Percussion Studio on Soundwalks and more

  • Percussion Studies student Sophia Schmidt performs a flower pot improvisation.
    Percussion Studies student Sophia Schmidt performs a flower pot improvisation (Photo from YouTube).

Students in the University of Washington Percussion Studies program are especially challenged this quarter by lack of access to the instruments and on-campus spaces they normally use for rehearsal and performance. Very few have full-sized marimbas, gongs, timpani, or other such instruments at home. 

Fortunately, the students and Percussion Studies Chair Bonnie Whiting are well-versed in improvising and incorporating unusual or found objects into their practice. A few weeks into Spring Quarter 2020, the studio launched a blog and website to document their spring quarter projects, archived performance recordings, daily improvisations, and work with whatever objects and instruments they have on hand.

Archived performances include the UW Percussion Ensemble’s performance of the U.S. premiere of Yvonne Yiheng Wu’s Violent Tender  on Nov. 30, 2018 at the UW’s Meany Hall. In mid-May the studio posted a recent piece, recorded at a distance: a collaborative recording by the Percussion Ensemble of John Cage’s “But what about the noise of crumpling paper which he used to do in order to paint the series of "Papiers froissés" or tearing up paper to make "Papiers déchirés?" Arp was stimulated by water (sea, lake, and flowing waters like rivers), forests,”  

In addition, Professor Whiting reports, "We have been putting together experimental COVID-19 Soundwalks, realizing and then editing together chamber music, and individuals are working with technology, found-objects, and the traditional instruments they happen to have in their homes." 

A post introducing the students’ individual and group projects further explains the concept behind their sound walks: 

“Since we can't be together on campus, we explored sound walks as a medium to creatively document our individual environments and share our experiences of life disrupted by COVID-19. We studied excerpts from Mark Slouka's ‘Listening for Silence: Notes on the Aural Life,’ learned about Max Neuhaus' ‘Listen,’  and listened to creative examples of recorded and modified environments, like Hildegard Westercamp's ‘Kit's Beach Soundwalk,’ and Laurie Anderson's ‘Is Anybody Home?’ Each of us recorded sounds in our own environment and arranged them into personal sound walks before splitting into groups and combining our individual sounds into a new synthetic sound walk.”

The collaborative work continues throughout the remainder of the quarter. "This week's group project is Christopher Burns' more contemporary Three Standard Stoppages,”  Whiting says. "It involves percussion, speaking, and electronics that are triggered from each performer's smartphone.” Remarking on the students' ability to adapt and remain productive in unprecedented circumstances, she adds, “I’m really proud of them and inspired by all of their work this quarter."

To hear the recordings and learn more about the UW Percussion Studio’s spring quarter projects, visit the blog, which may be found here.