Sarah Hennies: The Singing Woodblock

Artist playing a mallet musical instrument with wind chimes and drum with a graffiti background.

Untitled (2017). photo / Walter Wlodarczyk

Sarah Hennies was born in 1979 in Louisville, Kentucky, and is a composer and percussionist based in Ithaca, New York. Her work utilizes an often grueling, endurance-based performance practice in a subversive examination of psychoacoustics, queer identity, and expressionistic absurdity. Her work has been presented in a variety of contexts including Café Oto in London; cave12 in Geneva, Switzerland; Ende Tymes in New York City; Festival Cable in Nantes, France; the Johns Hopkins Digital Media Center, Johns Hopkins University; O' Art Space in Milan; and Second Edition in Stockholm, Sweden. She has composed several site-specific works for decommissioned industrial and military spaces such as Silo City in Buffalo; Fort Tilden Bunker in Queens; and the Monon Line Railway in Indianapolis. She received her M.A. from the University of California–San Diego in 2003 where she studied with renowned percussionist Steven Schick, and in 2016 was awarded a fellowship in music/sound from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Hennies is currently a member of the improvised music group Meridian with Greg Stuart and Tim Feeney; a duo with sound/performance artist Jason Zeh; and the Queer Percussion Research Group with Jerry Pergolesi, Bill Solomon, and Jennifer Torrence. In late 2017, she premiered Contralto — an hour-long work for strings and percussion, and a film featuring a cast of several transgender women — at Issue Project Room in New York City.


In 2011, musician and scholar Drew Daniel argued that "all sound is queer" in his essay of the same name. Using this as a conceptual framework, this talk will serve as an overview of Hennies's work as a composer and percussionist of experimental music. Through a series of audio and video examples, she will discuss the various ways she has transformed the identities of seemingly familiar sounds and instruments and her work's intrinsic relationship to queer and trans identity. The "unassimilated difference" of queerness is a conduit for radically redefining our definitions and perceptions of sound and music and, in turn, creating a society that is more attuned to unconventional identities.

Related Links
Sarah Hennies's Website