Innovations in percussion

How it plays: innovations in percussion exhibition

This online exhibition explores highlights from 150 years of percussion practice, with a focus on Melbourne and with Percy Grainger as a touchstone throughout. The online exhibition follows the content of the physical exhibition in the Grainger Museum. It explores The Lynch Family Bellringers, who were a household name in Melbourne from the 1880s, as the first Australian-founded vaudeville group utilising handbells, musical glasses and other unusual percussion instruments. Their innovative spirit was not dissimilar to Percy Grainger’s ground-breaking experiments in ‘tuneful percussion’ from the 1910s to the 1940s. The exhibition explores Grainger's contribution to innovations in percussion through his compositions and musical scores, his exploration of new tuned percussion instruments, and his dissemination of new sounds and ideas through performances and radio broadcast lectures.

Some of Grainger’s newly-designed percussion instruments were used in the Grainger Museum by radical musicians of the Australian Percussion Ensemble (APE). The APE led the experimental Australian percussion scene from Melbourne in the 1970s. Their contribution is featured in the exhibition, featuring a video interview with core members John Seal and Wendy Couch.

In 2001, Melbournians were recipients of a visionary gift, through the Federation Bells projects, which have brought percussive innovations directly to over 1.5 million people over the past two decades. In the physical exhibition, visitors are encouraged to experiment at first hand with 24 of the Federation Handbells in the exhibition. The video 'Twofold genius' provides rich insights into the acoustic, physical, and community innovations of the Handbells, and the work of their creators Dr Anton Hasell and Dr Neil McLachlan. The innovative interactive display system for the Handbells, created by postgraduate students of the Melbourne School of Design, and the soundscape written for the Federation Handbells by Grainger Composer in Residence, Kate Tempany, is also featured.

Radical performance experimentation in percussion is explored in the final part of the exhibition, looking at the Glass Percussion Project, and the ground-breaking contemporary Melbourne organisation, Speak Percussion. Beautiful and complex percussion instruments, such as Dr Elaine Miles' glass gongs, feature in this final part of the exhibition.

This physical and online exhibition celebrates the radical nature of percussion, and also its accessability and democratic nature. As Percy Grainger wrote in 1916:

“As a democratic Australian...I long to see everyone somewhat of a musician… Therefore, I long to write for the amateur to help to build up a ‘home music’, a ‘room-music’... I turn willingly to instruments (such as guitar, mandolin, whistling, singing, percussion instruments such as the marimba-phone, bells, Nabimbas) that amateurs can readily learn; instruments that encourage artistic pleasure in performances rather than yearly labors of preparation for finally joy-poor performances. To me, music is not only, not chiefly, in how it sounds, but almost equally in how it plays...”


Innovations in percussion