Alumni stories: Eugene Ughetti

Eugene Ughetti, Speak Percussion 10th Anniversary, Mona Foma. Image credit: Jeff Busby.
Eugene Ughetti, Speak Percussion 10th Anniversary, Mona Foma. Image credit: Jeff Busby.

The percussionist, composer, conductor and artistic director of Speak Percussion is known for tackling complex and ambitious art music projects. Here, he discusses his time at the Victorian College of the Arts.

By Stephanie Juleff

Why are you so interested in working on projects that bring music and art together?

Fundamentally, I’m excited about ideas and experiences. Very often music can be a victim of its own cultural baggage, whether that’s concert etiquette, poor production standards or aesthetic conventions. I see my work in music no differently to the way I experience ideas in art, design, light and movement. When we enter the world of percussion we enter a rich and complex domain which is inextricably linked to other performing arts disciplines and other creative pursuits.

Can you tell us what you’re doing currently in your career?

I’ve recently made a work called Polar Force. It’s an exploration of high pressure wind, ice and water which took pristine Antarctic field recordings as its point of departure. The performance is housed within a large, white inflatable space, and I used new industrially designed instruments to explore these raw polar energies. The work premiered at Arts Centre Melbourne and has been to PICA in Perth. Next, we’re off to the Ruhrtriennale in Germany.

Why did you choose to study at the Melbourne Conservatorium?

I initially enrolled to study at the Melbourne Conservatorium in 1999 and soon realised that to pursue a creative practice I needed to change courses and go to the Victorian College of the Arts. Nowadays, both those courses at the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music have been merged and from what I understand it has brought elements of both traditional foundations in music with opportunities to pursue creative practice. It was certainly the best choice available to me at the time and I was privileged to be mentored by Peter Neville, the then recently appointed Head of Percussion.

How did your time there match or differ from your expectations?

I knew from day one that I wanted to make the most of my time and for that reason I worked hard. The VCA in the late 90s was a very creative place to be, there were lots of young artists collaborating and cross-pollinating ideas across creative disciplines. Possibly one of the most important career moments occurred while I was there – the forming of a group called Speak Percussion.

From your own experience, what advice would you give someone at the start of their journey studying at the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music?

Don’t think of yourself as a student in a system, fulfilling course requirements. See the institution as place whose sole function is to empower, equip and nourish you. If this means bending the rules then so be it.

I don’t mean being selfish or aloof – being collaborative and collegial is super important. But I do mean stepping into the place recognising that it’s there for your learning. Take responsibility for making it deliver for you.

What is your most treasured possession and why?

My studio. Having a dedicated space to serve the artistic process is incredibly valuable and rare. It’s a place I can go to think, glue and drill objects, practice, rehearse, compose, store things and ultimately have privacy from the rest of the world.

You can find out more about Eugene’s work at Speak Percussion, and through Speak Percussion’s Instagram and Facebook.