At the end of the performance, the percussionists bow, we applaud, they leave – and then, still completely awed by the experience, an entire Substation of people remain, seated, eyes soft, senses heightened, listening intently to the silence that never was: the space created by the work.

Speak Percussion are Australia’s leading thinkers and experimenters in tactile sound. Their monumental A Wave and Waves was a highlight of the 2015 Melbourne Festival. In contrast to that tightly engineered work, the Before Nightfall series invites outstanding percussionists from around the world to collaborate on a piece made in a single day, to be ready for the setting of the sun. This week’s work brings renowned Norwegian artist Ingar Zach to Melbourne to create a piece that responds to the unique spatial and aural conditions of The Substation, a former electrical AC/DC conversion structure servicing the railway system. Drawing on this heritage, on the building’s vast size, and on the adjacent railway station, the work generated from this collaboration reconfigures that context to present its sounds anew.

A wonderland of percussive objects greet us on entering the space: cymbals, triangles, hand bells, tubular bells, drums, drumsticks, brushes, metal bowls, ceramic bowls, marbles, temple blocks, scrapers, gongs. An enormous turntable dominates the space, and delightfully, seating is in the round, intimately close as hands turn objects into instruments.

Eugene Ughetti, Matthias Schack-Arnott and Ingar Zach enter the space, await our silence, and sound the gongs gently, powerfully. Our focus is drawn close; our curiosity aroused. Careful gestures take favoured objects on small round journeys. Ceramic bowls are circled across a drum’s surface. Wire brushes are dragged along the turntable’s edge. Metal objects strike smooth pebbles as they revolve close to the turntable’s centre. From time to time, tubular bells and hand bells punctuate turn after turn. The heavy table continues to spin, now faster, now very fast, the sounds sharper, filling the space entirely, overtaking the senses as I close my eyes to listen to shrieks and resonances with my whole body. At a point of culmination, Eugene and Matthias move to the edges of the room to sound instruments aerosol in nature: a powerful exhale, the successive shhhs expressed by braking trains. Our concentration shifts from the central space, and the Substation’s hall becomes much bigger once again – like discovering another carriage behind us, another ahead. The turntable slows, the sounds articulate their relation to one another, objects are set and reset.

As I take my time to stand after the long pause, conscious so much more intently of each sound emanating from the Werribee line, I move toward the tables, enjoying the precise numbering of the instruments set across the turntable, and the elegant tessellation of objects now at rest. Nobody wants to leave this space.

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Coming up in the Before Nightfall series: a collaboration with The Necks’ Tony Buck, to be performed at MPavilion on Sunday 29 January.


IMAGES: Before Nightfall by Speak Percussion with Ingar Zach at The Substation, Wednesday 18 January. All photos by Esther Anatolitis.