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Sample Track 1:
"Of the Invisible" from Electric Kulintang's Drum Code
Sample Track 2:
"21 Million Hectares" from Electric Kulintang's Drum Code
Sample Track 3:
"Duyog" from The Cotabato Sessions
Sample Track 4:
"Dinaladay, Kutiyapi" from The Cotabato Sessions
Sample Track 5:
"Castle Clinton" from Digital Sanctuaries
Sample Track 6:
"New York Stock Exchange" from Digital Sanctuaries
Sample Track 7:
"Louise Nevelson Plaza" from Digital Sanctuaries
Layer 2
Song of the Bird King, 2014 Summer Projects View Additional Info

Talking Gong: Song of the Bird King Encodes and Re-Maps Rhythms, from the Philippines to Urban America

Adventuresome digital music initiative presents live and immersive music inspired by Indigenous practices and the natural world, with several live events and new releases this summer.

Code: It’s a language of secrets, a precise pattern of presence and absence, sound and silence. It’s the hidden foundation of technology, covertly connecting scattered bits and bytes. Composers/percussionists Susie Ibarra and Roberto Rodriguez crack and play with code, uniting diverse but entwined projects in their new digital music initiative, Song of the Bird King (

They lay out serpentine grooves and compelling resonances on a new album, Drum Codes by Electric Kulintang (Song of the Bird King; release: July 15, 2014). They present the musical legacy of one family, the Kalanduyans, with exquisite gong-based music and stirring movement of the Maguindanaon, a matriarchal Muslim minority on the Philippine Island of Mindanao, in the new album and short documentary film, The Cotobato Sessions. They craft site-determined music pieces with interaction designers, visual artists, musicians, and poets, for Digital Sanctuaries, a modular music app that chronicles the historical memory encoded in urban environments while building audio-visual havens for harried city dwellers. (Available as mobile web apps and soon iOS apps)

It’s all of a piece, all built on rhythm and code, on mapping and connecting. “The gandingan, the four mid-range hand gongs the musicians in The Cotobato Sessions are playing, are historically talking gongs, used to communicate between villages,” explains Ibarra. “We’re asking, how do you unpack the melodies and rhythms they play as codes? You don’t want to do it explicitly. You want to keep the secret.”

“Rhythm carries the weight of it all,” Rodriguez reflects. "We are beating the drum to the rhythm of life, music, nature, and technology.”

Song of the Bird King Summer Events:

Digital Sanctuaries, NYC. June 21, 2014 For Make Music New York Day alongside the River to River 2014 Festival, Digital Sanctuaries will lead 3 walks for 12 historic sites in Lower Manhattan which has been digitally mapped with sanctuaries of music. NYC Meeting places: 1pm India House, 3pm Peter Minuit Plaza 5pm Tear Drop Park.

The Cotabato Sessions film screening and Electric Kulintang live performance

July 30th, The Asia Society (725 Park Ave, Manhattan) co-presented by Asia Cinevision’s AAIFF Asian American International Film Festival, The Asia Society and Song of the Bird King Music.

The Cotabato Sessions NYC big screen debut will include a prescreen Q and A about The Cotabato Sessions and the culture in Mindanao. It will be followed by a joint performance of traditional music and dance with National Heritage Artist and master Maguindanaon musician Danongan Kalanduyan and traditional dance from his Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble, and the live premiere of two songs from Electric Kulintang's Drum Codes

Digital Sanctuaries, Pittsburgh will launch August 7, 8, 9, 2014 in the North Side of Pittsburgh in a garden to garden walk featuring seven historic sites in the North Side and a new cultural center, Alphabet City. A commission by The City of Asylum Pittsburgh, the remapping of sites with sanctuaries of music includes poems and words written and recited by poets and writers: Richard Wilbur, Toi Derricotte, Wislawa Szymborska, Dunja Mikhail, Osama Alomar, Muriel Rukeyser, Osip Mandelstam, Susan Stuart. Music is composed by Electric Kulintang with guest musician performers.

{full story below}

An Environmental Experience: Electric Kulintang at The Atrium, Lincoln Center from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

Ibarra is a gifted percussionist, respected contemporary composer, and a 2014 TED Senior Fellow. Her work has involved varied ensembles and contexts, but frequently loops back to the deep well of Filipino rhythm (“Mimesis” uses interlocking North Philippine Kalinga rhythms), weaving in references to and sounds of the natural world (“Circadian Rhythms,” an homage to endogenous rhythms, incorporates bird and animal recordings from Cornell’s Macaulay Library). Along side larger-scale percussion pieces, Ibarra decided to put together a project that united acoustic sounds of the kulintang (the chime-gong tradition of the Philippines) with electronics.

She called on Roberto Rodriguez, whom she had met playing when the two played with John Zorn. The Havana-born, Miami-raised fellow percussionist and composer has a sixth sense for dance music, a love of integrating electronic sounds into his work, and a long history making striking cross-cultural music, notably the BBC3 Radio Best World Music Award winning Descarga Oriental with Maurice El Medioni. The Grammy nominee is equally at home in the pop (Joe Jackson, Rufus Wainwright, Celia Cruz, Miami Sound Machine) and avant worlds (his next album of John Zorn’s music is out later this year).

They formed Electric Kulintang, a core duo with frequent intriguing guest collaborators. The projects bring the traditions of the Philippines’ many communities into dialogue with a great swath of the world’s rhythm-driven music: rock (think Can), jazz (think 70s Miles Davis), and electronic (think Terry Riley and Aphex Twin). The rhythmic drive forms the basis for great solo flights of fancy on Drum Codes, by guests like Greek-American clarinetist Elefterios Bournias and Israeli-American guitarist Oz Noy, and gives free rein to the gongs’ intense vibrations.

“There’s a lot of liberty to your own project,” Rodriguez says, “and we try to channel it to the ears of people who would not necessarily get to it. I came to this, as a soloist and a bandleader, wondering how the two of us could do our own thing and still keep the grooves.”

“Lean your ear into it,” advises Rodriguez. “It’s rock and roll, when you get right down it. It’s beautiful, but has a drive.”

Drum Codes grooves hard,forging a listenable, yet complex musical amalgam with very deep, old roots: healing melodies, talking gongs, sounds from around the Philippines’ ethnically diverse regions. “We approach what we do with great reverence for the rhythms and the traditional ritual melodies,” Ibarra says.

It reflects Ibarra and Rodriguez’s shared fascination with percussion’s sacred side, an aspect Rodriguez grew up with in Cuba, an integral part of gong and drum playing in the indigenous communities the duo has documented. Part of this documentation work culminated in The Cotabato Sessions, the visually lush film Ibarra wrote and produced alongside film director Joel Quizon. After meeting Maguindanaon master artist living in California, NEA Heritage Fellow Danongan Kalanduyan, Ibarra and Rodriguez began visiting, studying, and field recording with his family. Ibarra and Kalanduyan then began to discuss the idea of making a film that featured his family and their musical practice of kulintang. This family, the Kalanduyans, is filled with talented performers. The elder women, however, were the tradition-bearers, the keys to understanding and transmitting the music.

“Kulintang is known as a feminine instrument, but now both women and men play it. The Kalanduyan family all play the music because their mother and grandmother pass it on. The majority of elder kulintang gong performers have been women. I think it’s fascinating, the way this indigenous matriarchal society has melted with Philippine Muslim culture.” The film shows these respected, musically puissant elder women playing at Cotabato City’s Grand Mosque, one of the main gathering places and cultural hubs for the city. “What happens there,” remarks Ibarra, “doesn’t happen elsewhere in the world.”

Yet the cultural specifics belie a greater underlying thread that ties Song of the Bird King’s work together: The non-determined code of rhythm, the centrality of the natural world, the call-and-response between people and their environments.

Response to the environment—be it city or wilderness—lies at the heart of Song of the Bird King’s Digital Sanctuaries project. Designed as an music app to be used as a person walks around a city—the many traces of the culturally layered past of Lower Manhattan, say—Digital Sanctuaries employs Ibarra and Rodriguez’s music, with featured guest musicians and an interactive 4 channel mixer, to connect directly and indirectly the people, ideas, and sounds that characterize a place over time. For Digital Sanctuaries Pittsburgh, seven poets will recite on each of the compositions for each site.

It’s a code, the spirit of a place, the message of the gong, the relationships connecting us to our environments and the natural world. “There’s a certain aesthetic to a lot of our work, one inspired by the natural world and our practices in it,” Ibarra states. “We didn’t unpack what the code is intentionally, because it doesn’t have to be unpacked literally. The listener can make the connections and find her own way.”

<< release: 07/15/14 >>

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