Leil-Zahra Mortada

making noise, and more noise

Womentronic: Selective Herstory of Electronic Music

It is not a hidden fact that women are underrepresented in the electronic music scenes, it is enough to look at the lineup at festivals to see the minimal amount of women artists – or the lack of. Female Pressure, an international network of female artists in the fields of electronic music, makes that clear in their 2013 report.

Delia 1

But why is this sudden interest in women representation in the Electronic music scene! First it is not sudden, it is the music which I listen to the most. Second because TransFeminism has plagued me with a continuous yearning to smash patriarchy wherever we see it. Electronic music is also center-stage within the Creative Commons/CopyLeft culture, an integral part of our anti-capitalist culture. A universe of open softwares and anti-copyright technologies that in its own is cismen dominated. The pain has a special hint of bitterness when patriarchy is manifested out and loud within “our” circles; and what better grounds to fight it on else than “home”.

Avant-guard pioneer women remain relatively in the dark despite their extensive contribution to the genre(s). They didn´t only enrich our history with the music they produced (which to many might feel hard to believe it was produced in the 60s), but also contributed much to the creation and advancement of the mediums used. Despite their contributions, and their avant-guardedness, their memory and their work still suffer a certain marginalization, just like women artists today.

A DJ friend of mine (@4Cantons) sent me an article talking about women in electronic music titled Netlabels Need Women. In it, the author asks listeners to seek women artists, bloggers to blog about them, and record labels to give them the space they deserve. Upon reading it, I felt I should give a space on my blog to artists I like and I believe contributed a lot to the Herstory of Electronica. Please note that this is not an inclusive list, and that the featured women are based on my personal likings. This is nothing but a small appetizer of what there is to unveil. Enjoy, share and help shed the light on women and queer artists in music and elsewhere. It is our duty to write herstory and occupy a space of today. Let´s launch #Womentronic hashtag and make some noise.

Delia Derbyshire (1937 – 2001), crowned the Sculptress of Sound, possibly the most popularly recognized woman electronic pioneer. Featured in various documentaries, and best known for her electronic realization of the theme of British science fiction television series Doctor Who. Delia worked at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which deserves credit for shedding the light on the women artists who worked there, and she also contributed to a variety of Electronic music projects.

Delia´s work with The White Noise – Love Without Sound

Delia Derbyshire – Ziwzih Ziwzih OO-OO-OO that inspired Die Antwoord “Hey Sexy” tune

Delia at work

 

Daphne Oram (1925 – 2003) was a British composer and electronic musician. Not only one of the founders of BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop which was one of the world’s most important centers for electronic innovation throughout the 1950s and 1960s, she was also experimenting with electronic music as far back as the 1940s. By 1959 she had her own studio and had developed the “Oramics” technique – a drawn sound technique using patterns drawn on clear film to modulate sound produced by oscillators, an idea still used today. She wrote numerous articles and gave lectures on electronic and concrète music(s). She wrote  “An Individual Note” (1971) on music, electronics and the philosophy behind.

Daphne Oram – Tumblewash

Daphne Oram – Snow (1963)

Daphne Oram – Pulse Persephone

Laurie Spiegel (1945) is a US composer. She has worked at Bell Laboratories, in computer graphics, and is known primarily for her electronic-music compositions and her algorithmic composition software Music Mouse. One of her “commercial” recent appearances is on the soundtrack of The Hunger Games.

1977 tape, one of the earliest examples of purely digital realtime audio synthesis

Patchwork from her 1980 album The Expanding Universe

Ruth White (1925) is a US electronic music artist. Her early recordings, most notably “Seven Trumps From The Tarot Card And Pinions” (1968), “Flowers of Evil” (1969), and “Short Circuits” (1970) featured surprising uses of the moog synthesizer as well as other electronic musical equipment. In 1969 she recorded “Flowers of Evil”, a record based on French poet Charles Baudelaire’s volume of poetry “Les Fleurs du Mal”, reciting Baudelaire’s words over electronic music.

Spleen – from her 1969 album Flowers of Evil

 Prelude in E Minor from her 1972 album Short Circuits 

Maddalena Fagandini (1929 – 2012) An electronic musician who was employed by the BBC in the early 1950s as part of their Italian Service before becoming part of the pioneering BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1959. Her work with the Radiophonic Workshop involved creating jingles and interval signals, using musique concrète techniques, for BBC radio and television. She also published work under the name Ray Cathode, a pseudonym she shared with future Beatles producer George Martin. It is pretty sad to see Ray Cathode credited as George Martin with Maddalena Fagandini´s name tucked away in the description if at all.

Waltz in Orbit and Time Beat (1962) <Two tracks> – Ray Cathode

Éliane Radigue (born 1932) is a French electronic music composer. She started her work in the 1950s and her first creations were presented in the late 1960s. Until 2000 her work was almost exclusively created on a single synthesizer, the ARP 2500 modular system and tape. Since 2001 she composed mostly for acoustic instruments.

Face A-3 (1969)

Else Marie Pade (1924) is not only Denmark’s first concrete and electronic music composer to produce an album, but her herstory extends to the resistance during the Second World War in which she was active. In 1944 Else received training in the use of weapons and explosives. She joined an all-female explosives group. She was imprisoned at the Frøslev prison camp from 1944 till the end of the war.

Etude I (1962)

Face it (1970)

Wendy Carlos (1939) is a US composer and electronic musician. She is a musical prodigy who started to compose when she was ten years old. First known as Walter Carlos before her transsexual crossing into the person she is.  She came to prominence in 1968 with Switched-On Bach, a recording of music by J.S. Bach assembled on a Moog synthesizer. The album earned three Grammy Awards in 1969. She notably wrote and performed scores for two Stanley Kubrick movies, A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980), as well as Walt Disney’s Tron (1982). Wendy is a clear example of someone who stood her grounds in the face of misogyny and transphobia. Check her music and her herstory on her personal website

Clara Rockmore (1911 –  1998) Born in what is now known as Lithuania, lived and died in the USA, a musician and collaborator on the development of the Thermin, an early electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact. Possibly one of the best players of this sci-fi instrument.  She was introduced to the instrument in the 1920s by its creator  Léon Theremin when he arrived with it from Russia. She developed a whole technique for playing the instrument, including a fingering system, which allowed her to perform accurately fast passages and large note leaps without the much known portamento on the Theremin.

Summertime

Habanera

Laurie  Anderson (1947) is a US experimental performance artist, composer and musician who plays violin and keyboards and sings in a variety of experimental music. Laurie is a pioneer in electronic music and has invented several devices that she has used in her recordings and performances. In 1977, she created a tape-bow violin that uses recorded magnetic tape on the bow instead of horsehair and a magnetic tape head in the bridge. In the late 1990s, she developed a talking stick, a six-foot-long baton-like MIDI controller that can access and replicate sounds. She was married to Lou Reed until his death.

O Superman (1981)

Share your favorite women electronic artists and producers on the hashtag #Womentronic, let´s make some noise and reclaim space!  If we can´t dance, and if they don´t dance to “our” music, this is not our revolution.

14 Comments

    • There is a long list of women artists who should be in this blog post. Unfortunately I had to limit myself to my personal likings and choices, else I could´ve ended with a book not a post. But Pauline Oliveros deserves all the respect and appreciation. I have some of her albums and they are total gems.

  1. Excellent, will share on! How about Maryanne Amacher?

    • Thank you

      There is a long list of women artists who should be in this blog post. Unfortunately I had to limit myself to my personal likings and choices, else I could´ve ended with a book not a post.

  2. the subject(s) deserve a book, plainly, not just a little blog-post. have you considered it? it would be extremely valuable to all students of electronic music to have this information gathered, verified & intelligently presented, perhaps alongside the male counterparts where appropriate.

    • Hi Duncan,

      I completely agree, the subject requires a book not a small blog post, but not sure I´m the one to do the book. In the end, I have minimal knowledge in electronic music, the post was mainly motivated by my transfeminist politics and my love for this kind of music. I´m just a fan 🙂 I think to write a book requires expertise in the field and the related technologies to give the subject, and the artists, what they deserve.

  3. you might like to hear of our project/initiative Delia Derbyshire Day – http://deliaderbyshireday.wordpress.com/ . I am currently working in primary schools with kids teling them about Delia and then they are making their own TV themes inspired by Delia’s work and working methods. They are loving it! Of course both girls and boys have mainly chosen horror themes 🙂

  4. And what about Grandma Lo-Fi? 😉

    http://vimeo.com/34582312

  5. That looks absolutely fascinating, but I can’t stand listening to music on Youtube seriously. Any chance we get a mixtape someday?

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