Hear Seven Hours of Women Making Electronic Music (1938–2014)

seven hours of women making music

Image via Flickr Com­mons

Two years ago, in a post on the pio­neer­ing com­pos­er of the orig­i­nal Doc­tor Who theme, we wrote that “the ear­ly era of exper­i­men­tal elec­tron­ic music belonged to Delia Der­byshire.” Derbyshire—who almost gave Paul McCart­ney a ver­sion of “Yes­ter­day” with an elec­tron­ic back­ing in place of strings—helped invent the ear­ly elec­tron­ic music of the six­ties through her work with the Radio­phon­ic Work­shop, the sound effects lab­o­ra­to­ry of the BBC. She went on to form one of the most influ­en­tial, if large­ly obscure, elec­tron­ic acts of the decade, White Noise. And yet, call­ing the ear­ly eras of the elec­tron­ic music hers is an exag­ger­a­tion. Of course her many col­lab­o­ra­tors deserve men­tion, as well as musi­cians like Bruce Haack, Pierre Hen­ry, Kraftwerk, Bri­an Eno, and so many oth­ers. But what gets almost com­plete­ly left out of many his­to­ries of elec­tron­ic music, as with so many oth­er his­to­ries, is the promi­nent role so many women besides Der­byshire played in the devel­op­ment of the sounds we now hear all around us all the time.

In recog­ni­tion of this fact, musi­cian, DJ, and “escaped housewife/schoolteacher” Bar­bara Gold­en devot­ed two episodes of her KPFA radio pro­gram “Crack o’ Dawn” to women in elec­tron­ic music, once in 2010 and again in 2013. She shares each broad­cast with co-host Jon Lei­deck­er (“Wob­bly”), and in each seg­ment, the two ban­ter in casu­al radio show style, offer­ing his­to­ry and con­text for each musi­cian and com­pos­er. Recent­ly high­light­ed on Ubu’s Twit­ter stream, the first show, “Women in Elec­tron­ic Music 1938–1982 Part 1” (above) gives Der­byshire her due, with three tracks from her, includ­ing the Doc­tor Who theme.

It also includes music from twen­ty one oth­er com­posers, begin­ning with Clara Rock­more, a refin­er and pop­u­lar­iz­er of the theremin, that weird instru­ment designed to sim­u­late a high, tremu­lous human voice. Also fea­tured is Wendy Carlos’s “Timesteps,” an orig­i­nal piece from her A Clock­work Orange score. (You’ll remem­ber her enthralling syn­the­siz­er recre­ations of Beethoven’s 9th Sym­pho­ny from the film).

The sec­ond show, above, fills in sev­er­al gaps in the orig­i­nal broad­cast and “could eas­i­ly be six hours” says co-host Lei­deck­er, giv­en the sheer amount of elec­tron­ic music out there com­posed and record­ed by women over the past sev­en­ty years. This show includes one of our host Golden’s own com­po­si­tions, “Melody Sum­n­er Car­na­han,” as well as music from Lau­rie Ander­son and musique con­crete com­pos­er Doris Hays. These two broad­casts alone cov­er an enor­mous range of styl­is­tic and tech­no­log­i­cal ground, but for even more disco­graph­i­cal his­to­ry of women in elec­tron­ic music, see the playlist below, com­piled by “Nerd­girl” Antye Greie-Ripat­ti for Women’s Day, 2014. Com­mis­sioned by Club Trans­me­di­ale Berlin, the mix includes such well-known names as Yoko Ono, Bjork, and M.I.A., as well as fore­moth­ers Der­byshire and Car­los, and dozens more.

In lieu of the radio-show chat­ter of Gold­en and Lei­deck­er, we have Greie-Ripatti’s post detail­ing each artist’s time peri­od, coun­try of ori­gin, and con­tri­bu­tions to elec­tron­ic music his­to­ry. Many of the com­posers rep­re­sent­ed here worked for major radio and film stu­dios, scored fea­ture films (like 1956’s For­bid­den Plan­et), invent­ed and inno­vat­ed new instru­ments and tech­niques, wrote for orches­tras, and passed on their knowl­edge as edu­ca­tors and pro­duc­ers. Greie-Ripatti’s page quotes a Dan­ish elec­tron­ic pro­duc­er and per­former say­ing “there is a lot of women in elec­tron­ic music… invis­i­ble women.” Thanks to efforts like hers and Golden’s, these pio­neer­ing cre­ators need no longer go unseen or, more impor­tant­ly, unheard.

via Ubuweb

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Meet the Dr. Who Com­pos­er Who Almost Turned The Bea­t­les’ “Yes­ter­day” Into Ear­ly Elec­tron­i­ca

Mr. Rogers Intro­duces Kids to Exper­i­men­tal Elec­tron­ic Music by Bruce Haack & Esther Nel­son (1968)

Thomas Dol­by Explains How a Syn­the­siz­er Works on a Jim Hen­son Kids Show (1989)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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