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International Alliance for Women in Music Congress 2006, Global Perspectives

May 10–13, 2006, Florida International University, Miami, Florida

A little history about the Congress is in order. The Congress is a result of the merger of the International League of Women Composers (founded in 1975 by Nancy Van de Vate) and the International Congress on Women and Music (founded in 1979 by Jeannie Pool) as well as American Women Composers (founded in 1976 by Tommie Ewert Carl). All three organizations and the resultant IAWM grew out of the second wave feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s and the growth of feminist scholarship during that same time period. The IAWM Congresses occur approximately once every two years and previous events have been held at the California Institute of the Arts and the University of London. The Congresses feature the presentation of scholarship about women and music from medieval times to the present and also several concerts of a wide variety of musical genres with an emphasis on traditional art musics and electroacoustic music and multimedia. This year’s Congress featured composers from the United States, Italy, Korea, and China to name just a few of the countries represented. I will concentrate on the scholarship and musical events concerning electroacoustic music and multimedia though all readers are strongly encouraged to view the Congress website for a complete listing of all papers, performances and other events.

The opening concert of the Congress on Wednesday evening May 10 included Pamela Madsen’s Demon for clarinet/bass clarinet and electronics. Madsen has gained considerable praise and exposure lately for her extensive work developing the Annual Festival of Women in New Music: Voices on the Edge at Cal State Fullerton and for her travels with The International Women’s Electroacoustic Listening Room Project. (discussed in eContact! 8.2) Demon was well-received and well-performed; in fact all of the performances that night by FIU’s NODUS ensemble (conducted by Orlando Jacinto García) were well done. Demon is part of Madsen’s large-scale work for ensemble, soloists, and electronics, The Sexton Cycle, based on the poetry of Anne Sexton and the clarinet work was commissioned by Patrick O’Keefe from the Zeitgeist Ensemble.

On Thursday Madsen was again featured in a discussion moderated by composer Colby Leider about her electroacoustic listening room project. This session also included Alicyn Warren (University of Michigan) in a composer’s paper about her Mirror Story, an electronic opera for solo soprano, ten dancers, electroacoustic music and video projections. Her libretto for the piece is based on a short story by Austrian writer Ilse Aichinger about a young woman who has just died from an illegal abortion. Warren added to me in an earlier correspondance about the piece that the work is neither pro-life nor pro-choice but is feminist by its very nature because of the subject matter.

Thursday evening’s concert featured excellent performances by the FIU Collegium Musicum (David Dolata, director) of renaissance and baroque music by women and also a terrific surprise, Kristina Wolfe’s Consort for One for viola da gamba and electronics. Wolfe gave an outstanding performance of her work and since viola da gamba happens to be one of my personal favorite instrumental timbres, I found it particularly enjoyable.

Thursday’s paper sessions featured interesting new thoughts and research from both Linda Dusman (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) and Michele Edwards (professor emerita, Macalester College). Dusman’s “To Persist is to Ignore: Women Composers and the Denial of the Body” is a discussion of the perceived notion that women composers must ignore their gender in order to persist in the field of composition and offers the suggestion of establishing a feminist æsthetic in music that would celebrate a gendered voice instead in the interest of creating more diversity in the canon. I found the paper to be particularly intriguing since the approach mirrors my own studies and findings in this arena. Edwards’ work on the Japanese Fluxus composer, performance artist, and pianist Mieko Shiomi opens the way for exciting new research about the women of the Fluxus movement (the most [in]famous of which is Yoko Ono) and her paper offered a catalog of many of these women including Ono, Alison Knowles, and Carolee Schneemann. The presentation ended with a fun group performance of Shiomi’s work Air Event (1964).

The Thursday evening concert included Engram, for two-channel tape, by Mei-Ling Lee (Taiwanese doctoral student in composition and intermedia at the University of Oregon),. The United States is increasingly attracting a large number of Asian women composers to its university electroacoustic music programs and these students are creating terrific music and enjoying considerable success. Another composer featured on the concert, Mei-Fang Lin (doctoral candidate at the University of California at Berkeley), is a further example of this with prestigious Schaeffer, Russolo, and Bourges prizes to her credit. Lin’s work on this concert, however, was for instrumental ensemble and showed great imagination and craftsmanship. It should be noted that the concert featured the ensemble RUCKUS (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) and was just one of the several times during the Congress that these musicians awed all of us with their masterful performances of many difficult and complex works.

Friday’s morning paper session moderated by Brenda Hutchinson (performance artist and electroacoustic composer and — for all of you cult film junkies out there — the creator of the soundtrack to the film Liquid Sky!) featured my paper on women’s voices in their electroacoustic music (published in eContact! 8.2) and Peter Swendsen’s (University of Virginia) study “(Re)hearing the Potential: Collisions and Explorations of Sonic Landscapes in Maggi Payne’s Resonant Places.” A third paper on the session was Michael Berry’s (Texas Tech University) work, “The Play of Light and Shadow in Sofia Gubaidulina’s Fourth String Quartet”, which was a more traditional theoretical look at the composer’s musical approach. However, all three papers effectively dealt with the feminist subtexts evident in the actual creative process of specific pieces of music and dovetailed nicely with Dusman’s musings described above.

Friday afternoon featured what was the highlight of the Congress for me, the screening of Jeannie Pool’s fascinating documentary Peggy Gilbert and Her All-Girl Band, supported and narrated by Lily Tomlin. The documentary which was solely directed, written, and produced by Pool (a pioneer in women’s electroacoustic music and also a well-known film and music historian) told the story of tenor saxophonist Gilbert from her earliest childhood and included clips and interviews from a variety of girl band ensembles from the 1930s to the present. Especially intriguing were the interviews with Gilbert herself (who is over 100 years old!) which gave insight into both universal and uniquely feminine experiences on the road and in the Hollywood recording studios. It should be noted that persons wishing to book screenings of the film can go to for more information.

Saturday’s morning concert consisted entirely of women’s electroacoustic and intermedia works. Opening the program was Sabrina Aguilar Peña’s (Miami) marvelously abstract Innermost Thoughts of a Distorted Psyche which showed the strong influence of her teacher, Kristine Burns, in its complex shape and color shadings. I later talked extensively with Peña about her interesting and vital work in the ArtREACH program which exposes homeless children to the arts. I found Confluences by Ileana Perez Velazquez (Dartmouth College) especially interesting because I had heard much about this Cuban-born composer but had never experienced any of her music. Confluences (2005) used samples from Cuban folk music and was designed to illustrate the mixture of Spanish and African cultures that are so integral to this genre. Next was Kristine Burns’ session for 5.1 channels of audio which was definitely a fun ride through a particularly frustrating clarinet recording session! Hsaio-Lan Wang’s (University of North Texas) Hard-Boiled Wonderland, a collaboration with Daniel Zajicek of video and digital music, showed the especially strong multimedia pieces that result when gifted visual and audio artists work together. My own Finish Line for video followed Wang’s piece. Chan-Ji Kim (University of Florida) presented The Lotus Flower for two-channel tape, a scene from her more extensive ballet of the same title based on a Korean folk tale. The strong concert ended with Airi Yoshioka (another one of those terrific RUCKUS folks!) providing an excellent performance of Anna Rubin’s (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) Stolen Gold for violin and tape.

The Congress ended with an international panel discussion of women’s musical issues in general and the IAWM in particular and an evening concert of chamber music. It was also announced that the 2008 IAWM Congress will be held in Beijing with strong support from the Chinese government.

Throughout the entire event I was comparing and contrasting my experience at the Congress with my experiences at other conferences such as SEAMUS and ICMC. I must say that having an event with a variety of electroacoustic music and music for traditional instruments makes for a more fulfilling experience. A single-genre (and sometimes in my experience, single-timbre!) conference really wears one out more quickly than one with more variety of sights and sounds and æsthetics. Additionally, I was struck by the superiority of all of the music. I was not just being prejudiced because it was all by women — this music was definitely far better than music I have heard on conferences in the recent past. And I could help but note that much of this music did not ever make it onto the programs of conferences in the recent past. The musical selection committee definitely did a fine job of identifying unique works with much integrity. I could not help but wonder whether this was because the composers simply did not submit their pieces to some of the more “mainline” conferences or if they had been passed over for performance at these venues. These questions (why will women not submit their works and/or why are their works not chosen) need to continue to be asked and answered.

On a final note, a highlight of the Congress for everyone was the lovely banquet at the Rusty Pelican on Key Biscayne. As I sipped my drink and watched the sunset and the manatees on the pier of the restaurant I found myself more relaxed than I had been in a long time. So thank you, Kris Burns (and your helpmate Colby Leider), for a great experience inMiami!

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