by Sarah Callesen
I was invited by Scarlett Lauren from Friendly Potential to do a mix for their radio show. What I came up with is basically an extension of what Scarlett and the crew have already been doing on the show, balancing the track selection with a 50-50 gender split of electronic artists. For my mix, I also included very early female electronic composers, which comes out of research I’ve been doing as part of my Masters in Fine Arts study at Elam, University of Auckland. I’ve discovered that women played pivotal roles in the development of computing, computer art and electronic music, yet this is not commonly known.
Future technologies such as AI are being designed today mostly by men, yet 50% of users are women (and a percentage non-binary), and already bias is prevalent. Women have proven themselves in science and mathematics, so why aren’t they engaging in computer science?
I got into electronic music while working/OE in Paris in the early 1990s, discovering the underground rave scene, particularly the harder, more industrial side of techno. It was male dominated, I can’t remember any female DJ’s, let alone producers, even going into a techno record store was intimidating, it was all men. But I loved the music. Inspired by flyer and record cover design I returned to NZ to study and began a career in graphic design. And more recently, moving into visual and sound art, from a technofeminist angle. Future technologies such as AI are being designed today mostly by men, yet 50% of users are women (and a percentage non-binary), and already bias is prevalent. Women have proven themselves in science and mathematics, so why aren’t they engaging in computer science? Just like the question that underpins the Designers Speak (Up) forum, how do we disrupt systemic biases?
Women were at the forefront of computer programming. Mathematician Ada Lovelace, invented the world’s first computer program in 1842, for Babbage’s Analytical Engine. She was the first to write of its potential. In 1926, German mathematician Grete Hermann published her doctoral thesis, which was the foundational paper for computerised algebra. In the 1940s, six American women wrote the original programmes for the ENIAC, the world’s first electronic computer. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory team (1950s) were all women, using both mechanical calculators and manual mathematics.
Of more than 170 artists, poets, composers, engineers, mathematicians and scientists, only one woman is documented to be among these, Margaret Masterman.
By the 1960s, a number of female artists were working with computers and were the first to publish critical theory in this new field, computer art. American artist Katherine Nash co-developed the influential art program ART1. Fellow American Lillian Schwartz was one of the most prominent figures in computer generated and computer aided art, she was among the first to use computer-coding language to create motion graphic based film and video art. But like female artists using traditional art media at the time, there was a disproportionate number of male artists to women included in exhibitions. Art critic and curator Jasia Reichardt organised the seminal art and technology exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity in 1968. Of more than 170 artists, poets, composers, engineers, mathematicians and scientists, only one woman is documented to be among these, Margaret Masterman. Argentinian artist Martha Boto was the first female artist invited to participate in the Nove Tendencije 2 (New Tendencies 2) exhibition of 1963, which included 58 artists, the inaugural exhibition had none.
Electronic music’s history reads much the same. Mars by 1980 — The Story of Electronic Music (2018) by David Stubbs, is the latest book to document the genres history. Of its 464 pages, the pioneering artists I included in my radio mix were bundled into a single page with little information about their work. The experimental analogue synth and tape compositions of Else Marie Pade, Ruth Anderson, Laurie Spiegel, Suzanne Ciani, Eliane Radigue and Pauline Oliveros paved the way for artists such as Aphex Twin, the experimental electronica (IDM) genre and made a significant contribution to electronic music today. UK exhibition ‘Her Noise’ (2005) addressed the gendering of music’s history and initiated the ‘Her Noise Archive’, a collection of historical and current interviews, footage, books, records etc. of female musicians and sound artists from around the world.
Female producers are posting photos and videos of themselves in their home studios surrounded by machines, making their own music. Girls and young women are viewing these and can now feel some ownership in this craft.
Musician Bjork said in an interview for Pitchfork a few years ago that the lack of female producers today may be attributed to the absence of photographs showing women working in music studios over the 20th century. Fortunately, that’s changing with the internet and social media, there’s now a public platform for women artists to be visible, as it afforded the #metoo movement to manifest. Female producers are posting photos and videos of themselves in their home studios surrounded by machines, making their own music. Girls and young women are viewing these and can now feel some ownership in this craft. Online groups are also forming (via Soundcloud, Instagram or through hashtags), creating a sense of community for female and LGBTQI+ artists. On the dancefloor, audiences are demanding greater variety and promoters are responding. For the first-time ever in techno’s 25+ year history we’re starting to see female DJ’s headline festivals (Nina Kraviz), and the success of trans DJ’s such as Honey Dijon.
“For me, representation is essential and the personal is political.” — Scarlett Lauren
Locally there has also been a shift, largely thanks to womxn like Scarlett Lauren. She says, “For me, representation is essential and the personal is political. One small way I contribute to change is by mindfully showcasing the talent of womxn/queer/LGBTQI+ identifying artists where I can.” Run with the wolves (formerly Lushelection), is a radio show and dance party run by women, including Lauren. Promoters Moments present Discwoman, female and LGBTQI+ DJ’s who are touring Aotearoa next month. And DJ and producer K2K is included on many line-ups right now. Audio Foundation present a relatively equal balance of male and female sound artists and have held free technical workshops run by women (the initiative Women about Sound), for women and LGBTQI+. You can get involved by supporting these events, purchasing music from female and LGBTQI+ artists, producing and publishing your own music and/or DJing. Histories may be biased but the future shouldn’t be, activate diversity.
Sarah Callesen / visual and sound artist, designer
sarahcallesen.com / soundcloud.com/sarahcallesen
Link to Sarah’s mix: https://soundcloud.com/friendlypotential/fpr142
Moments presents Discwoman: Panel discussion + DJ Workshop
Wellington: 3 May / Auckland: 4 May