Grace Ferguson has an air of humility.
Sit her in front of a piano and her fingers dance across it with enviable effortlessness, it feels like witnessing a superpower. One that's been hard earned, through diligence and an explorer's spirit.
I have listened to Grace's LP Voler many times and been overcome with waves of unnamable sensations. Unplaceable emotions that drift and morph with the piano's pacing and progressions, as though she's a marionettist.
Grace kindly recounts memories & talks of her processes and tendencies below.
Dressed by Melissa Mikletic / Before March Store
What are some of your formative memories around music and the piano in particular?
One of my earliest memories as a toddler growing up in Brisbane is dancing topless in my lounge room to the opening track of the Strictly Ballroom CD with discarded sleeve of a costume from my Dad’s work, Queensland Theatre Company as a voluptuous skirt. I loved that film and the ruffled fabric fully transported me there. I’ll still disband whatever I’m doing if the opening chug of ‘love is in the air’ comes on at a party.
I vividly recall when my grandparents delivered their piano on the back of a Ute from South Australia to our new home in Melbourne when I was 4. The whole ceremony of moving a piano and tuning it (which I’ve done too many times now!) always takes me back to that first time and the excitement of it. It stops everyone in the household to focus on this singular thing of watching whoever is handling it intently and usually everyone has their own opinion of where it should go...
A much later formative moment in time for me and music came in my late 20s when I was living in a big share house with several sculpture/visual based artists. Their dedication to their craft, drawing from the everyday and importance of humour in something you take seriously inspired me immensely at the piano.
How would you describe the sonic world in which you've immersed yourself?
My output draws from my classical training whilst often subverting some of these conventions. My first LP ‘voler’ implored the sentiments of the French feminist writer Hélène Cixous’ text ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’ and invited me to reconcile my relationship with historic classical music traditions without inhibition or apology for what resulted from this lack of inhibition. This conceptual inspiration and shift in perspective had a real effect on my artistic practice; embracing more improvised, experimental ways to create music and sound, a more playful approach teaching and programming recitals. Opportunities to freely improvise and various artistic collaborations emerged from this release and they have been fundamental in shaping me as an artist in recent years.
Are there are rituals you follow that help promote creative fertility?
Many rituals I had when I worked more nights in my 20s are really importantly for me creatively. I’m not sure I called them rituals though, they were just things I did that were free before work- like walking wherever you feel a certain pull to, letting objects and sounds speak to you, collecting snippets of songs and gestures in people and being open to incidental encounters.
Thought patterns are a product of the diet you feed it - so new books, films, music and seeing live performances are discussing these are good for keeping in touch and engaged with communities, being open to undiscovered concepts, references or issues, offering comfort- all can assist in formulating your own artistic voice. A theatre maker I look up to once mentioned that she doesn’t mind seeing “bad” art/performances because it’s an opportunity to sit in a comfy seat and think how you might create something new or approach something differently to what’s on stage. Admittedly, some of her best ideas had come to her during shows she didn’t enjoy!
The balance between social and solo time to create is in constant flux but always the actual work part, to distill the things I’ve collected over a period of time, into new sound and music- I require silence and space for that.
How do collaborations help to stretch and broaden your frame of mind?
Working with others makes you accountable and makes you question potentially weaker parts of your process. Sometimes this can feel a bit stop starty because communicating ideas in your head to someone else is hard but with enough time for a language to emerge and it makes you reach deeper or further out or something!
True artistic collaboration is like any relationship, it’s not meant to be easy but the results are richer. It’s also important to not get stuck into set ways in a collaboration (like a relationship) too though.
How has being self-taught with the theremin & harmonium further enriched and informed your practice?
Those instruments have opened up a sense of tactile play and different musical worlds but mainly I approached them out of practicality - to move them easily and play with other people and venues outside or without a piano. Both the theremin and harmonium can create drone like sounds which I like using as an instrumental layer to cut through keyboard based compositions, especially for dance and theatre works when I want the music to be polyphonic. The harmonium was invented in Europe but has strong associations with classical Indian music, which resonates with my own makeshift methodology. The more I research about it, it became those moments when your like ahhh, there is deep historic tradition about this thing I was interested in but was never made to think was the focus; like the colour of each pitch, the art of improvising around something that is fixed. The theremin also has a wonderful back story that anyone should read up on if they don’t know about it!
Learning a new instrument was also important for me to remember what it is to be unacquainted with something and informs my work as a piano teaching daily.
What might your ideal environment, in terms of live performance, look and/or feel like?
When an expert is involved, they can make any space feel intimate or expansive and since being involved in a few theatre shows, I’m fascinated by how light works.. So I would say anywhere as long as someone is looking after the light- professional or amateur also concerned with ambience is my ideal environment.
How would you describe your personal style approach?
In my mind I want to dress differently several times a day, specific to what i’m doing but that’s immensely impractical and distracts you from what’s really important. My favourite clothes allow me physically motion through the day because clothes shouldn’t dictate how you move in the world. Bias cut things I love.
Flattering and have the movement I was taking about. Rayon is my favourite fabric, I guess there’s flexibility and flow in rayon too.The majority of my clothes are vintage//op shops finds because you can find high quality garments, made with love or have been perfectly worn in or you can just tell someone felt good in them before you. I’m very lucky that my Dad through his job can often find clothes that fit me better I can find myself too. Primary concerns; can I ride a bike in it? Does the fabric feels good on my skin, can I spill things on it and easily wash it? Sometimes if I’m feeling especially fruity I’ll make concessions though and there is space for the way a brand new item can make you feel, brand new.
Can you craft a little playlist that highlights fellow musicians (past or current) whom you admire?
Everyone says this, but I really am open to any good music. House, techno, classical, soul, blues, experimental... What I can’t listen to is music imitating something else or has no intent, that feels like a job half done to me. It’s fine to be inspired or curious how a certain sound was achieved but you can’t expect people be moved by something recognisably reconfigured. All these tracks feel like they come from the heart of the person that created them -
Magenta- Josephine Foster
Are there any upcoming projects or shows you'd like to share?
Apart from more casual improvised performances my next main performance will be Piano Day - Sunday 2nd of April at Tempo Rubato, Brunswick. Pianists Sophie Hutchings, Evelyn Ida Morris and myself will be performing individual piano sets. For those nottt familiar with Piano Day it’s a celebration of the 88th day of the year (how many keys are on a standard piano keyboard) that composer Nils Frahm turned into an event a few years ago. There are concerts scheduled all around the world and an official Piano Day LP release accompanies the festivities now too.
Currently I’m working a new dance work, ‘Waves are Disturbances’ by choreographer Zoe Bastin that examines consent in relationships and includes four incredible contemporary dancers. We have several development periods throughout the year and look to present the final work in 2024.
A feature filmed in Australia called Foe, directed by Garth Davis that I was involved in as Saorise Ronan’s piano teacher / piano hands double will be released later this year. The idea is not to see me at all though :)
Slowly collecting things and making space for my new multi-instrumental solo LP, no date for it’s release yet!