Different drummers: Cunsthaus' Noisy Womxn collaborative finds its rhythm in Tampa

It explores sound and celebrates percussion at Tempus Projects on Jan. 13.

click to enlarge STICKING TOGETHER: Noisy Womxn Kate Alboreo, Wendy Babcox, Melissa Davies and Madeline Baker (L-R) in front of a mural by Neil Bender. - Anthony Martino
Anthony Martino
STICKING TOGETHER: Noisy Womxn Kate Alboreo, Wendy Babcox, Melissa Davies and Madeline Baker (L-R) in front of a mural by Neil Bender.

The idea of a dumpster fire is mesmerizing. Incandescent, mostly inextinguishable, flailing around and whipping its surroundings with an orange heat. It’s impossible to really look away. 

The Year of Our Lord 2017 made it easy to see how our lives — especially the conversations surrounding politics and pop culture — could quickly devolve into veritable dumpster fires of their own. Droughts left people and plants thirsty. Humanitarian crises in the Middle East, Africa, South America and Asia grew more dire. Back home we argued about whether or not a sexual predator should represent Alabama in Congress. One McPussy-grabber Supreme still lives in the White House.

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But we also know that 2017 was the year that the world stood toe-to-toe with shitty circumstances without blinking an eye. Neighborhoods organized. Pussy grabbed back, and penis-brained dickheads in Hollywood continue to be outed. Folks from nearly every walk of life decided that enough was enough, and started making a lot of noise.

And illuminated behind glass windows, on a strip of Florida Avenue in Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood, Tempus Projects continues its nearly decade-old mission of promoting artists working in all media. Cunsthaus, an artist collective established to provide engaging cultural programs and experiences through a collaborative and feminist curatorial perspective, extends the dialogue further. And lately, on Monday nights, a small group of women is causing a ruckus in its exploration of the power of percussion in both collective and individual contexts.

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At face value, Noisy Womxn looks like drum practice. There’s sheet music composed by USF alum and percussion instructor Meghan McManus, who leads a small group of women in counting along, making room for rests and tapping sticks on rubber drum pads. Madeline Baker runs a drum machine to help keep the group in step. Every member of the group (which includes Carolyn Pacheco, Molly Williford, Kate Alboreo and Melissa Davies) is an artist in some capacity, but not one knew how to play the drums before joining Noisy Womxn (the “x” is rooted in a reaction to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which fell out of favor with the LGBTQ community for its policy that attendants must be “womyn-born-womyn,” which explicitly excludes transgender women).

"What I've gained is the experience of sharing drumming with first time musicians. The majority of participants work or study in the field of visual arts, so we have traded a lot of knowledge and perspective from across disciplines," McManus wrote to CL, adding that knowing everything about theory and notation isn't important for the group. She says adding that exposing the Womxn to to new ideas causes some to take off with it while others learn by rote in a more auditory way.

"It has been amazing to watch the group come along. I have benefited immensely from such a supportive environment of women, and treasure the friendships and sense of community that has come about," she added.

click to enlarge (L-R) Madeline Baker, Kate Alboreo, Madeline Baker and Wendy Babcox. - Anthony Martino
Anthony Martino
(L-R) Madeline Baker, Kate Alboreo, Madeline Baker and Wendy Babcox.

Baker, a graphic designer, says that she has always been interested in music, but never actively sought to play it. She’s not entirely sure if it’s because so much of the music she loved as a kid was created by males, but the group does feel a little like a frontier since there is certainly a disproportionate level of visibility when it comes to women getting out there and making their own way. Wendy Babcox, who decided to learn to drum after a long-running fascination with James Brown timekeeper Clyde Stubblefield, says the collective is kind of flavored by the dearth of female musicians when compared to male ones.

“I guess a dearth of females being represented in lots of environments,” Babcox told CL, “and in lots of ways it was a way to kind of stake out some territory.”

The group came together after Babcox — an interdisciplinary artist and USF professor who primarily works in lens-based or photographic media — sent out a Facebook post expressing an interest in learning the drums. Former students, friends and family echoed the sentiment. Noisy Womxn has created a space that is vulnerable in its refusal to mask a player’s mistakes but also formidable in its ability to shield her from any judgment. After about an hour of listening to practice, the sound of drumsticks on the rubber pads, sharp snare smacks and the repetitive pulse of the synthesized beats starts to become hypnotizing and wholly meditative. Gone is the world outside of the window and forgotten are the intrusive feelings I had about being a male fly on the wall at an all-female practice. Instead, I’m lost in the drone of drums and an endless pursuit of percussive perfection.

On Saturday, the collective invites the community to the vulnerable space it carved out for Cunsthaus. The evening of noise happens in conjunction with Tempus Projects’ dance party fundraiser (which happens to be a no-media, no-phone, free space for dancing). Together the Womxn will perform what they’ve learned and present solo performances from McManus and other members of the collective. They’ll be joined by special guests Sherry Donataccio and Nathalia Estrada. Ryann Slauson — who was the drummer in now-defunct Bay area indie-rock darlings Sleepy Vikings and leader of also-retired Tampa noise-music project Loins — will also be there.

Babcox says that “Smash Bang! — A Night Of Noise” will exist somewhere between the worlds of music and art, and she hopes it grows to be even more inclusive as the program evolves. One thing, however, is certain: It’ll be a night you won’t forget hearing. I imagine that anyone who finds themself watching these Womxn whip sticks around the surroundings will feel the intensity the comes with hearing drums in close proximity. I imagine they’ll experience the meditative qualities of the performances.

“It definitely is a catharsis thing. Helps you get your mind off stuff,” Baker added. Hopefully — when you brain clocks back in — you’ll be inspired to make some noise of your own, too. 

Smash Bang! A Night Of Noise
w/Noisy Womxn/Sherry Donataccio/Nathalia Estrada/Ryann Slauson
Sat. Jan. 13, 7-9 p.m. $5.
Cunsthaus at Tempus Projects, 4636 N. Florida Ave., Tampa.

About The Authors

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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