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The problem with pioneers: how media narratives of exceptional women distort the history of female involvement in electronic music

Morgan, Frances (2016) The problem with pioneers: how media narratives of exceptional women distort the history of female involvement in electronic music. University of Leeds. [Dataset]

This item is part of the Alternative Histories of Electronic Music collection.

Dataset description

Since the publication of Tara Rodgers’s Pink Noises: Women On Electronic Music And Sound (Rodgers, 2010), which situated female practitioners within a history of electronic music that had hitherto excluded or minimised their contributions, a growing number of articles, studies, recordings, museum exhibits and initiatives have addressed the issue of women’s involvement in electronic music and sound. While some of these interventions are welcome attempts to redress an historical imbalance and forefront the work of notable figures, the trope of the female “pioneer” can be reductive as well as inaccurate, dominating discourse at the expense of more complex narratives. The female pioneer narrative can downplay queer and trans perspectives and histories, while its promotion through online and print media and the independent music industry commodifies visual archival material to the point of objectifying female practitioners. In a presentation whose starting point was a talk given at the Fawcett Society’s Sound Synthesis and the Female Musician event in 2014, I will draw on the work of Rodgers and others to survey alternative approaches including the writing of counter-histories and practice-focused studies that ask, for example, what constitutes a feminist process when working with sound. In a recent article, “Tinkering with Cultural Memory: Gender and the Politics of Synthesizer Historiography” (Rodgers, 2015), Rodgers addresses the portrayal of female electronic musicians as “isolated exceptions to the norm”. She presents a study of female synthesiser enthusiasts of the 1950s as a community of interest that shaped the development of synthesizer technology, rather than examining the achievement of an individual innovator. I will consider other counter-narratives, such as that of Carol Parkinson, the director of New York’s Harvestworks, who in the 1970s founded the Public Access Synthesiser Studio. I will consider how women’s electronic music-making has been both aligned with and separated from issues of sexuality by re-examining Martha Mockus’s Sounding Out: Pauline Oliveros and Lesbian Musicality (Mockus, 2007), which proposes a "shared space of musical innovation and lesbian domesticity, and the dynamic relationship between them”, with regard to Oliveros’s early tape pieces. How and why have such concerns been pushed to the background in more recent reappraisals of her work? I will propose – with reference to my work at The Wire – that one way in which a queer narrative of women’s electronic music has been reduced is through the more commodification of the archive to sell magazines or reissued recordings. This tendency often elides instrument/studio design and the musicians using the equipment, resulting in objectification of female artists for a presumed male, heterosexual audience. I will consider how the media might approach feminist and other alternative histories of electronic music differently, when media platforms are increasingly based around visual content. I will conclude by citing a recent blog hosted by activist group Female Pressure, Visibility, to which female electronic musicians submit photographs of themselves at work, in order to show how plentiful they are. With reference to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s The Epistemology of the Closet (Sedgwick 1990), I will consider how visibility in this context comes to stand for progress, an idea which has been central to the recent reclamation of female histories of electronic music, but which prompts the question: to whom must women become visible to, in order for their histories to be considered significant, and what is discarded or forgotten in order to effect such visibility?

Subjects: W000 - Creative arts & design > W300 - Music
W000 - Creative arts & design > W300 - Music > W310 - Musicianship/performance studies > W316 - Electronic/electro-acoustic music performance
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures > School of Music
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Date deposited: 27 Jul 2017 19:51



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