How it plays – the democratic power of percussion. Grainger Museum, May 8-November 1

‘As a democratic Australian I long to see everyone somewhat of a musician’ – Percy Grainger, 1916

A new exhibition and performance project at the University of Melbourne’s Grainger Museum shines a light on key innovations and experimentation in tuned percussion, focussing on Melbourne musical pioneers.

Opening May 8 and spanning 120 years of practice, How it plays: Innovations in percussion brings together a range of percussion instruments that have been created, composed for, and played by radical musicians who have sought to change the way we hear and play music.

“To Percy, music wasn’t just about ‘how it sounds’ but ‘how it plays’,” said curator Heather Gaunt. “In other words, he believed in the power of music that can be played by absolutely anyone, to be transformative….to contribute not only to the aural beauty of our world, but also to our wellbeing and community connectedness. For everyone to be a musician, you have to have access to instruments that can be ‘sounded’ easily. This is where innovative percussion comes in.”

How it Plays is a collaborative exhibition and performance project created by Grainger Museum, Federation Handbells (Museums Victoria and Creative Victoria), Speak Percussion (Creative Victoria), Faculty of Fine Arts and Music and Melbourne School of Design.

Starting with the Lynch Family Bellringers in the 19th century and Percy Grainger’s ground-breaking compositional experiments in ‘tuneful percussion’ in the first half of the 20th century, How it plays then explores the work of Australia’s first government funded percussion group, APE (Australian Percussion Ensemble), in the 1970s. APE experimented on Grainger’s own instruments in the museum, combining cutting-edge electronics with brake drums and flowerpots in a new percussive sound.

Jumping to the 21st century, the exhibition explores the musical and social phenomenon of the Federation Handbells, which engages acoustic and artistic innovation to bring the playing of bells to a wide range of communities. How it plays concludes with an immersion in the sonic and artistic adventures of Melbourne performance ensemble Speak Percussion, an international leader in the field of experimental and new music.

“All these elements demonstrate how percussion has been – and can be – a vital part of our lives, whether we are trained musicians or happy amateurs, and how much passion and intellectual brilliance goes into the creation of new instruments, new sounds, new performance practices, to make this happen,” says Gaunt.

“I’m really excited about the huge amount of interactivity in this exhibition project. Visitors will be able to explore what innovative percussion is like first hand: playing sets of Federation Handbells along to a specially composed soundscape, experiencing the science of sound by trying out the world’s first ever harmonic bell, and the world’s first gong to produce multiple harmonically tuned frequencies.”

This exhibition continues the Grainger Museum’s commitment to creativity, community engagement and collaboration.

How it Plays: Innovations in percussion
Grainger Museum, Gate 13, Royal Pde, Parkville
May 8- November 1, 2019