photocredit: Yukitaka Amemiya
Bex Burch is a composer, percussionist, producer, and instrument maker. Employing the gyil (Ghanaian xylophone) in new and unexpected ways outside of its traditional setting she has carved out a unique sonic space for herself. Her restless creativity and desire to embrace new musical challenges across a range of percussive instruments have led to collaborations with a diverse range of artists such as Peter Zummo, Kuljit Bhamra, Sarathy Korwar, Tamar Osborn, Gwyneth Herbert, Leafcutter John, Luke Stewart and Evelyn Glennie. Her recorded music both collaboratively and with her celebrated band Vula Viel has seen her straddle the divergent worlds of minimalism, post punk, and improvisatory jazz with equal success.
Bex spent three years in Ghana under the apprenticeship of master Dagaare xylophonist Thomas Sekgura, a formative experience that gave her a deep seated respect for the form and desire to honour its ancient traditions, but also the confidence to pursue a musical path that reflected her own voice and the myriad strands and tastes of her personality. To that end she built her own augmented gyil on her return to Britain, re-tuning the instrument, adding pickups, guitar pedals, and reshaping it from its traditional form out of a necessity that would enable her to work alongside live rock and jazz percussionists. In the process she created a unique and revolutionary new instrument that has opened up new sound worlds and shaped the music she has created with Vula Viel and beyond.
Formed by Bex in 2015 Vula Viel’s music has shifted over the course of their three critically acclaimed albums from Afro jazz-tinged adaptations of traditional Dagaare music towards a unique sound rooted in post punk. Placing Bex's rawly delivered gyil rhythms as the central element, the band’s scything rock dynamics have seen them championed by Iggy Pop. The trio, whose line up is completed by bassist Ruth Goller and drummer Jim Hart - have gained further plaudits for their pulsating live shows at venues such as Café OTO and Total Refreshment Centre, and festivals such as WOMAD, Moers Festival, and Willisau Jazz Festival, while they have performed live sessions for Gilles Peterson’s BBC 6 Music show and at Worldwide FM.
The last year has seen Bex expand her sonic palette yet further as an improvisatory artist. Boing!, her collaborative album with Leafcutter John saw the pair combine minimalist percussion and exuberant synth rhythms to spectacular effect. Released on her own Vula Viel record label - a company set up by Bex in typical DIY punk fashion - the record earned a Guardian Contemporary album of the month accolade for its rich melding of seemingly divergent styles.
Flock, her latest collaborative project - produced by Bex and forthcoming on Strut Records in 2022 - is perhaps the percussionist’s most ambitious work to date. It features some remarkably intuitive rhythmic interplay between her and Sarathy Korwar, Al MacSween (Maisha), Dan “Danalogue” Leavers (The Comet Is Coming) and Tamar Osborn (Collocutor). The music is a perfect encapsulation of an ever-shifting sound that Bex refers to as ‘messy minimalism’. More collaborative projects are promised soon as Bex’s open-hearted, open minded and wide-eyed approach to improvisation continues to break new musical ground.
Beyond writing and performing music and running her expanding record label, Bex mixes, produces records and curates radio shows. Her broadcasting work to date has included BBC Radio 4’s Four Thought, BBC6 Music’s Freakzone playlist, and Drummers Inc. for Worldwide FM, for whom she also produced a guest mix for Steve Reid Foundation Day.
Thanks to Sound and Music’s New Voices and PRS Foundation for making this work possible. New Voices is supported by Arts Council England, PRS Foundation, RVW Trust, Garrick Charitable Trust, Cockayne and London Community Foundation.