Music review: The Black of the StarMusic Entertainment
Speak Percussion players.
The Black of the Star
Deakin Edge, Federation Square
As the lights dim, it is a voice that beckons us first. The voice - quiet, soothing, hypnotic - gives us a poetic description of the rotating neutron stars (or pulsars) whose electro-magnetic signals we are about to hear.
Then, on the elevated walkway above the stage, percussionist Eugene Ughetti begins striking a giant bass drum. The sound is muted; mysterious. Another percussionist joins him - and another, and another - until all six players are beating a complex set of cross-rhythms where skin, metal and wood are explored in all their timbral diversity.
Finally, the Vela pulsar flickers into life (courtesy of recordings made by the CSIRO and those used by the piece's French composer, Gerard Grisey). Like much of the percussion work in this piece, it's a startlingly dynamic and visceral sound: an electric crackle that whizzes around our ears like an invisible cosmic helicopter. Later we hear a different pulsar, rotating at a slower speed, and its deep, reverberant beat forms a rhythmic bed for the rumbling, rolling, pounding percussion.
Grisey's passion was exposing the full spectral possibilities of sound, so Speak Percussion's decision to ''spatialise'' this performance - by positioning players and speakers in the round, and having the audio orbit around the auditorium - is ingenious.
With each musician playing different parts at different tempi, the precision and focus required for this piece are extraordinary. But in its humble profundity, it is the sound of the pulsars that give the work its emotional heftiness, reminding us of the vastness that lies beyond our human experience.