, the most significant thus far being the Cambridge companion to percussion, a collection of articles edited by Russell Hartenberger 10 years later (Devenish, 2017 Devenish, L. (2017). Book review: The Cambridge companion to percussion. Directions of New Music (1). doi:10.14221/dnm.i1/4
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; Hartenberger, 2016 Hartenberger, R. (Ed.). (2016). The Cambridge companion to percussion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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; Schick, 2006 Schick, S. (2006). The percussionist’s art: Same bed, different dreams. New York: University of Rochester Press.
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). These volumes are representative of the ever-changing field of contemporary percussion that offers a myriad of research paths to be explored. This special issue aims to contribute to the growing discourse in the field by presenting a range of recent innovations in percussion research, and thoughts on current praxis from an Australian perspective.

Topics explored include research in notation and semiotics, digital music technology, collaborative creativity, listening and performance practice, and the influence of instruments from neighbouring Asian countries on Australian music. Presented together with rigorous creative investigations into the use of digital sound and technology with and as percussion instruments, these articles highlight current themes in contemporary music manifested in percussion performance. Further, it seeks to provide a contrast to recent scholarship on Australian percussion history (Devenish, 2015 Devenish, L. (2015). And now for the noise: Contemporary percussion in Australia, 1970–2000 (DMA thesis). University of Western Australia.
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), including a forthcoming book by this editor for Routledge. Importantly, this special issue brings together performers, composers, practitioner-researchers and computer music researchers, and provides a snapshot of activity at this point in our percussion history; most of the articles herein use as case studies work produced by practitioners in Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne in the past five years. Contributors include leading practitioner-scholars active at the forefront of the percussive arts currently based in Australia, Canada, and Norway. Their work highlights the diversity of approaches taken to forging new paths amongst a wider collective community focused on music making and collaboration.

The opening article by Vanessa Tomlinson is inspired by a performative keynote given at the second Australian Percussion Gathering in 2016, hosted by Griffith University where Tomlinson is Head of Percussion. It epitomises the current groundswell in Australian practitioner-researcher approaches to percussive journeys, narratives, and exploration. The article comprises 10 brief narratives, detailing a first person account of an Australian percussionist’s experiences of instrument acquisitions, local customs, and unusual premières of old and new works.

Lindsay Vickery, Louise Devenish, Cat Hope, and Stuart James are a group of regular collaborators from the University of Western Australia and Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, whose practice-led research frequently encompasses explorations of notation. The case studies of seven works produced in their recent collaborations detail solutions to the notation of percussive techniques, gestures, and timbres using paper, and screen-based technologies including the Decibel ScorePlayer, an iPad application developed by their ensemble Decibel New Music for the presentation of digital scrolling graphic scores (Hope & Vickery, 2015 Hope, C., & Vickery, L. (2015, May). The decibel scoreplayer – A digital tool for reading graphic notation. Proceedings of TENOR, First International Conference on Technologies for Music Notation and Representation, Institut de Recherche en Musicologie, IReMus, Paris, France (pp. 59–70).
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). Coloured notation, tablature gestural approaches, and spectrographic notation are explored in this article from both composer and performer perspectives. The study of notation is continued by composer and Head of the Sir Zelman Cowan School of Music at Monash University, Cat Hope, who discusses the efficacy of combining graphic, common practice and text-based notation as evidenced in three percussion solos composed in 2014 by Vanessa Tomlinson, Natasha Anderson, and Erik Griswold.

The following article by Speak Percussion’s Artistic Director Eugene Ughetti is an exposition of the major electro-acoustic work TRANSDUCER. Co-created by Ughetti and sound artist Robin Fox in 2013, this work alters the function and extends the potential of microphones and loudspeakers as expressive musical objects. In development, Ughetti avoided the idiosyncrasies of standard percussion performance practice, instead seeking to explore the spatial and gestural ideas generated by working with unconstrained and unconventional sounding objects. The result was a percussion work without percussive instruments or techniques; a work where the performers do not use mallets to strike any instruments. TRANSDUCER is a work situated at the cutting edge of new developments in percussion performance practice, recently termed by practitioners as ‘post-instrumental practice’. The article is inclusive of the full score of the work and details of performance techniques.

Percussionist and computer musician Charles Martin, who is currently based within the University of Oslo Department of Informatics, describes how percussive interaction informed the design and development of a series of touchscreen digital musical instruments for ensembles designed by the author. Here, he argues that skills regularly employed by percussionists, such as adapting quickly to unfamiliar instruments or objects, are advantageous when developing software for performance, and that a percussionist-centred development process with Canberra’s Ensemble Metatone was an effective method for developing musical apps from prototype to launch.

Although contemporary percussion is recognised as a twentieth-century Western art music innovation, many Western percussion instruments have their roots in centuries old musical traditions from around the world. The making of gongs and singing bowls in parts of South-East Asia has remained unchanged for hundreds of years, and the use of these ancient instruments in contemporary percussion music is explored by distinguished percussionist-composer Michael Askill, with a particular focus on the appearance of the chao gong, or tam-tam, in his own compositions for Brisbane-based ensemble Early Warning System.

Finally, Taiwanese/Canadian practitioner-researcher Aiyun Huang investigates themes explored throughout the issue via conversations with three percussionists from Sydney, Perth, and Brisbane; respectively Claire Edwardes, Louise Devenish, and Vanessa Tomlinson. Huang poses questions designed to shed light on how geographical remoteness and isolation play a role in steering musical practices and community around Australia. The responses to questions of identity and future directions reveal common themes around the country, and provide first-hand insights into making contemporary percussion work in twenty-first-century Australia.

This special issue is both by percussionists and for percussionists, however it is also intended to serve as an invitation to the wider academic and musical communities to engage with this sub-discipline of contemporary music, and to reveal elements of its constantly evolving identity. It is my hope that this addition to the emerging body of scholarly publications in percussion contributes to what will become a wave of creative research activity with percussion at its centre.


On Listening: A Universe of Sound
Vanessa Tomlinson
Listening, improvisation, sound, and place are four words that are central to my attitude of being an artist, a musician, and a percussionist. This article spans 25 years of experiences told through 10 short stories: beginning to improvise, buying a tam-tam, learning Music for 18 Musicians, not defining percussion, found objects, the Condamine bell, performative roots, determined indeterminacy, nostalgia, and playing the tam-tam now. Together these stories begin to examine the lived experience of one Australian percussionist grappling with the unstable, dynamic pathways of percussion.
Expanded Percussion Notation in Recent Works by Cat Hope, Stuart James and Lindsay Vickery
Lindsay Vickery, Louise Devenish, Stuart James & Cat Hope
This paper discusses the percussion notation of Western Australian composers Lindsay Vickery, Stuart James and Cat Hope. Both the compositional and performative aspects of their notational conventions are considered in the diverse approaches they take to the specification of timbre, improvisation, and ensemble coordination. The design and interpretation of screen-based technologies, tablature gestural approaches and spectrographic notation is explored using Lindsay Vickery’s The Miracle of the Rose (2015) InterXection (2002) and Lyrebird (2014), Cat Hope’s Broken Approach (2014), Sub Aerial (2015), and Tone Being (2016) and Stuart James’ Kinabuhi | Kamatayon (2015) as case studies.

Wording New Paths: Text-Based Notation in New Solo Percussion Works by Natasha Anderson, Erik Griswold, and Vanessa Tomlinson
Cat Hope
TRANSDUCER alters the function and extends the potential of microphones and loudspeakers as expressive musical objects. Composed in 2013 by Robin Fox and Eugene Ughetti, this music performance work of 40 minutes’ duration was devised for four onstage performers, live electronics, and spatialisation. It utilises modes of electrical transduction to generate music. This article elucidates the artistic intention of TRANSDUCER, the creative process of making it, and the unique components of the final work itself. Electroacoustic music, instrument building, post-instrumental practice, percussion, and spatialisation are featured elements of this article.

TRANSDUCER: Microphones and Loudspeakers as Musical Instruments
Eugene Craig Ughetti

Percussionist-Centred Design for Touchscreen Digital Musical Instruments
Charles P. Martin
This article describes how percussive interaction informed the design, development, and deployment of a series of touchscreen digital musical instruments for ensembles. Percussion has previously been defined by techniques for exploring and interacting with instruments, rather than by the instruments themselves. Percussionists routinely co-opt unusual objects as instruments or create them from scratch. In this article, this process is used for the iterative design and evaluation of five mobile music apps by percussion ensembles. The groups helped refine the apps from prototype to performance through research rehearsals where they improvised, explored new musical gestures, and collaborated to develop practical performance strategies. As a result, the affordances and limitations of the apps were discovered, as were a vocabulary of percussive touch gestures. This article argues that this percussionist-centred process was an effective method for developing musical apps, and that it could be applied more widely in designing musical computer systems.

Composing with Ancient Sound Technology in the Twenty-First Century
Michael Askill

Examining Australian Contemporary Percussion through ‘things Uniquely Australian’: Interviews with Louise Devenish, Claire Edwardes, and Vanessa Tomlinson
Aiyun Huang