The International Women’s Electroacoustic Listening Room Project: Voices on the Edge
The International Women’s Electroacoustic Listening Room Project (WEALR) features day-long non-stop playback of electroacoustic works by internationally-based women composers, as part of the Annual Festival of Women in New Music at Cal State Fullerton, organized by Composer Pamela Madsen, now in its fifth season. The Listening Room strives to present a diverse sampling of different approaches to electronic music and serves as a space for collective reflection amidst an active, intense festival, full of concerts, workshops, lectures and panel discussions. I will discuss the concept, history of WEALR, significant composers, and issues of women in music technology.
Recognized by the Los Angeles Times as a significant resource, The International Women’s Electroacoustic Listening Room Project and Women in New Music Festival at Cal State Fullerton has become a major center for women in new music to gather to listen, perform and discuss their work. Funding from Cal State Fullerton, American Composers Forum and the American Music Center enables major guest composers (Pauline Oliveros, Joan Tower and Chen Yi) and major new music ensembles and performer/composers (eighth blackbird, the string quartet ETHEL, Anne LaBerge, Pamela Z and Zeitgeist) to be in residence. Each year an on-line, and targeted email call for new works by women composers in the electroacoustic domain goes out through an ever widening world-wide network of women composers in electronic music: IAWM, SEAMUS, American Composers Forum, American Music Center, Electronic Music Foundation, Gaudeaumus Foundation, and reaches beyond these established networks of music to sound artists, independent artists, through to ambient, new age artists and the female DJ circuit world-wide.
The International Women’s Electroacoustic Listening Room Project is part of the Annual Festival of Women in New Music at Cal State Fullerton, organized by Composer/Theorist Pamela Madsen, now in its fifth season. Each March the Listening Room features a daylong non-stop playback of electroacoustic works by internationally-based woman composers. During the ca. 8 hour listening room the listener’s mind is immersed in the sounds of diverse compositional voices of women composers in electroacoustic music from over 20 different countries from around the globe: from Argentina to Austria, Australia to Amsterdam, Berlin to Bulgaria, China to Paris, Poland, Switzerland, and Finland, plus women’s voices from across the United States. The Women’s Electroacoustic Listening Room Project strives to present a diverse sampling of different approaches to electronic music, with examples from classical computer music, environmental music, and meditative music to works that expand acoustic virtuosity and improvisation with virtual instruments to sonic documentaries that capture the inner workings of the mind: horror, humor and the unfolding of human dramas.
The concept of a listening room was suggested to me through Elaine Barkin, composer, scholar, professor emeritus at UCLA, for a way of presenting women’s works in a different type of venue. She presented a similar installation concept of women’s works, with CD playback on a moveable cart with speakers to various venues on the UCLA campus. I was also influenced by my scholarly research on Pauline Oliveros’ concept of Deep Listening. During the 90s I presented and published my work on her mandala composition Rose Moon and spoke about the concept of Deep Listening, different ways of listening and the concept of a “feminine form” of listening in music. I wanted to create a space where the focus would be on listening to sound without interruption, over a long period of time in a comfortable, intimate space. After considering various venues/installation spaces, art galleries at CSUF this space evolved to be our intimate 200-seat recital hall, where the loudspeakers (in-house PA) were relatively good, the configuration of the hall controllable to outside noise, yet open to participants and the seating comfortable, yet focused on listening. I chose to focus on women’s works in electronic music, specifically those that had to do with voice and the body. Guest composers and performers are in residence and a wide perspective of women composers from all over the Southern California region comes in to participate in a lecture/panel/discussion that is lively, provocative and sometimes shocking as these women composers share their inner thoughts about compositional processes, and answer difficult questions posed by the audience about their voice as a women composer. Some of the more outspoken participants have been: Renee Coulombe (UCR), Caroline Bremer (CSULB), Juliana Snapper (UCSD), Jennifer Logan (UCSB, Spectrum Press/Festival), Amy Knoles (percussionist/composer CA Ear Unit), Julie Adler (vocalist, CAL Arts, REDCAT), Kadet Kuhne (Sound Artist) as well as our guest composer/performers in residence: Anne LaBerge, Pauline Oliveros, Joan Tower, Kyong Mee Choi, Zeitgeist Ensemble, eighth blackbird ensemble, Lalo and Diametric Ensemble.
This expanding network of women composers in electroacoustic music was developed through a significant group of women composers who provided support, inspiration and connections: Pauline Oliveros (Deep Listening), Elaine Barkin (UCLA), Kristine Burns (SEAMUS, IAWM), Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner (“Women Composers and Music Technology in the United States”), Kaija Saariaho (IRCAM), Anne LaBerge (Gaudeamus, Amsterdam), Diamanda Galas (New York), Chaya Czernowin (UCSD) as well as a network of women composers active in music technology in Southern California who provided local support: Madelyne Bryne (Palomar), Renee Coulombe (UCI), Jennifer Logan (Spectrum Press, Sonic Odyssey), Alex Shapiro (ACF/LA). I met these women through my research on the influence of technology on compositional thought at major centers for computer music and technology: IRCAM (Paris), CCRCA, USCD, CCRMA, Stanford University, CCM, Mills College.
As a composer, scholar and performer I am interested in the concept of transformation and transcendence in musical performance through the use of multi-media and electronics. My scholarly research focuses on the influence of technology on compositional thought and form and the feminine voice in compositional theory. I established the International Women’s Electroacoustic Listening Room Project as a space for women’s works to be heard, discussed, celebrated and eventually serve as a database for research.
Personally, my first works were in electronic music, during my days as an undergraduate student at Indiana University in the 70s studying composition and electronic music with John Eaton. As a young composer, working in the electronic music studio was empowering — immersed in manipulations of sounds provided a direct expression of my voice as a composer. As a teacher of composition, I hope to be able to inspire my students, especially young women composers, to create in this type of environment. My first compositions received support through my collaborations with the woman directors in the theater department who commissioned my eerie electronic soundscapes for their experimental plays. Collaborating with confident, experienced women in the other arts (most recently with Judy Chicago in the Envisioning the Future Project) where women are more of an equal presence (theater, dance, drama, visual arts, video, installations) I learned to trust my vision as a woman composer, learning from their experience and experiments. At UCSD, I continued this exploration/collaboration with a dissertation on music based the poetry of Anne Sexton: Works for text, voice and electronics. I pursued a Ph.D. in Music Theory at Yale University, with a Mellon Foundation Award for research on the compositional theory in the archives of the Darmstadt Ferienkurse fur Neue Musik, with post-doctoral research in the IRCAM mediatèque archives on the influence of technology on compositional thought. What I found through my archival research was a lack of works by women composers to even begin my research. Using my experience as an archival researcher, I decided to establish a call for works by women in electroacoustic music and build an archival resource for future research.
The Women in New Music Festival was established in 2002 at Cal State Fullerton to celebrate Women’s History Month. CSUF is a unique institution in that it has offered continued university support for this festival and my ongoing research on women in New Music, seeing this initiative as an important defining element for the university’s image as a diverse, inclusive environment for learning. Each year the festival focuses on aspects of Women in New Music and a different concept of “voice”:
- 2002 — Form and the Feminine Voice: hysteria embodied, with members of the Zeitgeist Ensemble, Patti Cudd and Pat O’Keefe in residence performed works from my electroacoustic cycle based on the poetry of Anne Sexton.
- 2003 — Transforming Voices: Funding for guest artists in the CSU system was scarce so through the recommendations of my colleague at CSUF, Lloyd Rodgers and UCLA emeritus professor, Elaine Barkin, I devised a way to have an inexpensive festival: The First International Women’s Electroacoustic Listening Room Event with non-stop playback of electroacoustic works and panel/lectures by local Southern California guest women composers in residence: Julie Adler, Renee Coulombe, Jennifer Logan, Madelyne Bryne.
- 2004 — Hearing Voices: Enlistening the future was produced in conjunction with the Envisioning the Future Project with artist Judy Chicago at the Pomona Arts Colony and visual artist Snezana Petrovic. This edition saw the production of my Interactive Electroacoustic Opera/Installation, We Are All Sibyls, with the voices of Julie Adler, Gerri Galyean, Nicole Baker and Patricia Prunty. Guest composer, performer in residence was Anne LaBerge. Featuring extended two-day playback of the Electroacoustic Listening Room, Lectures, and seminars and recitals of Works by Women Composers from Around the Globe.
- 2005 — Merging Voices: Festival of Women in New Music. With increased funding from CSUF I was able to invite the Naumburg Award winning ensemble eighth blackbird and the eclectic New York City based Diametric Ensemble to the annual festival. Guest composer in residence Pauline Oliveros performed and worked with Diametric Ensemble and Lalo. Joan Tower performed and worked with eighth blackbird and the University Symphony Orchestra. With the increased funding, my initiative was to find a way to have the best new music ensembles performing works by women composers.
- 2006 — Voices on the Edge: Festival of Women in New Music. As Artistic Director of the Women in New Music Festival at CSUF I will be on sabbatical in Spring 2006 and will take the Women’s Electroacoustic Listening Room on the road to venues across the United States and Europe, returning in March 9–12, 2006 to produce the Annual Women in New Music Festival. The quest for this year’s festival is to reach artists on the edge and to celebrate crossing cultures — hopefully reaching women composers in parts of the world where their voices have not yet been heard. Guest artists in residence will be Pamela Z (voice and electronics), ETHEL performing new string quartet + electronics works by Pamela Z and Pamela Madsen, pianist Shiau-uen Ding, from the neXt Ensemble with electroacoustic work by Madelyne Bryne, the contrabassonist Carolyne Beck, with Alex Shapiro and Erroneous Funk, electroacoustic improvisational experience with composer, performer Renee Coulombe, plus CSUF New Music Ensemble and Orchestra performing works by composer-in-residence Chen Yi.
- 2007— Inner Voices is the proposed Festival of Women in New Music for March 2007 in conjunction with the Multi-Media Festival of the Arts at CSUF. Proposed guest performers include and, composer/performer Meredith Monk, the Zeitgeist Ensemble from Minnesota and Multi-media artist, Snezana Petrovic.
- WEALR on the Road: I have established an archive of collected works and documentation from the WEALR during the past five years that serves as an important database for research on women in music technology. The WEALR will travel and be presented at various centers for Contemporary Music in the United States and Europe during the coming year (San Francisco, New York, Minnesota, Miami, Paris, Amsterdam and others). From these travels, lectures and research I will produce a selected CD on the WEALR with an accompanying study on Women in Electroacoustic Music. I will discuss significant works in the Retrospective Collection of the Listening Room and my research on the influence of technology on compositional thought and women in music technology. To host WEALR on the Road, contact Pamela Madsen.
Why Women in Electroacoustic Music?
Recently, when I sent the call out for electroacoustic works by women composers and posted emails about the Women in New Music Festival activities, I received comments challenging the need for this type of event: Why do we need a festival devoted to works by women? Why do we need to have a listening room for women in electroacoustic music? I posed these challenging question to my network of supportive colleagues: Pauline Oliveros, Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner, Anne LeBaron, Alex Shapiro, Elainie Lillios and others and have received encouraging responses to continue. The concern for ghettoization of women composers by having a Women’s Electroacoustic Listening Room was expressed by the organizers of the Sparkfest and others. While I understand this argument, I think it is still better to have women represented, heard and celebrated, even if it is on a festival devoted to women, than not heard at all.
My hope is that in the near future the need for festivals celebrating women in New Music and a women’s electroacoustic listening room will not be necessary — there will be equal representation on all festivals. But, sadly this is not yet true: I will be presenting a lecture on the Women’s Electroacoustic Listening Room at the Annual festival of Electroacoustic Music, Sparkfest in Minnesota, February 22–26 2006, where I will be one of only a few woman composers presenting their work. I have to wonder why the works by women composers are not present at other festivals of new music and what this means for women in electroacoustic music.
What I have found in the collected works from the Women’s Electroacoustic Listening Room is the trend towards what Barry Truax has sighted in his own works: contextually based compositions, as distinct from those that remain abstract. Many of the works I receive for the Women’s Electroacoustic Listening Room often intimate, inner reflective soundscape compositions and text-based music theatre works (as in the work of Truax, 2000) In critically listening to these works that are inextricably linked to and shaped by their contextual references, the challenge is to find an æsthetic criterion for these works such that they will have a life beyond their origins. As noted by Truax, “Gender and sexuality seem to be some of the trickiest issues to deal with artistically, particularly musically. It is not difficult to see why most composers have avoided an engagement with them. On the other hand, these aspects are at the centre of our lives and our ways of being in the world, and we ignore the energy they provide at our peril if we exclude them from our creative endeavours.” (Truax, 2000) Hopefully these challenges of different visions in electroacoustic music will influence technology and in turn allow growth and change in the way the artist is able to express. The Women’s Electroacoustic Listening Room Project hopefully will serve as a resource for this challenge. With the research begun by Hannah Bosma, Mara Helmuth, Mary Simoni Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner, and others, finally, I am beginning to have enough materials in the database to ask questions about women in electroacoustic music. Finally, the listening and research can begin.
Truax, Barry. ‘The æsthetics of computer music: a questionable concept reconsidered’ in Organised Sound, 5(3), 2000. pp 119–126.