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Thursday, November 3, 2022

Susie Ibarra & Tashi Dorji - Master of Time (Astral Spirits, 2022)

By Martin Schray

Those who, like me, only know Tashi Dorji from his collaborations with Tyler Damon or Dave Rempis (e.g. Kuzu) and Susie Ibarra mainly from her work with David S. Ware, may expect a hell of a ride on this duo album - and are then immediately disabused of their notion. Master of Time is more of a contemplative recording that places great emphasis on the percussive nature of the music. As a result, the somber dissonances on Master of Time are more elegiac and ethereal than iconoclastic. However, if one becomes aware of the background of the recording, this is makes more than sense.

In 2019, the Tang Museum at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York presented The Second Buddha: Master of Time, an exhibition about Padmasambhava, the eighth-century guru who brought Buddhism to Tibet. In addition to lectures and visual and virtual exhibits, the museum commissioned a concert conceived as a “musical bardo exploration“. Bardo here represents a kind of intermediate state, an inclusion, an inherent state of the mind, and is the name for the states of consciousness possible according to the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, in this world as well as in the hereafter. Susie Ibarra and Tashi Dorji try to give musical form to this state. Buddhism does not play a major role in the work of the two musicians (even if one might assume that in Dorji's case, since he comes from Bhutan), they try to represent this state mainly with the help of rhythmic structures. Ibarra, for example, has always been interested in indigenous Philippine kulintang music and therefore has used sound art as a means to address issues of cultural and environmental survival and renewal. Dorji came to free improvisation via punk rock, but has never abandoned the musical intensity and energy of that music. Thus, the differences between the two musicians’ styles introduce a level of in-between, as Bardo ultimately envisions: their grooves are intertwined and synchronized with each other, and dissolve as new structures are created. The LP includes two side-length excerpts from the concert (the download adds two shorter pieces) that explore the juxtaposition and disruption of these rhythmic structures. In “Confluence“ Dorji's choppy arpeggios puncture Ibarra’s airy sound and her rustling textures like the blade of a samurai sword. “The Way of the Clouds“, on the other hand, runs toward a straight minimalist groove that then shatters into guitar strumming like a glass falling on concrete, only to reassemble and rise like Phoenix from the ashes.

Master of Time is available on vinyl and as a download. You can listen to and buy the album on Bandcamp: