What interests you about creating new instruments or set-ups?

In making a new instrument/set-up I’m interested in creating a unique space for the performer and audience to inhabit, one that eschews the conventional relationships we have to musical instruments. Rather than creating an instrument that is merely a tool for the performer to wield, I try to create an environment where the instrument has a life of it’s own – it’s own way of moving and sounding that the performer and audience succumbs to.

How did the idea for Anicca evolve?

I had the idea while meditating in Hindu temples in India, reflecting on the relationship between the cyclic and the transcendental. The architecture of many Hindu temples is based on giant mandalas, so the way the devotees engage with those spaces is often along cyclic paths, that are dotted with bells. While spending time in these spaces I had a vision of a spinning percussive surface.

Matthias Schack-Arnott and Richard Allen have built a variable-speed rotating instrument for Anicca

What were some of the challenges of putting this project together?

The first challenge was constructing a motor powerful enough to spin a massive table-top covered in percussion at fast speeds, whilst being virtually silent. It is obviously very important that the sound of the motor doesn’t compete with the music. Once we resolved that issue (we modelled the motor off a product marketed as the “quietest pottery wheel on the market”!), every step of the way there were new challenges, from laser cutting wooden circles, to choosing the exact textures required to create specific sounds, to spectrally tuning 34 metal chimes.

How did the collaboration between yourself and Richard Allen work?

Richards job was to work out how to construct this crazy vision that I had. It involved daily conversations for months, and a lot of fine-tuning. It’s great working with someone who has a very different brain to yours.

Once the new instrument was completed, how different was the final product to what you had first imagined? Were there any surprises?

Strangely the instrument is very similar to how I imagined it when I first had the idea. But some of the sounds have definitely been surprising – for example, the sound of a big 22-inch china cymbal’s edge on the spinning wooden surface, which creates an incredible roaring/singing tone unlike anything I’ve heard before.

What has been the most exciting thing about building this instrument?

With projects like this, the most exciting thing is always seeing something that only existed in your head come to life in front of you, with the help of an amazing team of people. I feel very lucky to be an artist at moments like this.

Percussionists Eugene Ughetti and Matthias Schack-Arnott

How did you go about writing music for the instrument?

A combination of conventional notation (memorised), text-based scores, and improvisational elements. It was definitely a process of trial and error, writing ideas, trying them out, refining them, and then teaching them to my duo partner, Eugene Ughetti.

What are some of the challenges of performing this work, working with the instrument?

The fact that the surface of the instrument is perpetually spinning can be quite disorienting. I also have control over the speed of the rotation, as well triggering the rotational lighting design with a foot pedal, so there’s a lot to process while performing!

What will it sound like?

Singing cymbals, Doppler resonances from spinning chimes, rapid textural cycles, polyrhythmic white noise, mechanical phasing, and the sound of a mallet playing a ring of stones spinning at a rate of 50 rotations per second.

How are the elements of Hindu and Buddhist thought explored in the performance?

Anicca is a central Bhuddist concept meaning “impermanence”. The whole work is really about the transient nature of phenomena, the fact that all physical and mental experiences come into being and dissolve. This is poetically felt through the fact that any object or sound played by the performers is constantly in motion – the playing field is always shifting, and no matter how much we want to control our environment it is always in flux.


Speak Percussion’s Anicca is at Arts House, Melbourne, November 2-6