Black of the Star

In collaboration with Speak Percussion, a performance of Gerard Grisey’s Black of the Star (1989-1990) scored for six percussionist surrounding the audience and recordings of pulsars.

By Gerard Grisey
Deakin Edge, Federation Square on 16 and 17 October 2013 as part of the Melbourne Festival.

This performance included new versions of the Vela pulsar supplied by George Hobbs (Astronomy and Space Science CSIRO), spatialisation and a new multi-channel recording. The pulsars are usually played over stereo speakers, however new spatialised versions were created and diffused over 16 channels.

To deal with acoustic issue and for recording purposes stereo microphones were placed over each percussion station. The microphone signal was fed to speakers both sides of each percussion station. This subtle enhancement to the local sound image of each player improved the direct sound for the audience. The combination of close microphones and surround speaker placement created a localised amplification for each performer without disrupting Grisey’s original and complex spatial motions of musical gestures exchanged around the ensemble.

These 12 microphones, a Sound Field and binaural dummy head microphones were used to make a 17 channel recording. By mixing between the direct and ambisonic microphones unique spatial perspectives can be created that reveal the technique of Grisey’s intricate spatial composition approach. The listener can occupy a vantage points not possible in performance, located from the middle of the venue to sitting amongst the players on a virtual sound stage.

Find out more at the Speak Percussion website.

Key people

Project team

  • Speak Percussion: Eugene Ughetti (Artistic Director), Matthias Schack-Arnott (Artistic Associate), John Arcaro, Louise Devenish, Leah Scholes and Paul Tanner
  • Sound Diffusion: Lawrence Harvey (Director of SIAL Sound Studios, RMIT)
  • Spatial Sound System Design and Operation: Jeffrey Hannam (SIAL Sound Studios)
  • Live Recording: Jim Barber
  • Pulsar Sonification: George Hobbs and Robert Hollow (CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science Division)
  • Speak Manager: Laura Holian
  • Additional Technical Support: Simon Maisch and Patrick Wilson
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Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nations on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.

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