“Wired” Up on Huang’s Percussions

Diane Monchusap | New University

Diane Monchusap | New University


Part performing arts, spoken word, experimental visuals, computer science and a whole lot of percussion, Aiyun Huang’s “Wired Percussion” at the Claire Trevor School of Arts’ Winifred Hall on Jan. 30 was a unique melding of many mediums.

Huang’s performance is a part of the Gassmann Electronic Music Series at the CTSA, which focuses on presenting concerts, lectures, panels and workshops focusing on the relationship between music and computers.

In addition to performing as a soloist and a chamber musician, Huang is currently a researcher at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology in Montreal, which provides the perfect groundwork of the collaboration with the Gassmann series.

Huang began her first piece, “0^0,” without a word. An immersion of various percussion pieces like the xylophone and the congas, “0^0” also implemented an interactive computer system programmed to respond to Huang’s musical input.

That night was the world premiere of “0^0,” which was written by Christopher Dobrian, a Professor of Music here at UCI and the producer and director of the Gassmann series.

Though the call-and-response aspect of the song was a very interesting concept, the performance itself was disjointed and without too much of a decipherable rhythm. Granted, percussion instruments are less melodic in nature than others, but “0^0” seem discordant and was difficult to follow.

The next act, “Aphasia,” was also slightly bizarre. Huang sat in a chair directly facing the audience and used only her hands to perform a sort of interpretive act accompanying an electronic soundtrack. No instruments were played by Huang, and according to the program, “‘Aphasia’ has been adopted into the percussion

to the program, “‘Aphasia’ has been adopted into the percussion repertoire because the use of hand gestures and the need for precise timing (…) highlight the skills of a percussionist.” Huang’s movements were indeed impressively precise, and if it was meant only to highlight impeccable timing, it did exactly that, and not much else.

“Temazcal,” however, was one of the highlights of the concert. The piece was originally composed by Javier Alvarez and heavily features the maracas playing to a backing of a tape of harp, a folk guitar and double bass pizzicato. Huang’s skill was certainly on display here, mastering the maracas with deftness and precision that didn’t seem possible for such a seemingly simplistic instrument.

The final piece for the night, “Tacoma Narrows Monochord,” was meant to be the shining feature of the concert. A 36-minute performance that consisted of Huang playing a “sculptural soundbox instrument” in the dark while a dual-image projection plays in the background; it was commissioned by Huang herself and developed by composer Sean Griffin.

Along with Huang’s playing of the unique instrument, she sometimes took the mic herself to recite some poetry in both English and Mandarin. The images in the background included footage of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse, various segments of Huang in eight different costumes, footage of nature and text of poetry scrolling throughout. Though explosive in content and imbibed with energy and motion, when the lights came back on, there was a simultaneous feeling of being overwhelmed and confused.

Though one must applaud Huang for her skill and precision, “Wired Percussion” in general was a disorienting experience and hard to follow.