Although she began playing drums as a teenager, Susie Ibarra set out to study visual arts when she entered college. A fateful encounter with legendary bandleader, keyboard player, and experimentalist Sun Ra and his group Arkestra led Ibarra back to music. Today she is a highly sought-after percussionist, playing with a variety of avant-garde jazz and rock artists, including Pauline Oliveros, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Guillermo Scott Herren of Prefuse 73, and Savath and Savalas, in addition to her own ensembles. Ibarra has also begun to develop her talents as a composer, collaborating with poet Yusef Komunyaaka on two operas and developing scores for the Kronos Quartet and Chinese filmmaker Yan Jin.
Ibarra was born on November 15, 1970, in Anaheim, California, and grew up in Seabrook, Texas, near Houston. Her parents, both doctors, immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in the 1950s. The elder Ibarras insisted on piano lessons for all their children, although Susie is the only one in the family to continue in music professionally. "I get my musicality from my father," she told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. "He plays piano by ear. He just has great rhythm. My appreciation and exposure I get from my mother. She was never a musician but she always loved music. I was always around music and art."
Exposed mainly to the popular music of the 1980s, as well as jazz and traditional Filipino music, Ibarra took up the drums after seeing a local band play an outdoor concert. "The drummer looked like he was having so much fun. And I thought, 'I want to do that,'" Ibarra told The Wire. "I talked to my parents, and my mother said, 'OK, I'll make a deal with you, we'll split the cost of the kit.'" Ibarra joined a punk band a short time later, and also continued her piano studies and played organ at her church.
After high school, Ibarra studied drawing and painting at the Glassel School of Art in Houston and Otis Parsons Art Institute in Los Angeles before enrolling in the art program at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Early in her college career, she attended a Sun Ra Arkestra concert in New York City, and immediately decided to turn her attention back to the drums. She approached Arkestra drummer Buster Smith after the performance, and soon began taking lessons from him. Smith exposed Ibarra to a broad range of percussion styles, and taught her to transcribe drum solos. She dropped out of Sarah Lawrence to pursue her percussion studies full-time, taking up gamelan and kulintang gong in addition to the drums. Her first gigs in New York City were with a gamelan ensemble that played in Central Park, at the Metropolitan Museum, and at world music concerts. She also began studying with jazz drummers Vernel Fournier and Milford Graves. She eventually received a music diploma from Mannes College of Music as well as a bachelor of arts degree from Goddard College.
Ibarra began to make a name for herself when she sat in for drummer Joey Baron in avant-garde saxophonist John Zorn's group, Masada. She formed a musical duo with saxophonist Assif Tsahar, and in 1992 the two were also married (they divorced in 1999). In 1993 she began playing in various ensembles with bassist William Parker, including his 28-piece The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, which also featured Tsahar. In 1996 Ibarra also joined saxophonist David S. Ware's free jazz quartet, and played with them for the next three years.
During this time Ibarra and Tsahar also formed their own record label, Hopscotch. The label's first release was Home Cookin', a 1998 recording of duets by the pair. That same year Ibarra released Drum Talk on the Wobbly Rail label, a live recording with mentor Denis Charles. Ibarra formed a trio with pianist and harpist Cooper Moore and violinist Charles Burnham, serving as its composer and leader. The group released Radiance on Hopscotch in 1999. The album exhibits both avant-garde principles and traditional Filipino percussion styles. "It's title track is a languorous and gorgeous composition in three movements that wouldn't be out of place in a Manila drawing room," noted The Wire's Dave Mandl. "Led by Burnham's woody violin and Ibarra's cool-headed metalwork, the disc exudes Zenlike placidity, with judicious use of space and 'air.'" Ibarra released Flower After Flower on Zorn's Tzadik label in 2000. The album features the trio from Radiance, plus Tsahar and Chris Speed on woodwinds, Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, and Pauline Oliveros on accordion. Mandl noted that the recording is subdued, but that the track "Human Beginnings" is "reminiscent of Sun Ra's more 'out' excursions, circa Heliocentric Worlds." That same year, Ibarra also appeared on indie rock group Yo La Tengo's LP And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out.
For the Record …
Born on November 15, 1970, in Anaheim, CA; married Assif Tsahar, 1992 (divorced, 1999); married Roberto Rodriguez. Education: Attended Sarah Lawrence College; Mannes College of Music, music diploma; Goddard College, bachelor of arts degree.
Joined punk band while still in high school and played in gamelan and kulintang gong ensembles, early 1990s; played with bassist William Parker, 1993-98, and saxophonist David S. Ware, 1996-99; formed duo with saxophonist Assif Tsahar and released Home Cookin' on their jointly run label, Hopscotch, 1998; formed trio with pianist Cooper Moore and violinist Charles Burnham, released Radiance on Hopscotch, 1999; released Flower after Flower with augmented trio, on Tzadik label, 2000; formed new trio with pianist Craig Taborn and violinist Jennifer Choi; formed Mephista with pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and electronic musician Ikue Mori, 2002; formed electric kulintang with percussionist Roberto Rodriguez; continued to play with a variety of avantgarde and rock artists, including Pauline Oliveros, Mark Dresser, Guillermo Scott Herren and Yo La Tengo.
Ibarra formed a new trio with pianist Craig Taborn and violinist Jennifer Choi for her next recording, Songbird Suite, released on Tzadik in 2002. That same year she released Black Narcissus with the ensemble Mephista on the same label, featuring pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and electronic musician Ikue Mori. In 2003 Ibarra released Tone Time with bassist Mark Desser on Wobbly Rail, and in 2004 her trio released Folkloriko, while Mephista released Entomological Reflections, both on Tzadik. Trumpeter Smith and drummer Roberto Rodriguez, now Ibarra's second husband, appear as guest artists on Folkloriko.
Ibarra has continued to pursue her studies of traditional Filipino percussive instruments and styles, and has studied kulintang music with Donongan "Danny" Kalanduyan, both in San Francisco and in the Philippines. With Rodriguez, she formed Electric Kulintang, which melds traditional instruments with electronic dance rhythms. "It has beats, electronics and stuff, but also a lot of percussion and drum kit and vocals," Ibarra explained to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. "It's more contemporary. I think in the sense that it has beats and grooves … it's accessible, but it's not obvious." Ibarra and Rodriguez have also formed Mundos Ninos to teach music to children. In addition, Ibarra collaborated with poet Yusef Komunyakaa on the opera Shangri-La, which is set in Thailand and focuses on sex trafficking and AIDS. They are working on a second opera, about African-American soldiers who defected to the Philippine Army during the Philippine-American War. She is working on scores for the Kronos Quartet and for filmmaker Yan Jin as well.
Throughout her career, Ibarra has worked to raise the visibility of experimental female musicians. In 1999 she curated a series of performances by women-led ensembles at the New York nightclub Tonic. "Lots of people talk about how art reflects life, but if jazz is art, how can it reflect life if only men are playing it?," she asked rhetorically in a 1999 interview with David Yaffe of the New York Times. Ibarra has also tried to set the record straight about the much-misunderstood genre with which she is most often associated. "People often misinterpret this music and think that 'free jazz' or 'free anything' is loud noise or coming from anger," she told Yaffe. "But the music I play has emerged from 40 years of studied development, certainly in terms of drum conception. True 'freedom' can only come from discipline."
(With Denis Charles) Drum Talk (live), Wobbly Rail, 1998.
(With Assif Tsahar) Home Cookin', Hopscotch, 1998.
Radiance, Hopscotch, 1999.
Flower After Flower, Tzadik, 2000.
Hints on Light and Shadow, Postcards, 1997.
Songbird Suite, Tzadik, 2002.
(With Mephista) Black Narcissus, Tzadik, 2002.
(With Mark Dresser) Tone Time, Wobbly Rail, 2003.
Folkloriko, Tzadik, 2004.
(With Mephista) Entomological Reflections, Tzadik, 2004.
New York Times, May 30, 1999.
Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 16, 2005.
The Wire, June 2002.
"Susie Ibarra," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (May 10, 2005).
"Susie Ibarra," Grove Online, http://www.groveonline.com (May 10, 2005).
Susie Ibarra Official Website, http://www.susieibarra.com (May 17, 2005).
Electronic musician, composer
Electronic musician Ikue Mori started out as a drummer performing, most notably, with the seminal New York "no wave" outfit DNA in the late 1970s. After DNA disbanded in the mid-1980s, Mori began experimenting with drum machines and samplers. Today, she works exclusively as an electronic musician, and has collaborated with a wide range of avant-garde musicians, including guitarists Fred Frith and Marc Ribot, harpist Zeena Parkins, percussionist Susie Ibarra, bassist Kato Hideki, vocalists Tenko and Catherine Janiaux, and reed player John Zorn, whose Tzadik and Avant record labels have released most of Mori's oeuvre. Outside the New York and Japanese avantgarde scenes, Mori has worked with Kim Gordon of indie rock band Sonic Youth, Jim O'Rourke of atmospheric rock band Tortoise, and turntablist DJ Olive, and composed and performed film scores, including several for filmmaker Abigail Child.
Mori was born in 1953 in Tokyo, Japan, and moved to the United States in 1977. In an interview with Theresa Stern for the website Perfect Sound Forever, Mori stated that she had not intended to stay in the United States. "I always wanted to get out of Tokyo and in 1977, New York seemed like the most interesting place to visit," she said. "I didn't intend to live here. I just wanted to get out and see what was happening." Soon after her arrival, she joined with writer-turned-guitarist Arto Lindsay and artist-turned-keyboardist Robin Crutchfield to form the band DNA. Although she had only basic musical training, mainly on piano, Mori became the group's drummer, inspired by musicians in New York's punk scene such as Television and Patti Smith. (Crutchfield was subsequently replaced by former Pere Ubu bassist Tim Wright.) DNA came to be regarded as a key element of New York's "no wave" scene, whose bands were characterized by atonality and free-form rhythms. The group appeared on producer Brian Eno's no wave anthology No New York, released on the Island subsidiary Antilles in 1978. The band drew much critical and popular interest, but released only an EP, A Taste of DNA, on the American Clavé label, before parting ways in the early 1980s. Zorn released a live album, DNA (Last Live at CBGB's), on his Avant label in 1993.
Following the breakup of DNA, Mori formed a short-lived all-female trio Sunset Chorus in New York and a second all-female trio Electrified Fukuko, in Japan, which released the EP Gamble '86 on the Telegraph label in 1985. Mori also began experimenting with drum machines and samplers, and lent the sound of her new instruments to improvised collaborations with Zorn, who introduced her to other artists in the city's avantgarde music scene, including Frith, cellist Tom Cora, and keyboardist Wayne Horowitz. Eventually, Mori gave up the drums. She now uses electronics exclusively. "The transition took a couple of years," she told Stern. "I had more and more drum machine and less and less drums. I'm more interested in making pieces and songs than in becoming a good drummer. Here in an apartment, you can't really practice drums but I can write music with a drum machine and headphones." Mori explained the advantages of the drum machine in a 2000 essay for the book Arcana, edited by Zorn. "Using the drum machine one can make loops, play a sequence, select from hundreds of sound sources (voices), program each pad to a key, control pitch, trigger other sound sources … multiplying and manipulating the sounds by adding effects, by combining them, and by causing them to interact in real time."
The progression from drums to electronics seemed natural, Mori recalled in an interview with AC Lee for The Wire. "Even back when I was playing a drum set, I was playing it like a drum machine. I would program the patterns in my brain and then repeat or change them in performance." Yet Mori stressed the emotional aspect of using electronics. "I try to control the machines as spontaneously as possible, playing as close to my feelings as possible, as I would with any instrument," she said.
Mori formed the group Toh Bandjan with bassist Luli Shoi and various female guest musicians in 1986. The group, which stayed together through 1989, released an album, Poison Petal, on the Nato label in 1989. Mori began a fruitful collaboration with filmmaker Abigail Child, for whom she has composed and performed numerous scores, in 1990. In 1993 Mori and vocalist Tenko released Death Praxis, which was also the name of their ensemble, on the What Next label. Mori released her first solo album, Hex Kitchen, on Zorn's Tzadik label, in 1995. Her ensemble included harpist Zeena Parkins, bassist Kato Hideki, violinist Han Rowe, and vocalist Janiaux, with guest appearances by trombonist Jim Staley and Zorn on clarinet. Mori contributed vocals to two of the album's tracks. She, Hideki, and Frith released the LP Death Ambient, also on Tzadik, that same year. These releases marked the beginning of Mori's longstanding relationship with Tzadik, for whom she continues to record. She has also designed cover art for her own and numerous other musicians' releases on both Tzadik and its sister imprint, Avant. "I was not seriously involved with visual art until I started designing the covers for Tzadik and Avant," Mori told Lee. "Visual art and music integrate in my brain beautifully," she continued. "To me, the methods of composition in both areas are quite similar."
Mori released the completely solo Garden on Tzadik in 1996 and Painted Desert, featuring guitarists Robert Quine and Marc Ribot, on Avant in 1997. Subsequent releases under Mori's own name on Tzadik include B-Side (a compilation of music composed for Child's films, 1998), One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (2000), Labyrinth (2001), and Myrninerest (2005). Death Praxis released a second LP, Mystery, on Tzadik in 1998. By the late 1990s, rock musicians had begun to take notice of Mori's eclectic style, and she engaged in collaborations with Kim Gordon, bassist for indie rock band Sonic Youth, as well as Jim O'Rourke of atmospheric rock band Tortoise and turntablist DJ Olive. In 2002 Mori joined with percussionist Susie Ibarra and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier to form the trio Mephista. The ensemble released two albums on Tzadik, 2002's Black Narcissus and 2004's Entomological Reflections. Mori explained to Stern the reason collaborators often seek her out: "I think some people want to have some weirdness or intensity in their project, then they ask for me."
For the Record …
Born in 1953 in Tokyo, Japan.
Drummer for New York "no wave" outfit DNA, 1977-82; formed Sunset Chorus, 1984; formed all-female trio Electrified Fukuko in Japan and released EP Gamble '86, 1985; began playing improvised music, using drum machines and samplers, with various artists, including guitarist Fred Frith, saxophonist John Zorn, cellist Tom Cora, harpist Zeena Parkins, rock musician Kim Gordon, and electronic musician DJ Olive, 1985-; formed Toh Bandjan with bassist Luli Shioi, 1986-89; began composing film scores for Abigail Childs and others, 1990-; formed Death Praxis with vocalist Tenko, 1993; released first solo LP, Hex Kitchen, 1995; formed trio with bassist Kato Hideki and Frith, 1995; toured Europe with Zorn and vocalist Mike Patton, 1996; formed trio Mephista with percussionist Susie Ibarra and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, 2002.
Awards: Prix Ars Electronica for digital music, 1999.
Addresses: Office—Tzadik, 200 East 10th St., PMB 126, New York, NY 10003.
(Contributor, with DNA) No New York (anthology), Antilles, 1978.
(With DNA) A Taste of DNA, American Clavé, 1981.
(With Electrified Fukuko) Gamble '86, Telegraph, 1985.
(With Tohban Djan) Poison Petal, Nato, 1989.
(With Death Praxis) Death Praxis, What Next, 1993.
(With DNA) DNA (Last Live at CBGB's), Avant, 1993.
Hex Kitchen, Tzadik, 1995.
(With Kato Hideki and Fred Frith) Death Ambient, Tzadik, 1995.
Garden, Tzadik, 1996.
Painted Desert, Tzadik, 1997.
(With Amanda Stewart, David Watson, Jim Denley, and Rik Rue) Bit-Part Actor, Braille, 1997.
B-Side, Tzadik, 1998.
(With Death Praxis) Mystery, Tzadik, 1998.
One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, Tzadik, 2000.
Labyrinth, Tzadik, 2001.
(With Mephista) Black Narcissus, Tzadik, 2002.
(With Mephista) Entomological Reflections, Tzadik, 2004.
Myrninerest, Tzadik, 2005.
Zorn, John, editor, Arcana: Musicians on Music, Granary Press/Hips Road, 2000.
The Wire, June 1998.
"Ikue Mori," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (May 16, 2005, 2005).
"Ikue Mori," Perfect Sound Forever, http://www.furious.com/perfect/ikue (May 16, 2005).