Melbourne Festival: The 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.

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 issues 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.


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

16th – 17th of October, 2013

Deakin Edge, Federation Square, Melbourne

Gallery images: Black Suit Productions, SIAL Sound Studios