Eugene Ughetti is a Melbourne based percussionist, director and founding member of new music ensemble Speak Percussion. He has a new solo album Agglomeration Of Measurement due out on the 31st of July on Room40. It’s a ridiculously diverse album that spans some fifteen years and involves collaborations with some really notable Australian composers like Anthony Pateras, James Rushford, Liza Lim, Thomas Meadowcroft, Robin Fox, and Alexander Garsden. Techniques vary dramatically across the album, really highlighting the diversity of both percussive technique and compositional approach. We’ve been quite taken with the album and asked Ughetti to do a Cyclic Selects for us which you can see here. He also took some time to answer some questions about the work.
Cyclic Defrost: You’ve mentioned that the pieces here are in the main germs for much larger compositions involving Speak Percussion, what is it about them that made you want to return to them in a solo mode? Particularly given some are 15 years old.
Eugene Ughetti: Agglomeration of Measurement is really about presenting a body-of-work, the result of long term relationships with composers and how this manifests through the medium of solo percussion music. It’s also about presenting an Australian perspective on solo percussion music. In the case of all of these pieces, they give a glimpse into other larger projects and compositions and are each in their own right beautiful pieces.
Cyclic Defrost: To what extent other than performance are you involved in the compositional process with your chosen composer. Does it vary? Are there discussions or is it simply a matter of choosing someone and giving yourself over to their particular vision?
Eugene Ughetti: My collaborative role with composers can vary wildly, the most extreme being when a finished score turns up in the letterbox without any prior discussion or when I am both the sole composer and performer of the same work. My preference is to work highly collaboratively, to support the vision of the composer but also help test and shape it. I’m well versed in both ‘interpreting’ and ‘creating’ work but I feel the best work happens when there’s a strong team of contributors, each informing, challenging and contributing to a unified creative outcome.
Cyclic Defrost: Can you see a link between the composers you chose to work with?
Eugene Ughetti: I definitely have strong aesthetic preferences towards the composers I choose to work with. I’m looking for a compelling sound world, one that doesn’t instantly reveal its machinations, I’m searching for beguiling and confounding experiences in sound and I’m looking for risk and new languages.
Cyclic Defrost: You mention long term relationships you have with some composers. Does that make a difference in the way you work together? How important is building trust or having a track record with someone? Why? Can you provide an example with one of the composers you worked with here?
Eugene Ughetti: Long-term artistic relationships are motivated by striving for deeper and richer musical works. Sometimes too, like in gallery contexts, we need multiple works by an artist for a creative process or language to mature. Trust and respect are essential and a track-record can facilitate a faster and more productive working relationships.
Cyclic Defrost: You’ve devoted a large part of your life and energy to performing and celebrating experimental and new music composition. Why is it important?
Eugene Ughetti: I think to a large degree ‘new and experimental’ are ideals purported by Western ideology, and to this my work has certainly fallen victim. However, I’m convinced that music of this place and this time is the most important music we can ever experience. Beyond that, I know that new sounds, new ideas and new experiences provide me with the best chance of feeling alive and growing as a human being.
Cyclic Defrost: How did you decide this wasn’t a work for speak percussion and instead was solely for you?
Eugene Ughetti I received some funding to record the album and Creative Victoria didn’t allow me to connect it to my work with Speak Percussion.
Cyclic Defrost: My favourite piece is ‘March Static’ which you did with Thomas Meadowcroft. It’s simultaneously loose, woozy and relentless with really minimal ingredients. I can’t get enough of it. Can you tell me what it is about his work that makes you want to collaborate with him and how this piece developed?
Eugene Ughetti: Thomas Meadowcroft’s music is seductive, whilst it’s pretty on the surface it always connects to something beyond. March Static was made as a studio test piece for a, yet to be composed, marching piece for drums and flutes. It has a very simple structure and is designed to be perforable by students and community musicians. Thomas’ music is the best example of Australian surburbia I’ve ever heard. Speak Percussion has also released a percussion portrait disc of his on MODE records, featuring four other pieces.
Cyclic Defrost: Can you talk a little about the techniques you utilise when it comes to working with percussion on Agglomeration Of Measurement? You speak about explorations of feedback, micro-tonality, micro percussion, post instrumental practice, and investigations into broader non-musical practice. I think I understand roughly half of what you are talking about. Why do you continue to strive for new approaches?
Eugene Ughetti: I use a whole range of techniques to realise these works, some of which were developed specifically for each piece. In the case of Transducer, Robin Fox and I developed a technique of feedback resonance between a microphone and loud speaker mitigated by a tam tam. The microphone ‘heard’ frequencies from the tam tam which, amplified through the loudspeaker, were accentuated back into the instrument. It was a shared goal for us both to make a work for percussionists without ‘striking’ a single percussion instrument and this gave rise to a 40-minute work for an eight channel speaker system utilising a myriad of techniques for microphones and loud speakers with performer interventions.
Post Instrument Practice is an approach that we’ve been pursuing at Speak Percussion for many years now. This has involved working with, in some cases custom designed, materials and objects to create music with. It’s a shift from the instrumental practices we all know from conventional music performance towards utilising percussionists sensibilities to make music from non-instruments.
TRANSDUCER (excerpts) from Speak Percussion on Vimeo.
Cyclic Defrost: It’s really interesting that you mentioned the Robin Fox piece because there was no attack, no percussive strike. So I was wondering where you were in it. Can you talk a little more about the thinking that prompted the decision to approach the piece in this manner, though perhaps also about how this and other ‘experimental’ techniques fit with your conception of what percussion is.
Eugene Ughetti: Firstly, I was wondering, what is left of the percussionist, or who is the percussionist, if you remove percussion instruments? Robin and I were also very inspired by Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Mikrophonie I, which was probably the first composed example in western music where a performer became a ‘microphonist’, meaning they performed a microphone part in a piece, as another voice in the composition. We were keen to explore in the work the latent expressive potential of the microphone and this lead us down various roads exploring the process of transduction between microphones and loudspeakers.
Finally, the result was an 8-channel surround piece for 4 percussionists. Each player behaved more like a technician executing tasks. This role was of course very much informed by the musical skills inherent within percussion playing. One of the reasons the ‘finale’ of the piece ended up being for tam tam excited by a feeding back microphone and loudspeaker was that it was a kind of perfect hand-over into Stockhausen’s piece which is essentially a work for giant tam tam, loudspeakers and microphones.
Cyclic Defrost: Okay I admit I googled it but I still need help with the title, Agglomeration Of Measurement, what does it mean for this album or to you?
Eugene Ughetti: Agglomeration of Measurement really refers to this idea of a body of work, amassed over a period of time and across a series of relationships.
Cyclic Defrost: What has been the impact of your music practice/ and for Speak Percussion during the Covid pandemic?
Eugene Ughetti: Thus far Speak Percussion and I have been able to navigate pretty smoothly through the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve had to find new presentation contexts and make work a little differently. Currently we have 3 major works in development, all of which will be both made and presented with social distancing measures in place.
There’s been a big re-focus on local activity and local priorities which has been a real blessing given the elephant the room, ahem Climate Change, in relation to international touring. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to re evaluate a range of questions around diversity and community too.
You can find Agglomeration Of Measurement here.