3 Min Read

Submersion into Sound: Alluvial Gold

Most people’s workstations include a computer and some pastel stationary, but Louise Devenish has a chain mail curtain of oyster shells, a bass drum, a vibraphone, various tree nuts and shells strung up into wind chimes, and a bowl of water rigged with a microphone. And that’s only the things I can name.

This conglomerate of instruments, some of which double as visual art sculptures, make up the interdisciplinary work Alluvial Gold, performed at PICA. Devenish is joined in the creation of the piece by hidden performer on the computer Stuart James, and visual artist Erin Coates, who created some the instruments and art pieces such as the oyster curtain.

Percussionist Louise. Photography by Edify Media.

The show takes Perth’s Derbarl Yerrigan (the Swan River) as its point of departure, including the theme of water in every aspect. The first ‘instrument’ Devenish plays is an oyster shell splashed about in a bowl of water, sampled live by James on the tech desk and layered onto notes from the vibraphone later on. Video projections on the oyster curtain behind Devenish show seaweed bobbing on the tide, a seahorse up close, and more oyster shells floating eerily, all filmed by Coates during her free dives into the river itself. More recordings of the river are mixed into the music, surrounding the audience and immersing us all, so much so that at one point I was convinced I could hear rain outside. The murky green light that envelops Devenish and the shimmering spotlights from below her instruments reinforce this feeling of submersion, and I had to remind myself not to hold my breath. The whole experience was mesmerising.

Percussionist Louise. Photography by Edify Media.

‘Alluvial’ of Alluvial Gold refers to layers of sediment that pile up as a result of movement, like how the bed of a river forms and changes. This idea is echoed in the layering of sounds from the all the instruments and parts of the river until the resulting music flows together. ‘Gold’ references not only Devenish’s shiny vibraphone but also one of the heavy metals with which we pollute our river. In the Q&A after the show Devenish and James explained that these metal pollutants were one of the inspirations for the piece, as their effect on the health of the river’s inhabitants can be seen on the eroded skeleton of a dolphin in the WA Maritime Museum. This inspired one of Coates’ sculptures-made-instrument in a bronze casting of the skeleton hung up and played on with a baton. Unfortunately, the musical dolphin skeleton is currently on display in an exhibition in Sydney, so was disappointingly replaced with triangles on the night.

Fifty minutes is a long time for non-musicians to listen to a percussion performance, but Devenish and James kept it fresh by moving between stations and instruments, demonstrating how even found objects can make music in the right hands. Even the oyster curtain was rigged with sensors allowing Devenish to ‘play’ it by waving her hands in front of different sections. And, of course, the video footage and sound projections worked together to transport us all beneath the river’s surface. The effect was unearthly yet calming.

Alluvial Gold is a gobsmacking display of talent from all the creatives involved, and a reminder to pause and consider the river that we live and work around a little more deeply.