Three audio clips from the composition
Composed by Stephen de Filippo
Music for Mixed Percussion
Premiered 15 August 2014, performed by Piñata Percussion at Callaway Auditorium.
Stephen de Filippo’s Music for Mixed Percussion is exactly that. Scored for twenty-two different percussion instruments (twenty-three, if you include an optional piano), this piece is a vast exploration of percussion instruments and their timbres.
Stephen’s thorough inquiry into percussion music was prompted by an invitation from Louise Devenish –contemporary percussionist and percussion lecturer at UWA– to his composition class, to collaborate new works for a Co-Lab project with Piñata Percussion. Piñata Percussion, a collective of UWA’s undergraduate percussionists, focuses on Australian new music and contemporary pieces that are infrequently performed. Identifying himself with the concept, Stephen decided to dive in on the opportunity to break ground in percussion music.
As a composer of mostly vocal and choral music, there was a huge challenge presented in the direction given by Piñata Percussion. “It was hard when you have a brief that says, ‘use a lot of untuned percussion’. Where’s the melody? It was really hard at first, especially when all you have to draw on is – if you've used Sibelius before, there's only one noise per instrument – so you couldn't use that. And there's all these different techniques of drumming that you have to account for.”
Not having written for a percussion ensemble before, there was a lot of experimentation and workshopping with the Piñata percussionists. “I felt guilty, like hassling people all the time, but they let me go in to the [percussion] room and let me touch everything and tell me how everything's done. I was like just like, ‘What timbres do I like, what sort of musical sounds?’ and then pieced it together from what I found sounded pleasing to me. From there I sort of went away, wrote a rough outline of what I wanted to do and see if the setup is easy enough to move around.” (Of course, working with such a large palate of instruments, performance logistics also need to be taken into account).
The resulting product is a versatile musical work that exploits many possibilities in percussion music, evoking several moods throughout by combining an eclectic selection of pitched and non-pitched percussion instruments. This is enhanced by contrasting elements in each of the three movements. On the form of Music for Mixed Percussion, Stephen explains, “I wanted to create three segments that were contrasting, but … there's always a constant. The outer two are sort of met together ‘cause they're more similar, whereas the second movement is more contrasting but also features keyboard instruments as well.” The overall form is also unified by the common instrumentation between movements. A strong focus on drums and non-pitched instruments, particularly in the first and third movements, alludes to early non-Western music that was not intended for performance in concert halls, but for earthly rituals.
To the credit of Piñata Percussion’s Co-Lab initiative, the composition process for this piece has helped shape a more dynamic perspective and treatment of rhythm. Despite this, the inclusion of fleeting melodic phrases and ostinatos, and chordal harmonic passages, still provided for a sense of comfort for a composer treading new ground.
Stephen de Filippo is studying music composition at the UWA School of Music.