Women in (New) Music: Women Who Score

by Angela Drăghicescu

About a year ago I was given some music to play by Louise Farrenc. The music was so heavenly it moved me to my very soul. It had the same quality that the music of the most famous composers of the era had, and I wondered as a trained pianist with an extensive repertoire list how it came to pass that I had never heard of this composer or her music.

I looked for more pieces of hers and found an incredible body of work, greater than or equal to the best composers of her era. I read up on her and not only discovered a life and experience of heroic proportions, but a life spent fighting uphill battles simply to get the respect she deserved. Despite ultimately earning the respect and admiration of the finest composers of her era, the musical establishment after her death ignored her work both in performance and in education, and in an insidious fashion erased her from history.

Much of her work sat in libraries collecting dust for over a century until a French graduate student rediscovered her in the 1980s. I quickly began to realize that this was a pattern that spanned centuries and crossed oceans. Scores of talented female composers were treated in this fashion. Measures were taken to prevent them from joining the classical canon of composers, and when their talent was too great to be contained, the music itself was shunned by the establishment, or subjected to specious and clearly bigoted smears in the press. 

It is a universal truth that great music, like great art, is a pure expression of the soul and a thing of deep and abiding beauty. It is priceless, unique, and each piece has a power to stir the soul. To anyone capable of appreciating such things—whatever the gender—the idea of destroying or hiding this music from the world is truly appalling. The fact that so many women’s legacies and achievements, along with their incredible music, were deliberately erased from history by the bigotry of small minds is a profound injustice that cries out to be rectified.

This year Felipe Vera and I co-founded a new concert series in Seattle titled Women Who Score with the goal of showcasing musical works by women whose creative voices were stifled or silenced as a result of religious, racial, cultural, or systemic oppression. This Sunday, March 11 we are proud to present a special preview concert featuring music by a handful of history’s most influential women composers: Louise Farrenc, Clara Schumann, Amy Beach, and Libby Larsen.

But these women are just the beginning. Throughout our inaugural concert season, we plan to commission new works, highlight local living composers, and also pay tribute to historic women composers who paved the way for today’s generation of musicians. This series is about empowerment; about a community uniting in sharing the untold stories. With an open mind and open ears, we can work to diversify the world of classical music and continue to discover the musical voices of women across history.

Warmly,

Angie Drăghicescu
Artistic Director of Women Who Score


The Women Who Score preview concert is Sunday, March 11 at 7pm at Nordstrom Recital Hall. For tickets and more information, please click here.

Women in (New) Music: Grant Opportunity for Women Composers

by Maggie Molloy

Calling all women composers! The Allied Arts Foundation just launched a new grant opportunity for women composers and songwriters.

The grant, titled Listen UP! Music by Women will distribute at least $15,000 in award grants to women composers and songwriters living in Washington State. Nearly all musical genres are eligible in this cross-genre competition, including contemporary classical, electroacoustic, blues, R&B, jazz, world music, multimedia, sound installations, and more.

Across history women have been systemically disadvantaged in the fields of music composition and songwriting, often receiving far fewer opportunities and resources to create new musical work than their male peers. Listen UP! Music by Women presents an opportunity for community dialog, expression, and support for the significant female talent in Washington State.

The deadline for applications is Monday, April 30, 2018 at 8pm PST. Click here to learn more and submit an application.

Women in (New) Music: Happy 75th Birthday, Meredith Monk!

by Maggie Molloy

Meredith Monk has secured a place in history as one of the most singular and significant voices of the 20th and 21st centuries. For nearly six decades, she has redefined and revolutionized contemporary vocal music and performance, seamlessly weaving in elements of theatre and dance to create visceral musical experiences that transcend the confines of the classical tradition.

Monk’s compositional range is as wide as her vocal one—but her inimitable creations are united in their merging of ancient and modern musical ideas. In her music, abstract vocalizations, primal rhythms, hypnotic dances, and ritualistic soundscapes come together in an intimate embrace of the human experience.

In honor of Monk’s 75th birthday today, we take a look back at three of our favorite Monk masterpieces:

Education of the Girlchild (1972):

Benjamin Button meets feminist deconstruction in this interdisciplinary (and unapologetically avant-garde) one-woman opera which traces the life of a woman in reverse from old age to childhood.


Turtle Dreams (1983):  

Sprawling vocal textures, hypnotic organ loops, and unconventional choreography are spliced together with black and white turtle footage in this surreal 30-minute film exploring themes of time and space.


On Behalf of Nature (2016):

Extended vocal techniques pirouette above a whimsical instrumental accompaniment in this wordless exploration of the space where humans coexist with the natural and spiritual world.

Women in (New) Music: Reflections on wilderness

“The animal instinct of the world is to destroy others thinking it may build for itself out of the ruins, but the divine instinct knows that the only true structure is in building up together.

Will you be counted among those who seek to destroy, or will you seek to rise to the heights, the dizzy heights where the air is so rarefied that only the strong can stay long enough to be dissolved in an ecstasy of oblivion?

– Mary Crovatt Hambidge, Apprentice of Creation


Photo by Arthur Allen.

by Kaley Eaton
W
ritten while in residence at the Hambidge Center, Oct, 2017

Today I woke and walked out to my porch to learn that I had been instrumental in the death of a large beetle. Beetle had been attempting to cohabit my cabin at Hambidge for the last few weeks, and I had been careful in routinely transporting him to the outdoors, assuring him we would both be more comfortable with such an arrangement.

Last night, he had taken refuge in my curtains around midnight, but given the slow swagger I had observed over the past few weeks, I was comfortable he would stay put through the night. I couldn’t find him during my bedtime sweep, so I assumed he was tucked and comfy. Around 2am I was awoken by a large buzz to find him near my head, on the window. At the point, I’m certain Beetle knew this was a violation of our terms and I gently placed him in his cup and returned him to the forest.

But in the cold fog of morning, there he was, paralyzed, upturned, and slightly discolored at the bottom of the cup. A part of my evening phone conversation with Rian last night addressed the topic of insect extinction, which furthered my resolve to coexist with Beetle. And yet my discomfort with a loud buzz seems to have clouded this resolve, and now, Beetle is dead.

His death is timely and heartbreaking, as my time at Hambidge has been dedicated to the pursuit of dissolving my human ego in service of something better, something with which Beetle is likely more acquainted than I. As such, I dedicate the work I’ve done here, wilderness, to Beetle.

wilderness has lived several lives in the past few months and currently exists in two incarnations: an interactive installation for nine loudspeakers, and a companion work for headphones. The work explores my complicated geographical relationship with the United States. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, you become a person who takes volcanic mega mountains, temperate rainforests, pods of cosmically intelligent swimming superbeings, and massive, tranquil salty bays full of salmon and mussels and elegant kelp for granted. When such a person moves east to join the rat race (which has unfortunately found its way west), the resonance of this landscape is a manic buzz in the heart. A deep, bottomless, spiritual hole grows with each minute one is away from this place, until the eventual homesick Google image search for “Pacific Northwest” elicits a cascade of loneliness. This was the experience I sought to sonify in wilderness: the experience of moving far, far away from a place where wilderness still dominates humanity, and hearing it sing in the distance while enveloped by the low rumble of the sprawling urbanity of the Eastern U.S.

While I have an obviously subjective relationship to the distribution of wilderness in the contiguous U.S. as a Washingtonian and Montanan, I believe there exists, on a global scale, a longing for wilderness, a palpable guilt for what we’ve destroyed, and a deep anxiety that every choice we make is destructive. These are the ideas that propelled me to design this work and the ideas that have obsessed me here at Hambidge, where these themes are ever-present in the landscape, the geographical situation, and the spiritual residue of Mary Crovatt Hambidge’s life.

The loudspeaker version of this work is intended for a large room and indeterminate length. Nine loudspeakers are arranged on a theoretical, room-sized map of the United States as follows:

Each speaker emits a synthesized sound generated from data sourced from the University of Montana Wilderness Center. As you can guess from the image, the sound each speaker makes is representative of the relative acreage of protected wilderness in the immediate radius of the speaker. Speakers in areas with higher acreage of wilderness emit louder, higher-pitched, and more rapidly pulsating sounds. Speakers in areas with low acreage of wilderness emit quieter, lower-pitched, and more slowly pulsating sounds. All sounds were calculated meticulously to ensure a spatially accurate, relative experience of how much wilderness we have preserved and destroyed.

In doing this, my goal was to illuminate how much life exists where human life does not; we often associate sound with humanity, and I wanted to illustrate an experience where human sprawl was as silent as the death it causes. The result was a staggering realization that, while the Eastern U.S. has many alluring qualities, it is utterly drained of wild places. The resulting sound, to me, felt like the sad buzz I felt when leaving my volcanoes and rainforests.

While walking through the installation, listeners are invited to this experience. There are also thrown into a less romantic experience: with each speaker, I place a microphone that picks up the sounds the listeners make as they walk through the work. If you make a sound above a certain threshold it triggers an explosion of speaking voices and loud noises. This is intended to simulate the anxiety we feel that every move we make is, in some way, pollution.

Artistically, it bothers me that one can only experience works for loudspeaker arrays in venues lucky enough to have more than two (decent) loudspeakers. So, in pondering the eternal question of accessibility, I decided to develop a 3D version of this work for headphones that curates a walk through the installation using ambisonic panning and HRTF decoding for headphones.

Naturally, as this version allows me to take you on my own subjective experience of driving through the contiguous U.S., the piece is time- AND space-based, which adds another layer of anxiety and direction. As one walks through the West, loud mountain ranges of sound pass on either side; once one has left the West, the sounds become increasingly war-like, human-related and noisy (please see the content warning). These sounds come from news reports about animal culling, recordings from the Elephant Listening Project, and field recordings I sourced from my porch at Hambidge.

Throughout the work, a buzz that seems to come from inside the head resonates and later intensifies into a folk-inspired melody setting the above words from Mary Hambidge. After enduring the war, we drift backwards back into the wilderness, into the “ecstasy of oblivion” she theorizes.

I’m currently obsessed with the idea that my generation experiences the world through headphones. How can artists disrupt this experience? How can we create a fantastical, three-dimensional sonic reality that makes us appreciate and long for the reality that has existed before and will exist after the headphones disappear? Given the current fixation on visual virtual reality experiences, what role does sound have in the question of the future?

With all of that said, and with the memory of Beetle in my heart, I would like to invite you into my new work and also to please consider the question posed by Mary Hambidge above: will you be counted among those who seek to destroy?

As of press time, Beetle seems to have been resurrected.

KLE


wilderness for headphones is available below. Please use …. headphones! Preferably high-quality headphones. The 3D sound elements, essential to the work, will not read through external speakers.

CONTENT WARNING – gunshot sounds

This work contains sounds that may cause physical and/or emotional discomfort to those who are survivors of war and/or gun violence, or are sensitive to sounds related to violence. These sounds begin at around 4:25. Please practice self-care if choosing to listen to this work. These sounds are NOT present in the live installation version of this work; we hope you will have an opportunity to join us in the live experience with Kin of the Moon.


wilderness for nine loudspeakers will premiere Saturday, Nov. 18 at 8pm at the Chapel Performance Space with the new concert series Kin of the Moon. For more information, please click here.

Women in (New) Music: The Pure Cold Light in the Sky

Kin of the Moon is an improvisation-centric chamber series featuring three cutting-edge and iconoclastic women performers. Violist and composer Heather Bentley reflects on the music and meaning behind their debut concert, The Pure Cold Light in the Sky this Saturday, Nov. 18 at 8pm at the Good Shepherd Chapel.


by Heather Bentley

Kin of the Moon violist, improviser, and composer Heather Bentley.

It’s Armistice Day today, also known as Veteran’s Day, also acknowledged in astrology to be a particularly high vibrational day for the planetary deity Venus, who supports us to think with our hearts, and not just with our heads. It’s a good moment for reflection on this past year of seismic cultural upheaval that is continuing without abatement as I write.

The existential importance of music in my life has been magnified through the lens of all the enormous societal challenges we face. Creating Kin of the Moon is the outgrowth of a powerful desire to combine my private discipline of improvisation with my lifelong experience of presenting and performing concert music. Becoming an improviser in my late 20s was an attempt to liberate my own voice through my instrument. While I have always held composers like Brahms, Bach, and Shostakovich deeply in my heart as my best friends, there are aspects of professional classical music life that challenge my sense of creative agency.

I met Kaley Eaton on stage at the Royal Room, doing an improvised show with Steve Treseler’s Game Symphony. We’ve been close collaborators ever since, working together on her electroacoustic opera Lily, and co-creating our piece Atmokinesis for improvisers and SuperCollider processing. Leanna Keith is simply a spectacular flutist/improviser—we have been playing shows together since this summer and I couldn’t be happier with our Kin of the Moon team!

Here is our statement:

Kin of the Moon is an improvisation-centric chamber music series incubated in Seattle’s rich musical scene. Headed by violist/improviser/composer Heather Bentley, vocalist/composer Kaley Eaton, and flutist/improviser Leanna Keith, the group explores sonic rituals, promotes cross-pollination of genres, emphasizes the communicative power of specific performance locales and celebrates the creativity that multiplies itself through the collaboration of performers and composers. The artists of Kin of the Moon devote their lives to reaching higher vibrational levels through sound creation.

Kin of the Moon flutist and improviser Leanna Keith.

I was asked about the fact that our first concert features all women performers and composers. Actually, we were aiming to create the most compelling program to go with our new piece Atmokinesis and Kaley’s new sound installation wilderness, and it happens that we were very excited by Jessi Harvey’s quantum physics-inspired work The Multiverse and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kate Soper’s Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say for voice and various flutes.

Kin of the Moon vocalist and composer Kaley Lane Eaton.

I am inspired to work with artists who exhibit a spirit of creative inquiry and practice a discipline of collaborative generosity. That many people who hold these qualities dear are women is not surprising. There are also countless men I have worked with who are equally inspiring in this way. And there are non-binary people I have worked with who are inspiring, generous, and boundlessly creative. Our choices about who we present and who we work with have everything to do with these considerations.

Back to Armistice Day. Last Nov. 11, 2016 was very difficult for so many of us. I am fortunate to co-own and operate ELF House, a music space/artist retreat on Whidbey Island, with the magnificent composer, saxophonist, and flutist Jessica Lurie. I went up by myself after the horrific election and had the opportunity to regroup. This is what I wrote, and it feels very much like a statement of purpose about my music:

“I’ve had a moment to recoup from the dreadful election result up at my sanctuary by the water on Whidbey. Here there’s no internet yet and the sunrise pinks up the sky and water birds carry on like nothing has changed—and in this world that is true. I needed space and time to reflect on how to carry on. First of all, I want to acknowledge
my sons Miles, 19, and Aaron, 29, for their response to the debacle of this election.
Representing the two halves of the millennial generation, Aaron reminded me to stay
levelheaded and through his lead, I greatly increased my contribution (now monthly) to
the ACLU, an organization that has stood at the frontline of defending the marginalized
in the US for decades. And Miles took to the streets to protest on Nov 9. Feet on the
ground. I know my sons are aware of their privilege as white, cis, straight men of
comfortable economic status. I am beyond proud that they immediately took steps to
exert what influence they can on behalf of those who stand to lose the most under the
new administration.

For myself, I needed time for darkness. I felt like it wasn’t time for kumbaya or sentiments that we can just unify now that the election is over. Or pretend that a nice concert can heal our divisions. This is what I think today, on Veterans Day: as artists, we are aware of our ability to conjure heaven on earth. The moments come seldom, and they are hard won through the assiduous honing of our craft, but the allure of creating deep, unassailable beauty and terrible and ferocious gorgeousness from a deep vein, is what compels us in the face of economic absurdity to continue. Relentlessly. This is the truth and depth and gift that artists hold and offer. Let our vein flow for the world. Let the truth of our witness and offering stand as a real testament to the fragile and tenacious beauty of existence in this sphere. Let us always, always encourage the outpouring of our colleagues and treasure our audiences and followers.

Let us actively conspire to collaborate. Let our vision extend to radical inclusiveness of those in our midst as well as those out of sight.”

Kin of the Moon takes its name from a W.B. Yeats poem, “The Cat and the Moon.”

THE CAT AND THE MOON
by W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet,
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.


Kin of the Moon’s debut concert is this Saturday, Nov. 18 at 8pm at the Good Shepherd Chapel. For more information, click here.

Women In (New) Music: Du Yun’s Opera Angel’s Bone is Writing A New History

by Lauren Freman

Photo by David Adams.

There’s a fun kind of dark—take your Quentins Tarantino, your Samuels Pekinpah—a gleeful brand of hyperrealistic gore that makes you giggle uncomfortably in your seat, where the director gets lauded for “going there,” where a spray of blood is cool, a severed limb is funny.

Angel’s Bone, the 2017 Pulitzer-winning opera by Du Yun, is not that.

When stressed to extremes, our brains deprioritize recording memory accurately, and register emotion in broad strokes: fear, helplessness, pain. For this reason, Angel’s Bone’s heightened, cacophonous abstractions of violence give us a more honest representation of the experience of trauma, more real than an accurate depiction might be. If you think you might be triggered by anything related to sexual assault, drug use, or any kind of abuse, then please take good care of yourself digging into this opera.

Composed by Du Yun with a libretto by Royce Vavrek, Angel’s Bone tells the story of two angels (Boy Angel and Girl Angel, sung by Kyle Bielfield and Jennifer Charles) who have returned to Earth, only to be forced into spiritual and sexual slavery by an ordinary American couple (Mr. and Mrs. X.E, voiced by Kyle Pfortmiller and Abigail Fischer). That’s not a spoiler, that’s the premise: a barely-allegorical indictment of the horrors of human trafficking that doesn’t let you look away.

The staged production premiered in 2016 at the Prototype Festival, an NYC-based festival that showcases new works in “music-theater,” but the studio recording for Angel’s Bone drops September 22 (TOMORROW) on VIA Records. And if you’re near Brooklyn on October 7, you should absolutely attend the album release concert at the National Sawdust Theater (Take me with you? Live tweet it? Please).

This composer is very intentionally changing the landscape of classical music audiences and creators, and I am 100% here for it. In an interview with NPR’s Tom Huizenga this spring, Du Yun expressed a need for the music community to “examine what diversity really means. Diversity also means content, diversity also means styles. Diversity also means, ‘What do we want to say?’ We can’t just say one thing.”

As the music director at Music at the Anthology (MATA), she spearheads projects that amplify underrepresented voices. For example, look forward to “a three-year initiative to focus on the Islamic world, and also a series of solo concerts by female composers, called ‘A Room of One’s Own.’” Her money takes up permanent residence at where her mouth is.

One of my favorite things about Du Yun is that she pledges zero deference to the established conventions of one genre or another. In a Log Journal interview with Steve Smith, she says “We’ll be able to do so many things in so many styles, and if the content calls for that, then let’s just try it.”

While Angel’s Bone is more or less an opera in the traditional sense, each aria (song? track?) is laser-focused toward the style that tells the story best. Mrs. X.E.’s performative piety is represented in allusions to revivalist gospel in “I’ve Been Blessed,” because of course it is. The chorus of angels points to Gregorian Chant, because of course it does. Girl Angel shrieks and croaks recounting her abuse at the hands of “Brick J.” because of course she does.

Photo by Cory Weaver.

I’m prefacing this with a WHOLE LOTTA CAVEATS, but I’ll give it to ya straight: listening to Angel’s Bone was an awful experience. The performances are stunning, Du Yun’s subversion of aural expectations is deeply affecting, and the borderlessness between genres is fascinating. But. Sitting with this opera? Marinating in it for hours, watching otherwise unremarkable suburbanites brutalize extremely vulnerable people? Hurts. So. Bad.

And the question is Why. Why put audiences through that? Why put ourselves through that? Du Yun’s work is too deliberate to be intended as shock for shock’s sake, so why would she bring us so intimately close to the experiences of the victims of trafficking?

So that we would do something.

And there’s so much we can do, from influencing lawmakers to enact legislation that protects trafficking survivors, to educating ourselves, to volunteering our time or money to a nonprofit we care about—you, a presumed proponent of the arts, might be interested in checking out First Aid Arts, which equips trauma-care providers with arts-based resources.

“Art does not solve problems,” Du Yun warns. “Art, at its best, functions to provoke and suggest.” If Angel’s Bone disturbs you—and it will, and it should—then let it provoke you into action. Let it suggest that you help.

If you can, listen to this album. Have an awful experience. And then do something.


If you or someone you know is a victim of trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline to report a tip or get help.


 

Lauren Freman is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and composer, hell-bent on blurring the boundaries between high and low art. Follow her at www.freman.band, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

 

Women in (New) Music: Remembering Ana-Maria Avram (1961–2017)

by Michael Schell

The new music community was stunned to hear of Ana-Maria Avram’s sudden passing on August 1. Born in Bucharest in 1961, she studied in both Romania and France, acquiring from the latter an admiration for spectralism, a way of composing that focuses on tone color as a primary musical parameter and places an emphasis on forms built from continuous processes rather than delineated sections. Throughout a prolific career she remained aligned with this philosophy, becoming one of her country’s best known living composers and a leader in what has become known as Romanian spectralism.

Together with her husband and collaborator Iancu Dumitrescu, Avram co-directed the Hyperion Ensemble, performing extensively in Romania, France, and the UK, and releasing dozens of recordings on the Edition Modern label. In the above video, you can see her conducting Hyperion in her piece Orbit of Eternal Grace (II). Scored for chamber orchestra, computer sounds and two “dueling” clarinet soloists (one on bass clarinet the other on basset horn), it shows the influence not only of spectralists like the Frenchman Grisey and Avram’s compatriot Rădulescu, but also sonorist composers like Xenakis, Ligeti and Penderecki.

Also evident is the influence of American free jazz, and indeed Avram’s most recognizable trait may be the way she dances along the border between formal, composed music and free improv. Her frequent collaborators included the veteran English improvisers Chris Cutler and Ian Hodgkinson (both alumni of the avant-rock band Henry Cow), and in the video Hodgkinson is the soloist to Avram’s right. Orbit of Eternal Grace reminds me of some of the ensemble works of Anthony Braxton, himself a musician readily at home in both improvised and composed music worlds.

Avram grew up under the Ceaușescu dictatorship, where embracing the musical avant-garde was itself a kind of tacet challenge to the prevailing authoritarianism. Her music always seems to convey a certain transgressive thrill—as though reveling in the liberty to work directly with the raw materials of sound, to play instruments the “wrong” way, to build a personal musical language without any hummable melodies or government-approved chord progressions.

But not all of her music is as aggressive as Orbit of Eternal Grace. Her Zodiaque (III) is slow and soothing, built from a synthesized drone on low E-flat and its natural harmonics. Peeking through the texture are various sharp gestures on two prepared pianos, often played directly on the strings. It sounds like Éliane Radigue jamming with George Crumb. In the video (which misidentifies the title) she is heard performing the piece with Dumitrescu.

Zodiaque reveals Avram as an accomplished electronic musician, and she could often be seen in performance conducting an ensemble while coaxing computer-generated sounds from her laptop. That’s on display in her Four Orphic Sketches for female voice, ensemble and live electronics. Its sound world, including the eschewal of a text in favor of nonsense syllables, is close to that of Ligeti’s Aventures. The video below includes some shots of the score, which uses graphic notation, reflecting Avram’s view of a musical text as “a base from which to fly away.”

All told, Avram wrote over 100 compositions, ranging from fixed media works and solo instrumental pieces to works for full orchestra. She also co-organized music festivals in Romania, and volunteered for several new music advocacy organizations. As if that weren’t enough, she was also a capable pianist, as evinced in her performance of some arrangements of Romanian folksongs collected by Bartók. There’s much more from her available on YouTube and SoundCloud.

It’s tough to lose someone as talented as Avram, especially at the premature age of 55. But we can at least be grateful that she left as much behind as she did—a testament to her passion for sound and her devotion to musical freedom.