By: Geoff Shelton
This column highlights important stories, music and more from the global, female-identified and non-binary communities in music.
Autobiographies give us insight into the lives and experiences that shape the story of music and the music that shapes us. They remind us that we are not alone on our journeys, that our idols are human and that each of us has the potential for greatness. These three superb autobiographies tell the stories of women as they struggle through societal norms to find peace and happiness in embracing their truths.
What Are You Doing Here? By: Laina Dawes
Our musical preferences can offer a sense of community, a sense of belonging to a tribe. Especially as teenagers, the music we are passionate about often helps us form our personal identities and styles. But what does one do when their musical preferences result in exclusion on all sides of their life? In Laina Dawes’ paramount book, she reveals a personal and incisive story of the “dual-outsider dilemma” that black women who love heavy metal, punk and hardcore are forced to reckon with. Mixing her own autobiographical experience with interviews and survey results from her peers in these scenes, this book epitomizes the personal as political. Ms. Dawes elucidates the long ignored history of black women artists and fans in these genres. She builds strong and intimate arguments for why this aggressive music offers a perfect and safe catharsis in a world that suppresses black women’s anger on the daily. She reveals the concomitant subtle to violent expressions of racism and sexism that they face from the white-dominated communities around these genres and the ostracization from their black communities as well. This book asks us to face the cultural norms and built-in racism inherent in our musical scenes, while it also reaches out a hand to other black women facing this predicament to say, “You belong.”
Art Sex Music By: Cosey Fanni Tutti
What makes someone a pioneer? Is it how they were raised? Something they were born with? Or is it just being in the right place at the right time? Performance artist and musician Cosey Fanni Tutti gives us the chance to make up our own minds with this deeply detailed insight into her experiences, thoughts and philosophies. As one of the game-changing forces behind the avant-garde musical group Throbbing Gristle, she helped open the boundaries of what was possible in music. Later, as one half of the duo Chris and Cosey (now Carter and Tutti), she would help define the electronic sound that was eventually called techno. Cosey has always been an artist interested in pushing beyond our perceived limitations. Through her early life growing up on the rough streets of post-war Hull, U.K. with a repressive father and supportive mother; her work in performance art, stripping, pornography and sound experimentation, the break-ups, the scandals and the successes, Art Sex Music tells the story of a true artist that never let anyone tell her what was possible in any place or medium, and thus she changed our world.
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl By: Carrie Brownstein
Before she went on to make a generation laugh through eight seasons of her Emmy-winning, sketch comedy show Portlandia with Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein was of course one of the three fierce musicians that took the world by storm as Sleater Kinney. In this beautifully honest and eloquent account of her early life, Carrie tells her story from the earliest memories of being an outgoing and precocious girl, until the grand decision to break-up the band with her two best friends at the height of their success. As might be expected, Ms. Brownstein’s book is a wonderful relief from typical rock memoirs and their self-aggrandizing reminiscences. At times almost self-deprecating to a fault, Carrie uses exquisite word choices and masterful turns of phrase to illuminate the dark places of her experience. From her discomforts and anxieties, her insecurities and pain, she turned her deep love of music into one of the most powerful acts to come out of the post-Riot Grrrl movement, or really, any musical movement for that matter.
These recent releases find three artists creating albums both vulnerable and challenging. Through entirely different approaches, they expand the possibilities of their chosen genres and expose that which is universal underneath. We’re invited to bear witness to their inner fears, desires and anxieties; to sink into the mess of our complicated emotions and together move forward as a stronger collective.
Chamaleo – Never Sol
The human condition is earthly and ethereal. It’s a balance that is delicate, intricate and rich. Memories echo in chambers building our identities with epic sweeps of emotion. We change skins and remain the same. Never Sol gently breathes these truths into layers of voice and synthetic instrumentation with thin fingers pulling at the whispy tendrils branching from our pulsing muscular motors. The songs, like the wonderfully surreal collages by Michaela Karásková that accompany the physical album, offer recognizable pieces in a novel construction. With Chameleo, Sára Vondrášková, the Prague-based writer/producer/composer/singer behind this exquisite music, creates a fully conceptualized experience of mortal fervor. A billowing, diaphonos (sic) fabric, backlit by the brightest moon.
Love Discipline – Debit
On Love Discipline, Mexican-born, Brooklyn-based Debit, offers her 2nd release of 2018 following her LP Animus. Like the thin tome by Erich Fromm that inspired this equally slim, five-song EP, it comes thick with content that will forever reverberate beyond its physical means. In “The Art of Loving” Fromm wrote about love as a practice that we can actively learn and put effort towards, instead of passively falling into. It is a concept that Debit confidently furthers sonically, inviting us to engage with the harmonies and dissonances of her thickly layered designs. It is an all-encompassing experience that offers little percussive rhythm to grasp on to and give one a sense of control. We must let go, feel her feelings in all their complexity, and take the time to process our own. Through this collective understanding of ourselves and each other, the album delivers its truths. “Love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity” Fromm wrote; and it’s precisely that musical probity, that allows us to merge within her sound.
The Drought– Puce Mary
Brutal. Stark. Honest. This latest release from experimental Danish artist Frederikke Hoffmeier may be one of the most perfect aural expressions of our current political and environmental state. It is a concept album that works literally as a post-apocalyptic vision of our potential near future, and metaphorically as an emotional drought considering the de-humanizing aspects of our daily lives at present. Continuing in the traditions of industrial, noise and power electronics, this confrontational palette is countered by her emotionally exposed narrative of acoustically clear and unobstructed spoken-word vocals that accompany almost half of the album’s tracks. With The Drought, Frederikke presents us with the violent machine of our own making and the emotional intelligence to tear it apart.
These wonderful podcasts feature three female hosts offering us an opportunity to learn more about the science of music, the business of music and women’s experiences as creators, entrepreneurs and investigators into the intricate nature of this medium. Take the time to expand your mind, learn from seasoned veterans and listen to the stories and compositions of women that are taking the world of music into new ground.
Cadence – Indre Viskontas
Cadence features wonderful stories at the crossroads of music and science through conversations with neuroscientists, musicologists, musicians, composers and more as they discuss humans’ intrinsic relationship to music. Created by cognitive neuroscientist and classically trained opera singer Indre Viskontas, Indre makes the perfect host as someone bridging the gap between the artistic and the technical in her talks with some of the leading minds devoted to understanding the interactions between music and the brain. With two seasons under its belt and one more on the way, Indre gets the scoop on how we perceive rhythm, the relationship between music and memory and how music can act as medicine. The perfect listen for anyone interested in looking under the lid of the piano (so to speak) to understand why these sounds resonate so deeply within.
Female Entrepreneur Musician – Bree Noble
Are you a musician that could use a free, deep dive into some DIY business advice to jump-start or further your musical career? Then hit “subscribe” now to this unbelievably helpful podcast created by musician and musical entrepreneur Bree Noble. Bree created this podcast specifically for women as someone who knows the day-to-day struggles of being a working musician in this business and wanted to share the lessons she was learning. Bree talks with many different professionals who offer immediately applicable advice from D.I.Y. P.R., working the YouTube algorithms and better strategies for your music merch, With plenty of supplementary on-line workshops, books and other resources to help supplement the rich knowledge her guests provide, this website is a true gift for all working musicians of every gender on the spectrum.
Listening to Ladies – Elisabeth Blair
In the Fall/Winter season of 2016, the Metropolitan Opera of NY finally premiered it’s very first opera performance composed by a woman. In the 2015-16 season, the top 89 orchestras of the U.S. presented only 2% of their programs with music composed by women. These facts alone, featured on the “Listening to Ladies” website, are a very clear reason why this podcast is a must for us all. Through musical excerpts and discussions with female-identified composers from around the world, Elisabeth gives these women an opportunity to share their creative ideas, processes and struggles as women in the classical, opera, avant-garde and New Music circles. Each episode is accompanied with a full supplementary “info page” including a short bio on the featured composer as well as links to complete compositions and lists of other artists and institutions that are mentioned through the talk. With each wonderful episode, Elisabeth continues to fight against a patriarchal culture, one conversation at a time.