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Water Pail (found/unconventional instruments)

by Daniel Portelli (2021)

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The Australian Music Centre's catalogue does not include any recordings or sheet music of this work. This entry is for information purposes only.

It is listed in our catalogue because an event featuring a performance of this work was included in our calendar of Australian music. Details of this performance are listed below.

Work Overview

Water Pail is about the artist's Donna Chang's intersectional Chinese-Australian identity and her mother, Monica, and her maternal grandmother's life in Hong Kong. Monica lived during Hong Kong's water famine during the 1960s-80s, and experienced significant hardship and poverty. As a young child, Monica had to carry a pail of water up multiple flights of stairs to get fresh water. Monica's voice recounts the story of a family inheritance in which only men could take over assets, leaving Donna's grandmother impoverished.

The water pail represents the labour/burden that migrants, their descendants, and their forebears must carry. Many of the water pails in Hong Kong during that time were repurposed cooking oil drums. The work explores their historical significance and sonic potential in an 8-channel array of these drums, each containing transducers that vibrates and distorts the surface of the metal.

Donna performs a solo percussion piece on a bamboo/water pail structure, which sits on top of a lazy susan. The music was made by conducting a series of instructed verbal improvisations with Donna (an untrained musician).

The works use of absence through darkness and silence speaks to both a specific cultural context and to the human condition of embodied intergenerational trauma.

There was a 7 minute and 31 second live performance that was recorded to video. It is a composer/performer work. This video was then shown [premiered] at the 'Now you hear her' festival, in Sydney in an art installation. The video was played on loop so it played continuously for 4 hours. The installation also contained 8 oil drums with speakers inside of them. Audiences walk around the space to experience the work. They can listen to the video performance as well as the sounds of the installation. These sounds changed and overlapped throughout the 4 hours. So the work was conceived as a 4 hour piece.


Work Details

Year: 2021

Instrumentation: 8 large cooking oil drums, 8 transducers, 4 audio playback devices with amplifers, exposed speaker, finger cymbals, metal güiro, water, brushes, soft and rubber mallets - for solo percussionist (to be realised as a performance or as part of a sound art installation). While 8 drums were used for this installation, future iterations of this work could include any number of these pails (10, 16, 21, 40 etc.), so that they fill the entire space. It can also be redesigned for any number of percussionists.

Duration: 8 min.

Commission note: Commissioned by Backstage Music with funds provided by City of Sydney.

First performance: by Donna Chang at Now You Hear Her: Water Pail and Quirky Room (World Square shopfront) on 27 Mar 2021

The composer notes the following styles, genres, influences, etc. associated with  this work:
Related genres include contemporary classical, experimental music, and new music theatre. Drawing on Helmut Lachenmann's musique concrète instrumentale, Mauricio Kagel's absurdist instrumental music theatre, and Harry Partch's instrument building.

Performances of this work

27 Mar 2021: at Now You Hear Her: Water Pail and Quirky Room (World Square shopfront). Featuring Donna Chang.

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