Alluvial Gold Program Notes

Presented by Perth Festival in association with Goolugatup Heathcote and
Tura New Music
7pm, Wed 10 to Sat 13 Feb 2021

Louise Devenish. Photo by Karl Ockelford

Program Notes

Alluvial Gold brings a visceral drama to the often-forgotten worlds below the surface of the river in a performance-installation by percussionist Louise Devenish, composer Stuart James and visual artist Erin Coates.  Bringing together percussion, sculpture, instrumental objects, installation, field recordings, film, video projection and drawing, this modular collection takes the histories, materials and ecology of the river as a point of departure. Developed by a creative team of leading Western Australian contemporary artists, this collaborative work evolved with both visual and musical outcomes in mind. Each component can be experienced in various combinations either as a piece of visual art in exhibition, or as instrumental infrastructure in percussive performance.

During the Swan River Settlement establishment and in the decades that followed, native shellfish reefs within the river were heavily dredged and ground up for mortar, roads and building materials at sites across the city, likely including Goolugatup Heathcote, where this work is situated. The music in Alluvial Gold explores the confluence of multiple narratives connected to the river, from the phenomenological and structural aspects of river systems and water, the devastating impact of industrialisation after European colonialisation and industrialisation, the sonic ecology and chemistry of the larger river system, and a musical language derived from transcriptions of sounds of the river system itself. The river forms a temporal narrative through a changing sound world and aesthetic, explored in nine movements:

1. Material – Source – Object
2. Confluence
3. The Cascades
4. Alluvial Fans and Meanders
5. Spiritual Water in the Mouth of the River

Improvisational interlude

6.Crystalline Water in the Mouth of the River
7. Death in the Mouth of the River
8. The Place of the Eagle
9. Engulfment – Emancipation

In each movement, different combinations of sculptural percussion instruments modelled on dolphin bones, native oyster shells and estuarine ecology are brought together with vibraphone, percussion and electronics to create a tapestry of sonic material. When struck, the bronze and porcelain bones produce light, sparkling clusters of harmonics, while a specific pitch set of crotales, ceramic and metal bowls extend the otherwise pure sound world of the vibraphone and sine tones. These instruments and others created for this work, are nestled against a large, sonified oystershell curtain fitted with sensors used to trigger audio samples of hydrophone river recordings captured at seven locations along the river upstream. Layers of notated and improvised material are performed before they are captured and processed live to create a mysterious world of floating sounds that spin off one another and through the space.

Alluvial Gold has been devised in and for the Goolugatup Heathcote spaces to maintain a geographical connection with the materials that informed the work. The changing world beneath the surface is glimpsed via underwater video and audio recordings, which are mapped around the space during the performance.

Artistic Team

Louise Devenish, performance and direction
Stuart James, composition and sound design
Erin Coates, video and sculptural instruments
Mia Holton, projection design
Peter Young, production manager
Tristen Parr, producer for Tura New Music
Gemma Weston, producer for Perth Festival
Jana Braddock, producer for Goolugatup Heathcote


Louise Devenish

Dr Louise Devenish is a contemporary percussionist whose creative practice blends performance, collaboration and artistic research. As a soloist and with ensembles including acclaimed electroacoustic sextet Decibel, percussive research studio The Sound Collectors Lab and perc-piano-bassclarinet trio Intercurrent, she develops new works exploring performance, notation and collaborative creativity, performing around Australasia, Europe, North America and UK, at festivals including MONA FOMA, Nagoya and Shanghai World Expos, Ojai Music Festival, Tage für Neue Musik, Darmstädter Ferienkurse, Perth Festival, and Tongyeong International Music Festival. Louise has commissioned over 50 works, and her performances are acknowledged for their ‘dazzling vitality’, ‘interpretive flair and technical brilliance’. She has collaborated on internationally distributed recordings with her ensembles and others including Speak Percussion and Synergy Percussion, released on Hat[now]art, Listen/Hear, Immediata, Innova and room40, as well as her debut album music for percussion and electronics on Tall Poppies. Most recently, at the 2020 APRA AMCOS Art Music Awards, she won Performance of the Year Award for her solo project Sheets of Sound, and the WA State Luminary Award.

Louise is Senior Research Fellow, Honours Coordinator and Percussion Coordinator at Monash University, where she is undertaking a prestigious Australian Research Council Fellowship (DECRA) in artistic research. She is a Churchill Fellow, and recently published her book Global Percussion Innovations: An Australian Perspective (2019). Louise founded and directed Piñata Percussion at The University of Western Australia Conservatorium of Music, where she was Senior Lecturer and Chair of Percussion (2013-2019). More info

Stuart James

Dr Stuart James is an award-winning Western Australian-based composer, performer, sound designer, audio engineer, and producer. Originally mentored by Allison Applebaum (USA), Anthony Payne (UK), Roger Smalley (UK/AUS), Nigel Butterly (AUS), and Lindsay Vickery (AUS), his compositional work explores both acoustic and electronic instruments. His compositions have been commissioned and performed by the ABC, Decibel, WASO New Music Ensemble, TaikOz, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and Michael Kieran Harvey, and have been recorded and released on Tall Poppies and the ABC. James is a founding member of Decibel New Music ensemble, and has performed with this ensemble throughout Europe and Asia. Stuart currently works as Lecturer in composition and music technology at the WA Academy of Performing Arts, and operates his own commercial recording studio, The Soundfield Studio, where he has collaborated and recorded with artists across all genres such as ShockOne (UK/AUS), Kele Okereke (UK), JMSN (USA), Jac Dalton (USA), Timmy Trumpet (AUS), Ta-ku (AUS), Lachlan Skipworth (AUS), The Sound Collectors (AUS) and Loston (AUS). Stuart holds a PhD in spatial audio, spectral synthesis, and wave terrain synthesis research, and has continued to publish regularly on music technology. Stuart was recently awarded an ECR grant to research how 3D sound can potentially be used to assist in human navigation, and how newly emergent technologies are now facilitating the potential for exploring virtual environments.
More info


Erin Coates

Erin Coates is a visual artist and creative producer working across film, sculptural installation and drawing. Her practice examines our relationship with and within the spaces we build and inhabit, focusing on the limits of our bodies and physical interaction within given environments. Erin’s recent work has explored underwater spaces to look at human physical thresholds and subtly allude to humanity’s evolutionary, oceanic origins and our impact on marine ecosystems. Her work draws on her background as a free-diver as well as her fascination with biological processes and how these are represented in the cinematic language of body horror. Erin’s works are shown in both galleries and film festivals. She has a Master of Fine Arts from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. More info

From the Artists

Heartfelt thanks to the team of wonderful people who ‘pivoted’ through 2020 and 2021 to make this show happen, particularly those who got it over the line for the premiere this week despite losing our five days of rehearsal. Thank you to Luke Devenish for consistent and wide-ranging support of my work, Claire Orman and Tim White for the generous loan of percussion gear, the University of Western Australia Conservatorium of Music for access to practice space in Perth when borders became difficult, Jet Kye Chong for making some very particular mallets for movement 3, Monash University for ongoing support of my artistic research, Tura New Music for your ongoing support of new music and all of my work over the years, the Department of Local Government, Sports and Cultural Industries for financial support of the exhibition and performance. Particular thanks to Stuart James for your exceptionally great music and the energy you invested in the development of Alluvial Gold despite many hurdles, Erin Coates for your beautiful sculptural work to play with and commitment during a challenging online development period, and Tristen Parr, who is just the most exceptional producer particularly in a difficult circumstances – it is always so great to be able to develop work like this with you.


Alluvial Gold has been generously supported by the Western Australian Government through the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries.

Dr Louise Devenish is the recipient of an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DE200100555) funded by the Australian Government.