Susie Ibarra: Talking Gong

, composer


Composer and percussionist Susie Ibarra releases a portrait album featuring solos, duets and trios with her new trio. Talking Gong with Claire Chase and Alex Peh will release in digital and limited edition vinyl formats. Ibarra's work melds influences from her Filipina heritage with her uniquely virtuosic approach to the drum set and sound collage.


Susie Ibarra is a multi-faceted artist who brings together diverse roles as a composer, percussionist, and creative improviser to produce works that flow fluidly between coloristic textures. The music on Talking Gong exists at the intersection of Filipino traditional music, experimental improvisation, and contemporary chamber music, and features a natural synergy between Ibarra and her collaborators, flutist Claire Chase and pianist Alex Peh.

The album is book-ended by four short Meriendas, translated as “snack” from Filipino. These brief improvisatory pieces take a snapshot of an ensemble mechanism in which each instrument occupies a different space. The first features muted sounds — short articulations and pizzicato notes in the piano, percussive, airy attacks in the flute, and rattles, scratches and light cymbal hits in the percussion. The second is playful, with a famous quote showing up mischievously in the piano while the flute circles around central pitches with trills and the percussion plays rumbling figures on the tom-tom.

The title piece is the centerpiece of the recording, nearly seventeen minutes of music that covers a wide range of sonic territory. A melody in pitched gongs is featured in the spacious, ritualistic opening, as the flute punctuates with muted, tongued notes over a background figure in the piano. A left hand ostinato leads into a rhythmic groove under watery arpeggios before Peh launches into a passage of alternating, repeated block chords. Echoes of the muted sounds from the first Merienda return in the subsequent section, framed by the tolling of a low gong, before Chase’s flute finishes the section with a virtuosic solo of clicks, pops, and fricatives. The groove that follows is more full throated, with Ibarra framing the pulse on the snare drum and the flute fluttering over the top. The piece turns unexpectedly towards sensual, jazz inflected harmonies with rich melodic material in the flute. An airy middle section returns to the meditative spirit of gongs and fragmentary material. Peh’s piano abruptly shatters the reverie with dense low register chords before an impetuous passage of angular rhythmic unisons in the piano and drumset. Talking Gong freely moves between sections, but there are motivic seeds that tie and link them together into a quilt of shared material.

Paniniwala (Belief) is a reflective piano and percussion duet, with expansive voicings and arpeggios reinforced by chimes, cymbals, and atmospheric texture. Dancesteps opens with a repeated two part phrase and reharmonizes it in additive fashion, adding voices and expanding registers before contracting again. Insistent figures on wood blocks support syncopated chords before an ominous pedal point steers the piece towards more rhapsodic piano writing. Bell-like plucked strings inside the piano offer an ethereal melody over a simple accompaniment. The opening phrase returns with registral displacement, clothing familiar music in new garb, before we hear it in its original form once again. Ibarra closes the piece with the poignant, nostalgic music heard in the work’s middle section.

Kolubrí (Hummingbird) gives the listener a wonderful opportunity to hear Ibarra’s sound sculpting in isolation in a solo work for drumset, percussion, and gongs. The piece opens with a distant, low roll as Ibarra steadily brings in higher pitched drums, hi-hat interjections, and off-kilter accents. As the piece evolves, it tilts towards irregular accented figures, brushes on the snare, and disembodied sustained sounds on the cymbals.

The solo work Sunbird employs piccolo, flute, and bass flute, sometimes layered on top of each other. Bird-like calls in the piccolo are answered by percussive material in the C flute and trill bursts. The percolating material occasionally makes way for singing, imitative melodic fragments before a torrent of short, unpitched attacks on all three flutes creates a momentary ecosystem all its own. The piece ends with sighing, pensive figures in the bass flute.

The penultimate Merienda features a resigned harmonic progression accompanying hisses and pops in the flute, while in the final short piece, fleet scalar material in the piano supports undulating whistling and quick cymbal crescendi.

Susie Ibarra’s Talking Gong is an exploration of several spaces — the timbral intersection between three instruments, the delicate juncture between through-composed and improvised, and the fertile interchange of music mined from a variety of sources of inspiration. Throughout, Ibarra’s grounding musical presence asserts itself, guiding the music to produce a final product that is a seamless reflection of its component parts.

- Dan Lippel

Recorded July 2020 at Studley Hall SUNY New Paltz

Recorded and mixed by Eli Crews at Studley Hall and Spillway Studios July and August 2020

Talking Gong was a commissioned piece during Susie Ibarra’s Kenneth Davenport Residency for New American Music at SUNY New Paltz 2018

Mastered by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Studios September 2020

Susie Ibarra

Susie Ibarra is a Filipinx composer, percussionist, and sound artist. She creates immersive experiences through sound to invite people to connect to their natural and built environments. Susie is a 2020 National Geographic Explorer Storyteller, a 2019 Doris Duke United States Artist Fellow in Music, Senior TED Fellow and 2019 Asian Cultural Council Research Fellow in working to preservation and support Indigenous music and culture, Musika Katatubo, in the Philippines, and sound recording on glaciers and water rhythms in the Himalayas. Recent commissions include Water Rhythms: Listening to Climate Change installations with glaciologist and geographer Michele Koppes for Fine Acts Foundation and TED Countdown on Climate Change Oct 2020, Rhythm Cycles solo drumset commissioned by Bagri Foundation and released on OTOROKU Digital UK Nov 2020; Digital Sanctuaries Harvard an urban soundwalk for iOS and iPAD commissioned and created with Claire Chase’s Freshman Seminar: Community Building and Social Justice Through Music Dec 2020; Pulsation for Kronos String Quartet’s 50 for the Future Feb 2020, and a participatory performance game piece Fragility Etudes for her band DreamTime Ensemble for Asia Society Triennial 2021.

Claire Chase

Flutist Claire Chase, a 2012 MacArthur Fellow, is a soloist, collaborative artist, and activist for new music. Over the past decade she has given the world premieres of over 100 new works for flute, many of them tailor-made for her. In 2014 she began Density 2036, a project to commission, premiere and record an entirely new program of pieces for flute every year until 2036, the 100th anniversary of the eponymous and seminal piece by Varese. Also in the 2014-15 season, Chase is music directing and playing as soloist in a series of performances of Salvatore Sciarrino's Il cerchio tagliato dei suoni for 4 flute soloists and 100 flute “migranti”.

Chase has performed throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia, including debuts last season in Berlin, Frankfurt, Vienna, Paris, London, São Paolo and Guangzhou. She has released three solo albums, Aliento (2010), Terrestre (2012) and Density (2013). In 2014, she was selected as an inaugural Fellow of Project&, with which she will several new works exploring the relationship between language, music and social interaction over the next several years.

Chase was First Prize Winner in the 2008 Concert Artists Guild International Competition. She co-founded the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) in 2001 and serves as the organization’s Artistic Director and CEO in addition to playing over fifty concerts a year as an ensemble member. ICE has premiered more than 600 works since its inception and pioneered a new artist-driven organizational model that earned the company a Trailblazer Award from the American Music Center in 2010. Chase was also honored with Crain’s Business “40 under 40” Award in 2013.

In 2013, Chase founded The Pnea Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of the flute and its repertoire in the 21st century through commissions, community engagement, cross-cultural and interdisciplinary collaborations and advocacy. She lives in Brooklyn.

Alex Peh

Alex Peh is a contemporary pianist and teacher whose work explores the intersection of classical, contemporary and world piano traditions. He collaborated with Burmese master percussionist Kyaw Kyaw Naing to create the first Burmese Hsaing Waing ensemble in America that features the piano in traditional Burmese Sandaya style. This project received major funding from New Music USA, Asian Cultural Council and Arts Mid-Hudson. As a 2019 Asian Cultural Council fellow, he travelled to Yangon Myanmar to study Burmese piano style with Dr. U Yee Nwe and taught at the Gitameit Music Institute. Alex has performed widely nationally and internationally, sharing special partnerships with artists Susie Ibarra, Claire Chase, Kyaw Kyaw Naing, and Phyllis Chen. Alex has attended the Banff, Aspen and Tanglewood music festivals where he worked with Ignat Solzhenitsyn, Paul Lewis Emanuel Ax, and Peter Serkin. He has studied with major artists such as Arnaldo Cohen, Menahem Pressler, Sylvia Wang, Evelyne Brancart, and Kyaw Kyaw Naing. He is an associate professor of piano at SUNY New Paltz.