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Clip: Susie Ibarra

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  • Carl Z.
    Bang a Gong (or Eight) in a Pan-Cultural Fusion * E-Mail This * Printer-Friendly * Reprints * Save Article
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 18, 2006
      Bang a Gong (or Eight) in a Pan-Cultural Fusion

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      Bang a Gong (or Eight) in a Pan-Cultural Fusion
      Published: February 18, 2006

      Susie Ibarra first made her mark in the early 1990's as an adept free
      jazz drummer in the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, led by the
      bassist William Parker. The arrival of a slight young
      Filipino-American woman into one of downtown's most raucous and
      adventurous ensembles was bound to create a stir, and it did.

      But Ms. Ibarra, now 35, has moved far beyond that. In the past decade,
      her willingness to step out from behind the kit and embrace nonjazz
      forms — opera, poetry, experimental sound, dance — has taken her from
      that initial buzz below Houston Street to international renown as a
      composer, performer and proponent of folkloric music.

      Tonight at Joe's Pub, she performs new songs from "7,000 Mysteries," a
      suite of "sonic images of the Philippines," with her husband, Roberto
      J. Rodriguez, a Cuban-American percussionist and composer. Together
      they make up Electric Kulintang, a duo melding indigenous music, field
      recordings, live percussion, atmospherics and dance beats in a hybrid
      that Ms. Ibarra calls "Filipino gong electronica."

      The kulintang, played in "7,000" by Ms. Ibarra, is an ancient Filipino
      folk instrument consisting of a row of eight small gongs of different
      pitch; traditionally, it is played by women.

      "Jazz is really a first love for me in New York," Ms. Ibarra said in a
      recent interview in Midtown. She seems barely to have changed since
      her neophyte days: still soft-spoken and quick to laugh and praise
      others, with a gentle manner that can often seem at odds with her
      musical tenacity. "It's a part of my roots and a part of my language,"
      she said, "but it's not everything."

      Ms. Ibarra has journeyed through many realms: from avant-jazz with
      David S. Ware, John Zorn and Mark Dresser to free improvisation with
      Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, indie rock with Yo La Tengo, and more.
      She has played in Indonesian gamelan groups, worked with the
      experimental composer Pauline Oliveros, and studied with the
      drummer-shaman Milford Graves and, more recently, with Danongan
      Kalanduyan, a Filipino kulintang master. She has even composed an
      opera, "Shangri-La," with the poet Yusef Komunyakaa. Today, Ms. Ibarra
      is involved as a composer or performer in no less than six musical
      projects, including her own trio. And an album of children's music,
      created with Mr. Rodriguez, has just been released.

      Ms. Ibarra and Mr. Rodriguez, who married in 2002, met through their
      musical associations with Mr. Zorn, around whom musical and cultural
      barriers are routinely erased. "We met as improvisers," Ms. Ibarra
      said, "and the whole language of improv bridges a lot of people,
      cultures and backgrounds."

      Ms. Ibarra conceived Electric Kulintang around the time of her
      marriage. The distinctive sound of "7000 Mysteries" (an allusion to
      the number of islands that make up the Philippines) comes from the
      ringing pentatonic melodies of Ms. Ibarra's kulintang. Mr. Rodriguez,
      whose skill with electronic music contributes to the trance aspect of
      the project, also adds acoustic patterns on the claypot and cajón la
      perú (box drum). In live performances, the musicians also take turns
      on drum kit and laptop.

      In songs like "The Ancients," "Golden Dream" and "Bangka," the result
      is a sort of aural tapestry. At times, beats that would be welcome in
      a laid-back club predominate. But the grooves come and go and melt
      away to near-abstraction. A full palette of environmental sounds —
      what Mr. Rodriguez calls "the music of life" — emerge and recede:
      motorbikes, children's cries, flip-flops scraping on pavement. Many of
      these sounds were gathered by the couple on a six-week trip to the
      Philippines in 2005, much of it spent in Mindanao, the second-largest
      island and a cradle of kulintang music.

      For Ms. Ibarra, the daughter of two doctors born in the Philippines,
      the pull eastward was natural. "I grew up in a Filipino family in
      Texas with choral music, piano and church music, as well as some
      folk," she said in an e-mail message. "There was also a kulintang in
      my uncle's home. I began playing Philippine kulintang music when I was
      a teenager."

      Later, as her career as a jazz drummer was taking off, she kept her
      connection to these roots, making her first attempts to merge
      kulintang with contemporary music and improvisation, following a path
      cleared by other maverick composers, most notably Lou Harrison, who
      embraced gamelan. Two of her most recent albums as a leader,
      "Folkloriko" and "Flower After Flower" (both on Mr. Zorn's Tzadik
      label), blend kulintang with the sort of free improvisation she is
      well known for.

      Mr. Rodriguez — who was brought up in bands led by his father, a
      trumpeter and arranger, and by the legendary bassist and composer
      Israel (Cachao) Lopez — displayed an obvious delight and awe for the
      richness of Filipino life and music as he recalled their trip to the

      Electric Kulintang, he said, was music, but could also be heard as a
      collage or a soundscape of the couple's trip to the Philippines, a
      place where contemporary Western-style culture has largely pushed the
      nation's indigenous art forms aside. "It's bringing a little piece
      from there to people here who would otherwise never hear it," he said.
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