Women And Their Machine
January 31, 2014 4:20 AM   Subscribe

A Think-piece About Female Pioneerism in Electronic Music, Post-post Feminism and Some Sassy Statements On Sexism ’Woman’ is not a genre. Stop acting like we’re a passing fad. Delia Derbyshire (previously), Daphne Oram (previously), Wendy Carlos, Doris Norton, Suzanne Ciani, Cynthia Webster… even Goldfrapp and Add N To (X)’s Ann Shenton. These women weren’t on the periphery of electronic music…they pioneered it”, says Mollie Wells of dark pop band Funerals in an Electronic Beats feature on women in electronic music. And she is right. Females have, since the post-war inception of electronically produced music, played a crucial role in its development and presentation.

From the work of electronic pioneers, such as Clara Rockmore, Pril Smiley, Bebe Barron, Alice Shields, through to Maryanne Amacher, Laurie Spiegel, Cosey Fanni Tutti of Throbbing Gristle, Ikue Mori and Laurie Anderson to second and third generation examples like Diamanda Galas, Gudrun Gut and Sylvie Marks; there have always been amazingly interesting woman involved in some of the most groundbreaking musical advancements. “It’s only now though”, points out Gudrun Gut, when I talk with her on the topic, “that these women are recognised as key figures and credited for their contributive role in history. Back in the days, no one noticed or knew about it much. It pretty much went without saying that these women were doing just their jobs, nothing else.”

Ever heard of Netochka Nesnovas, Mira Calix, Anne LaBerge, Annelies van Parijs, or suGar Yoshinaga…? The Raincoats, the Slits, Hansaplast, the ex Tussies, or Madeleine Bloom?
posted by Mezentian (34 comments total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
Was there any doubt?
posted by Artw at 4:27 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow. Guess I'm not watching a movie tonight after all. Thanks, Mezentian, this looks great.
posted by mediareport at 4:36 AM on January 31, 2014

I read Cynthia Webster's interview at random…and: wow! I wouldn't know a module if I tripped over one, but her thoughts on music are spot on.
posted by kozad at 4:59 AM on January 31, 2014

There was some interest in the AskMe I had recently re women in drone.
posted by edgeways at 5:09 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Damn, I don't play an instrument, but this totally makes me want to grab my Drawdio pencil or build a theremin or something and just go nuts and make loud electronic music in honour of my foremothers.
posted by Katemonkey at 5:12 AM on January 31, 2014

Grimes, dammit.
posted by Shepherd at 5:33 AM on January 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have heard of Mira Calix. Not one of my favorites, I have to admit. But there's also...

Hanne Adam of adamed.age,
Natasha A Twentyone of Ambassador 21 and Suicide Inside,
Shikhee D'iordna of Android Lust,
DestroyX/Amelia Tan of Angelspit,
Annie Gosfield,
Jennifer Parkin of Ayria,
Kristy Venrick of The Azoic,
Bubblyfish (a pioneering chiptune artist),
Barbara Buchholz (another thereminist),
Christina Kubisch,
Michelle Sternberger of ComputeHer,
Carolia Eyck (another excellent thereminist),
Ill-Esha (dubstep/glitch-hop musician, and founder of the Glitch Hop forum),
Karin Dreijer Andersson of The Knife,
Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo of Ladytron,
Andrea Börner of Morgenstern,
Christina Sealey of Orphx,
Pamelia Kurstin (inventor of Walking Bass theremin technique),
Puck Berghout of The Peoples Republic of Europe,
Sina Hübner of S.I.N.A,
Rachel Maloney of Tonikom...

(Where these women are members of bands, I made sure they are actually synthesists rather than "just" singers. I left out Nikki Telladictorian of Pr0metheus Burning because she's listed as "vocals and keyboard" where Greg VanEck does "all programming", but it's debatable.)
posted by Foosnark at 5:59 AM on January 31, 2014 [6 favorites]

Cf. the interviews that Tara Rodgers collected in Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound, some of which are archived at the old Pinknoises.com. Rodgers currently writes and composes at safety-valve.org.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:01 AM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I discovered the article because, as a Malaria! fan, I heard Gudrun Gut was in Australia just now.
It became a rabbit hole.
I started following up links and there was some stuff I loved and some I didn't, but I figured I would share.

Because sharing is caring.
(And I somehow missed this year's "where are all the females in the Hottest 100" articles.
posted by Mezentian at 6:05 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh yes, another rabbit hole to disappear into! A couple of these are already on my Pandora lists, so this is perfect. Thanks for putting this together (and for the follow-on links in the comments).
posted by Dip Flash at 6:09 AM on January 31, 2014

Kristy Venrick of The Azoic,
Woah, flashback.....

I mean you could chuck a whole bunch of bands in there (Requiem In White, Banshees)...
Since I am here, I want to link this: a documentary following a generation of post-punk musicians who took the synthesiser from the experimental fringes to the centre. It's one of my favourite things ever.

Personally, I really love that sparse, alien sound that a lot of early electronic had.
posted by Mezentian at 6:16 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, because they haven't been mentioned, two of my favorites: Éliane Radigue, who's Trilogie de la Mort will blow your mind and Elodie Lauten, a sometimes electronic composer and pianist who's opera The Death of Don Juan was originally performed with Arthur Russell.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:16 AM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

This list wouldn't be complete without a mention of Jordana LeSesne.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:39 AM on January 31, 2014

(Looking through my itunes directory) Oh, yeah, and Jeanne Loriod, Olivier Messiaen's sister-in-law, and during her life, pretty much the master (mistress?) of the ondes Martenot. You can hear her on Avant Garde Project vol. 176, Les Ondes Martenot.

And also also, Sachiko M.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:44 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Someone should mention the tangentially related experimental vocalist Joan La Barbara, and link to an image of her dress made of reel-to-reel tape on the cover of the great 1977 Tapesongs LP.
posted by mediareport at 7:03 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

And Christina Kubisch! Who's Electrical Walks turns ambient electromagnetic fields into sound. Ok, I'll stop now.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:03 AM on January 31, 2014

A thing I didn't realize: Goldfrapp is the singer on two of the best tracks on Orbital's Snivilisation.
posted by Artw at 7:16 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't have a lot of Pandora channels, but Laurie Spiegel is always checked. I hear this one a lot.
posted by MtDewd at 7:17 AM on January 31, 2014

Chicks on Speed have a link to Gudrun Gut.
posted by Mezentian at 7:29 AM on January 31, 2014

Thank you for this! As a female electronic musician, I appreciate it!
posted by agregoli at 7:54 AM on January 31, 2014

posted by iotic at 8:04 AM on January 31, 2014

A friend of mine did One Week One Band about the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and it's a good intro to Delia Derbyshire.
posted by immlass at 8:26 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pamelia Kurstin (inventor of Walking Bass theremin technique yt ),

Holy shit, that's amazing.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 8:38 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Kevin Blechdom is a guy. :-D Brother of Blevin, who is not (and whom I recently warmed up for...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:21 AM on January 31, 2014

Kevin Blechdom is not a guy, and she's not related to Bevin (Blevin).... she's my sister-in-law, trust me! Her real-world name is no secret, it's Kristin Erickson. You can see for yourself. Warning: may make your eyes bleed.

She has performed using a male name (a) just to screw with people, and (b) as her own statement about bias against "lady DJs" in the electronic music scene.

Check out this video from 1939 for a real unsung electronic performer, "Miss Harper" who performed on the first human speech synthesizer...
posted by bgribble at 9:29 AM on January 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

For sparse electronic sounds, see/hear Factory Floor, with Nik Void. She was also on a brilliant album with Chris & Cosey as Carter Tutti Void called "Transverse".
posted by Zack_Replica at 9:57 AM on January 31, 2014

Pauline Oliveros!
posted by moonmilk at 10:25 AM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

(b) as her own statement about bias against "lady DJs" in the electronic music scene.

I am so far out of this scene to be Planet Pluto, but I have a suspicion I know what you mean.
Looking in the local street press is a bit like playing a game of "DJ or Porn star?" (if such a game existed).

I've never seen, say, Carl Cox pulling his top up around his chesticles and licking his lips, although it could have happened.
posted by Mezentian at 10:34 AM on January 31, 2014

She has performed using a male name (a) just to screw with people...

heh. Mission accomplished (good mission btw).
posted by edgeways at 10:43 AM on January 31, 2014

Relevant to this conversation, but maybe not relevant to reality: Ursula Bogner.

Gudrun Gut's "I Put a Record On" is one of my favorite albums of the last decade, unjustly overlooked. She strikes a very distinctive balance between traditional songmaking and electronic production.
posted by bendybendy at 10:57 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

lupus_yonderboy: But Blevin Blectum doesn't even have the same fake last name as Kevin Blechdom!

Unicorn Hard-On (listen) has this to say about being a woman in the noise music scene:
Sometimes it sucks when people write about you, and they don’t have anything to say about your music; it’s disappointing when all they have to say is that you’re a girl. Like, “one-woman wonder show!” When people write about guys, that’s not enough for a story: “It’s a guy! Doing music!” You have to say more than that. So it does get tedious, and after a certain point I’m like, “Why does it have to be about this? Just let me play my music.”
There's putting your music out there, and putting yourself out there, and different musicians choose to do these things to different degrees, but clearly it's not really possible for women to do the first without the second getting done for them like it or not. And I'm sure some of this is just that well-meaning journalists are looking for hooks for their story or blurb. If a musician is from Iceland, nobody will shut up about that either, but that's not as problematic because there's not millennia of institutionalized inequality baked into being Icelandic.
posted by aubilenon at 10:59 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Speaking of awesome women in the noise music scene, don't miss Margaret Chardiet of Pharmakon. I discovered her new album Abandon a few months ago, and she is phenomenally good - check out Crawling On Bruised Knees for evidence.

And if you're a dark ambient/martial industrial fan, keep your eye on Lamia Vox - her recent album Sigillum Diaboli is among the best the genre has to offer.
posted by velvet winter at 4:26 PM on January 31, 2014

I love Delia Derbyshire, and I find it so sad she gave up her entirely innovative career that had such a great impact on my life to work in a shop or something (my first introduction to electronic music as just normal music, Doctor Who - do do doooooooooo do). Thanks so much for the post - we need to laud these pioneers as much as possible so they aren't entirely lost to the mists.
posted by goo at 7:11 PM on January 31, 2014

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