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8 Percussionists Dominating the New Music Scene Right Now

Susie Ibarra performing percussion
Susie Ibarra.

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Here at Soundfly, we’ve been thinking a lot about rhythm lately. After finishing our newest online course, The Art of Hip-Hop Production, it became immediately clear to us how often we miss opportunities to celebrate the most creative applications of rhythm alongside other achievements in melodic and harmonic composition and sonic/spatial performance.

Rhythm lies at the heart of it all, whether we remember to recognize it or not.

We talk a lot about beat making and electronic production on this blog, though. Just recently we’ve highlighted our 10 favorite rap beats of 2018 and what makes them tick, discussed harmony using a classic breakbeat, shown how to record a simple drum kit with only one or two mics, and pontificated on the importance of workflow efficiency when producing in your DAW. But today we wanted to explore the practitioners of (mostly) acoustic percussion who we feel have really made an impact on the new music scene in the last year, and who have used their forward-thinking approaches to break new ground.

Oh, and they all “happen” to be women. Enjoy.

1. Sarah Hennies

Exploring a wide range of issues through her art, Ithaca-based Sarah Hennies frequently looks closely at queer and trans identity politics and narratives, notions of love and intimacy, as well as psychoacoustics and percussion. Whether composing or improvising, her work is extremely varied, but always fascinating and compelling.

The above piece, “Flourish,” is written for two vibraphone performers playing the same instrument. Hennies is also known for her cross-media work, and her piece “Contralto” for video, strings, and percussion was received to critical acclaim in 2017. Former Boston Globe editor and curator Steve Smith called it “imaginative, resourceful, witty, defiant… haven’t been so deeply moved by a new piece in ages.”

2. Susie Ibarra

Susie Ibarra is known for her innovative style and cultural dialogue as a composer, improviser, percussionist, and humanitarian. Interested in the melding of traditional and avant-garde styles, Ibarra’s most recent compositions and improvisations blend the traditions, rhythms, and tunings of musical cultures across the globe. Endorsed by Yamaha, Paiste, and Vic Firth, Ibarra was the 2014 TED Senior Fellow and more recently has been commissioned to compose a new work for the world renowned Kronos Quartet.

As well as being a composer and performer, Ibarra has been a longtime faculty member at Bennington College, Vermont, where she teaches performance and percussion. She’s also involved with the experimental project Mephista with Ikue Mori and Sylvie Courvoisier, and a new trio with Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe and YoshimiO. She just recently launched an incredible sample pack with our friends at Splice.

+ Speaking of Splice, when you enroll in Soundfly’s new course, The Art of Hip-Hop Production, you’ll get two months of free access to millions of high-quality samples from Splice, including instructor Charles Burchell’s brand new sample pack with his group, The Love Experiment.

3. Amy Garapic

Amy Garapic is perhaps best known as a member of the Brooklyn-based avant-pop percussion trio TIGUE, with whom she has enjoyed some much-deserved success in recent years. Described as a group of three percussionists with a fluid and singular musical identity, the group creates their own unique blend of pop-inspired instrumental minimalism, with infinite variations to boot! Garapic is in demand as a soloist as well, and has lectured at Keene State College, Bard College, and the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. In 2018, to mark the 50-year anniversary of Terry Riley’s beloved piece “In C,” Garapic united 200 musicians from 24 cities in seven different countries to perform the work in a live-streamed, 14-hour rendition!

4. Claire Rousay

Based in San Antonio, Claire Rousay’s work explores queerness, human physicality, and self-perception. Primarily an improviser, Rousay uses physical objects and their potential sonic capabilities to create unique sound worlds that often exist outside of rhythmic time flow. She works both collaboratively and extensively in a solo setting, and her 2018 solo piece, “Neuter,” is described as examining the role of gender in the drum.

Alongside her own very active performance schedule (apparently Rousay performed at 220 events in 2017), she is also an event organizer and curator. Rousay hosts the influential event series, Contemporary Whatever, for adventurous art in San Antonio, as well as other events and a podcast. For the adventurous listener, her work is well worth a listen and some careful consideration.

5. Bex Burch

Creator and bandleader of the London-based trio Vula Viel, Bex Burch is a force of musical talent and champion of the Ghanaian Gyil, a West African balafon that she studied for many years in Upper West Ghana, under the tutorage of Gyil master Thomas Segkura. Her music blends complex polyrhythmic grooves and has been described as Ghanaian minimalism. Discovering Vula Viel during the London Jazz Festival, Iggy Pop was quoted saying, “Dance to it, make love to it, stare at the clouds to it.”

6. Allison Miller

Allison Miller is a New York-based drummer, composer, and educator. She is an in-demand session musician performing regularly across the world and has recorded five acclaimed albums as a bandleader. Her personal project, Boom Tic Boom, has established themselves as one of the most consistently inventive and hardest-working bands in modern jazz — and her most recent album, Glitter Wolf, is no exception. An incredibly talented musician at the forefront of modern jazz who is comfortable breaking new ground and taking risks, Allison Miller’s name will come up in your feeds for years.

7. Heena Patel

Canadian-born Heena Petel studied environmental science for many years, only to return later to her passion as a now-world-renowned tabla player. A passionate promoter of South Asian performing arts, Patel is the driving force behind the multi-faceted music organization Rhythm Rider Music Productions, and a long-term member of the all-female tabla ensemble Taalika. Alongside her performing and managerial roles, Patel is an educator at Taalim School of Indian Music.

8. Yoshimi P-We

Yoshimi P-We is best known for her role as the drummer in the Japanese noise rock band Boredoms who formed in 1986. In more recent years, P-We has been heading the experimental band OOIOO. While she’s always doing something rhythmic, like playing the drum kit and any percussive object she can find, P-We can also be heard singing, playing guitar, and messing around with electronics. In other words, she does it all.

As if her out output wasn’t cool enough already, her most recent project, Saicobab, is a boundary-less quartet of sitar, double bass, and frame drum, with P-We (or YoshimiO, as she’s called in this group and others) on vocals. Yoshimi P-We threw out the rulebook years ago — her work is highly original, extensive, and seriously worth a listen!

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Tim Maryon

Tim Maryon is an Soundfly Mentor, an award-winning composer, and film scorer. He has an MA in film scoring from the Royal College of Music, and has written music for documentaries for the BBC, scored animations for BFI, and worked with major brands. His original works have been performed all over Europe. You can read more about him and hear his music here. Want to work with Tim on your project? Fill out this form to tell us about your musical goals and be sure to mention his name in your response!