Since my PhD research is broadly concerned with feminist, or at least female, digital media production, I’ve been trying to track down documentation (other than the rare anecdotes in books & articles) on women doing cool shit. Assuming I had watched all the doc’s available on electronic music OHM+: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music popped up. It’s a DVD collection of excerpts of interviews, performances, short films by some interesting pioneers in electronic music, perhaps not “gurus” but I guess this shit has to be marketed somehow. The experimental film Mutations definitely stood out. Mutations is a 1973 film done at the Bell Labs by computer art pioneer Lillian F. Schwartz with music by French composer Jean-Claude Risset, based on his Mutations I, also done at the Bells Labs in 1969 using Max Mathews’s Music V. Mutations I was completely computer synthesized & the first work to include FM synthesis. It was commissioned by Office de Radiodiffusion-Television Francaise. But for my purpose,s I want to focus on the film & the woman who made it happen.
The OHM+ booklet states: “Schwartz used computer-synthesized images animated by computer, along with speeded-up crystal growth filmed in polarized light, and laser beams difracted through transperent plastic volumes (the heat from the laser distorts the plastic, causing the beams to move).”
I wonder how the crystal growth was filmed to achieve these colours? Using some sort of microphotography? The taupe, pink, purple tones are incredible. I want a dress in this pattern! They work so well with the computer synthesized proto-pixel-art that looks like cells forming and dividing, that I’ve researched is actually The Game of Life.
Schwartz is a still a prolific artist and scholar of visual perception & sound, among other endeavours, and has become my new obsession (being a VJ — I am always looking for bizarre experiments before the ease of pre-written computer software). She has also been instrumental for the use of the computer in the philosophy of art. Her artistic catalogue is going to take me weeks to get through. Basically, she is a fucking bad ass who everyone should know about. I’m surprised I never came across her work before.
At 41, in 1968 she took computer math at The New School in NYC & subsequently became an in-house artist and researcher of color & perception at the Bell Labs for the next 33 years. She started working with scientists who were thrilled at the idea of an artist wanting to reconfigure the linearity of computer programs at the time, and wanting to add color to push the boundaries of animation. This was also a huge draw for Max Mathews, who never worked with an animator as part of the process of computer programming sounds before. During her time at the Bell Labs in the 70s and 80s, Schwartz invented a variety of computer system techniques for artists to use.
Bérangère Maximin is a French electro-acoustic composer. She is a student of Denis Dufour’s (a member of the Groupe de recherches musicales (GRM)). She is one of the women featured in my upcoming documentary, microfemininewarfare. Please buy her albumTant Que Les heures Passent (As Long As The Hours Go By). It was released on John Zorn’s Tzadik Records label in 2008. I discovered her while staying at my friend’s house in Paris last year while working on the project’s proposal (serendipity yo!) while he was on the typical gone-south, Parisian vacation with his wife and daughters. I think music really defines a person (many people consider this childish of me) and I went through his music collection and this album caught my eye. I liked the name of it, and put it on to listen on his stereo system not too loud because it was a small residential building in Saint-Cloud.
I like when an artist can sweep me up into their world, and she was able to immediately. It is a strange vibration of musique concrete and an aesthetic of a woman filled with darkness. I can’t really say – I don’t appreciate the ‘music critic’ language so I will stop, but maybe you can be surprised by her melodic arrangements too!
It was obvious I would ask her to participate in my project because I was so fascinated by the narrative in her music. Bérangère and I spoke a lot about the music creation process and how difficult and painful it is, but I will leave that for later. One thing that surprised me was her attitude of wishing to bring together groups of electronic and electro-acoustic and jazz musicians together; something she is having difficulty with in Paris, because some people part of these groups are vocally exclusive and dogmatic. It is not surprising after meeting her, and that most of the women in my documentary discussed their desire to merge communities, and to create communities and collaborations of support networks that aren’t based on stylistic aesthetics. I hear many people mention this, but I don’t think as many people go through with it. Music politics; they are overbearing sometimes! OK, I will leave you with some out-takes from the photo shoot. Bérangère was quite generous, and I hope I served her well. The documentary, photos and interviews will be available sometime this year. They have to be.
So, there’s a bunch of electronic music documentaries out there, anything from the beautiful and generous Delian Mode about Delia Derbyshire or the rough faster-than-light-speed Modulations…. I’m curious what are some themes you wish would be discussed in electronic music documentaries that aren’t? (I have a few ideas but I’d love to see if any missing themes come out). What are some things. visuals, information, etc. that would captivate YOU about an artist and their work? Because you are (hopefully) my target audience!
If you could answer that would be really helpful, as I am in the final stages of piecing together my questions/themes for the documentary I’m shooting featuring women composers and would love your sincere input.
Certain I’d seen all the electronic music documentaries available, I discovered the incredibly informative techno documentary, Universal Techno done by the French production team Arte in 1996 through Mira Calix. The interviews are in-depth and focus on the building up of techno in Detroit and how important place is to not just creating a music community but also its impact on the musical aesthetic. Ken Ishii also discusses Detroit’s influence on him in Japan. The YouTube excerpts feature Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Jeff Mills and Ken Ishii. I love documentaries that aren’t all flashy flash and really get into a discourse about their subject.
I’ve been doing research for my documentary, trying to get past the banal perspectives on music and gender. For now I’m pontificating, but also working out the go-to foundational research methods: data collection and content analysis. (Don’t worry! I’ll get to my post-structuralist analysis soon!) Over the past week, I’ve been tabulating music festival acts. I’m focusing on electronic music festivals, or at least festivals that have a large electronic music contingent. I’m focusing on this because I’m curious about electronic music composers, not singers, or strictly non-electronic instrument players. No matter how you want to look at it, the numbers are staggering. I’ll post more later.
MUTEK 2011 (Montreal): 31 acts announced so far / 0 women BLOC Weekender 2011 (UK): 100 acts / 3 women performers (Mary Anne Hobbs, Ikonika, Lusinda) + 1 group with a woman (King Midas Sound) BANGFACE WEEKENDER 2011 (UK): 58 acts / 1 woman performer part of a group act (Atari Teenage Riot) ONCE UPON A FESTIVAL 2011 (Belgium): 29 electronic music acts / 2 women (Mrs Jynx, MC Mary Jane) – 34 band acts / 11 feature women (BlindMan, Ianka Fleerackers, Say Say, Seppe & Astrid Belcirque, Eira, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Conquering Animal Sound, G.T. Moore & The Irie Vibes Band, Balcony Players, Oka Vanga) DEMF (Detroit Electronic Music Festival) 2011: 105 acts / 8 are women or feature women performers
1. ana sia
2. Cio d’or
4. Little Dragon
6. Margaret Dygas
8. The Dirtbombs
SONAR 2011 (Barcelona): 103 acts / 17 acts are women or feature women performers
Dominique Young Unique
Facto y los Amigos del Norte (includes two women)
Little Dragon (has woman singer)
Mary Anne Hobbs
Redlight featuring Ms Dynamite
The Human League (band with two women)
Steve Reich with “Synergy Vocals” (ensemble includes several women)
Open Reel Ensemble (includes women)
note: Interesting that most of the performers are singer and/or rappers in groups or as solo acts, not composer-performers or the producers. This festival is also a cross-over & doesn’t just cater to crazy ravers like me! Although how apt that, Dominique Young Unique’s page on their (Sonar Festival) website refers to her as “he” & “his” & “him” many times over. *Sonar has taken note of my tweet & said they will fix it on Monday. Still doesn’t negate the meaning of the err.
Despite my crumbling health (I thought this shit isn’t supposed to happen to you in your 20s?!) I’m nearly ready to be working full-time on my MA Project, since I have to have it done before I start that whole PhD thing. I’ve been watching and compiling documentaries about music, specifically about electronic music for about a year now, so my plan is to give them some space on the blog. I just came across Speaking in Code by Boston-based director Amy Grill today, which considering my extensive lit/movie review last year disconcerts me. I tried to do some background research on her, but was unable to find anything other than a Twitter account and interviews about the doc. The most I got was that she and her husband were trying to make Boston a techno-town and failing and that the concept for this came early in the morning on a sweaty dancefloor in 2005 in Miami. This bothers me because I’m curious about her life history and what propelled her to get to this point. Perhaps I could probe her deeper than some of the other articles out there. In the XLR8R interview, Grill is fairly eloquent and speaks of the desire to be self-reflexive in the documentary (which I admit, I’m a sucker for!), but then she says, “This idea of a rock band with a lead singer and a guitar and drums is something that people are familiar with. That image has been glorified for decades because of the baby boomers’ stranglehold on mass media. So I’m waiting for the old white guys to die, basically. I think that once most of them die that we’ll be in better shape. I’m totally not kidding about that.” I agree with the first part, but I think in context of her next few sentences she’s engaging in a reductionist discourse that, instead of showing her openness towards music, further reiterates a musical bias, which at any level is problematic. And, the whole thing about ‘old white guys dying,’ really? Really?
Mind you I’m still really intrigued to see it, because there needs to be as many documentaries about electronic music as possible that present the topic to the public with more grace than Modulations. In the meantime, the whole film has been transcribed here. Pretty cool! I realized I haven’t said much, so I’ll get back to this after I’ve seen it.
The cast and featured artists of Speaking in Code are:
Modeselektor, Wighnomy Brothers, Monolake
Marc LeClair AKA Akufen
Sascha Ring AKA Apparat
Mario Willms AKA Douglas Greed
Dan Paluska AKA Six Million Dollar Dan
Mike Uzzi AKA Smartypants
The Rice Twins
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