On Earth Day the Atrium at Lincoln Center presented Susie Ibarra and Roberto Rodriguez's Electric Kulintang. Both of these well-known Downtown musicians have been involved in researching the indigenous culture of the Philippines, and have been working on a film about their efforts called "Song of the Bird King." I had tried to find examples of Filipino "roots music" a number of years ago with very little success, and in this film (a fragment of which was presented that night) I heard some spine-tingling stuff, so I am really looking forward to the film's completion and getting the full immersion! The film focuses not only on the challenges of keeping a culture alive in the face of globalization, but on the physical degradation of the ecosystem that has supported life on the island, affecting man, fauna and flora.
Electric Kulintang call their music "Eco-Electronica." Rodriguez is the partner percussionist, programmer and beatmeister, while Ibarra plays drums and various xylophones as well as the Kulintang, a traditional Philippine instrument comprised of a series of gongs, and reminiscent of those found in an Indonesian gamelan. The concert debuted material from their forthcoming CD "Drum Codes" which Ibarra describes as "musical stories and dedications to ancestors and the environment." This video is of "Drum Code #3," which they presented toward the end of their set. Ibarra says "I play on the Philippine Kulintang gongs, Taggungo style. This traditional Southern Filipino Maguindanaon style is performed in respect to spirits and used in healing."
Electronica, as Rodriguez composes it, contains an invitation to trance that is an appropriate matrix for the shamanistic meditations inspired by the Kulintang. One could focus on the musician's performance, but the experience was also interactive with the Atrium itself. Rodriguez' digitally generated sounds resonated into and off the various surfaces of the hall, creating a cocoon for Ibarra's percussive, minimalist motifs, and I could easily imagine the music as an installation piece. I have brought many architectural images from the Atrium itself into the video, as this seemed the best way to convey the experience as a whole, including one of the Green Walls (living tapestries of plants) that adorn the Atrium. I recommend listening to this video with headphones, to get the full effect, as there are some subtle electronic sounds that are fairly low in the mix.
Rodriguez and Ibarra are engaged citizens of our planet whose music attempts to express how our inner and outer worlds relate. Electric Kulintang's merging of ambient/shamanistic/experimental music was a singularly appropriate performance for Earth Day. Hats off to the creative programming on Target Free Thursdays at the David Rubenstein Atrium.
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