New Music for Electronic And Recorded Media: Women in Electronic Music - 1977

It1s becoming difficult to recall the U.S. music scene without a prominent contingent of women composers, now that Joan Tower, Meredith Monk, Shulamit Ran, Chen Yi, and Joan La Barbara among others appear with increasing regularity in classical music venues. But when the present anthology was released by Tom Buckner's pioneering label 1750 Arch LP in Berkeley in 1977, nothing comparable was available.
The original album title intentionally contained no reference to the gender of its participants. "New Music for Electronic and Recorded Media" was taken from a similarly-named graduate degree program in the Music Department at Mills College in Oakland, from which many women (alongside many men) emerged as successful composers following their study of electronic music with Pauline Oliveros, Anthony Gnazzo, Robert Ashley, Maggi Payne, David Behrman, Paul de Marinis and other supportive and innovative faculty.
As producer of this collection, I brought to the project many years of interest in the fate of the careers of female composers, including elder stateswomen Germaine Tailleferre and Peggy Glanville-Hicks, two particular favorites. When I discovered the iconoclastic scores of Johanna Beyer (1888-1944) languishing in obscurity at the American Music Center archive in 1965, her curiously truncated career pointed out the complications confronting women composers who naturally wanted to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts. Thankfully, times are better now for women composers and opportunities somewhat more plentiful.
It should be noted that 1750 Arch frequently limited its LPs to 22 minutes per side in order to obtain the highest quality playing surface for its releases. Therefore, in the case of this anthology, several pieces (including those of Annea Lockwood and Megan Roberts) are heard in condensed form. In order to replicate this historical release, no effort has been made to re-introduce longer segments of those works, or to add other works. The original liner notes and photos are also reprinted in their entirety. (No photo of Johanna Beyer has ever been found!)
Notably too, this anthology marked the first commercial LP appearance of Laurie Anderson. Philip Glass recommended her to me just as the anthology was being completed. When her sample tape of five brief but provocative selections arrived from New York, it was difficult to choose from among the various offerings, and finally I decided to include two instead of one. Shortly thereafter Anderson performed in the Mills College Student Union to an audience of no more than 20 people, confirming her then-total obscurity. What a pleasure, therefore, to witness the subsequent stratospheric trajectory of her career short years later.
Some notes on the other participants: The rehearsal session for Johanna Beyer's Music of the Spheres took place at the home of Allen Strange who had painstakingly arranged the instrumental music, full of glissandi, for electronic instruments. The one acoustic sound in this performance is that of a triangle and during the course of the afternoon it became apparent that the designated player simply couldn't strike the instrument with the restraint of a trained percussionist. I volunteered to take over the job and thus became a part of the ensemble. This performance was the first act of what now is a full-blown revival of Beyer's music, complete with publications (Frog Peak Press) and performances (notably by Essential Music in New York). The electronically programmed lion's roar (this was before the availability of digital sampling) seemed an effective attempt to imitate this percussion instrument popular in the Thirties with Var�se, Cowell and others. Although a work of Beyer's appeared on a 78rpm subscription release by Henry Cowell's New Music label, this marked the first commercial release of her music on recording. So too, this disc presented first appearances on disc of Laurie Spiegel, Megan Roberts, and Ruth Anderson.
Annea Lockwood, now a tenured faculty member at Vassar College, has enjoyed a stellar career as an inspiring teacher as well as an innovative musician. A more complete version of World Rhythms is available on the Experimental Intermedia (XI) label.
Pauline Oliveros continues to inspire audiences internationally with her active schedule of performing, composing, teaching and organizing. Her non-profit organization, the Pauline Oliveros Foundation, located in Kingston, NY, has successfully underwritten numerous projects of hers and other composers.
Laurie Spiegel, who since has invented an ingenious interactive computer program, Music Mouse, continues to live and compose in New York City. Her cavernous flat on Duane Street, once the end of the deserted earth in southern Manhattan, now has been engulfed by the almost total gentrification of Tribeca, but Spiegel herself maintains a purity of artistic purpose and integrity which is incredibly admirable.
Megan Roberts, a true forerunner, was one of the earliest "punk" electroacoustic composers in new music. I Could Sit Here All Day, filled with obsessive and cathartic wailing, is meant to be experienced at full volume, and presages the work of Diamanda Galas, for one. Megan currently resides in Ithaca, New York.
Ruth Anderson, now retired from Hunter College's music faculty, lives in upstate New York and Montana. Among her recent works, the beautiful text-sound, phonetic rendering of Louise Bogan's poem "Little Lobelia," using only its vowel sounds, has been released on an XI compact disc.
Finally, Laurie Anderson's most recent work continues to be issued by Warner Brothers, for whom we are grateful for permission to reproduce these two early works. In 1994, her book Stories from the Nerve Bible, an engrossing twenty-year retrospective of her work from 1972-1992, was released by Harper Perennial.
It is a great pleasure to have the present compilation re-released by the distinguished firm of Composers Recordings, Inc. Over the years, the rarity of this album has frustrated numerous aficionados and single copies reputedly have traded hands for hundreds of dollars. But the very rumor of this project and its original release gave great encouragement to the composers involved and to women composers in general and that in itself has made this a very satisfying undertaking.

-Charles Amirkhanian
September 29, 1996, Woodside, California


The music on this album exhibits an exciting, wide-open, free-wheeling approach to the medium of electronic music which has come to be typical of this genre in the late 1970's.
No longer are composers obsessively concerned with the agonizing, expressionistic, and purely "electronic" (synthesized) sound formulas which marked much of this music composed between the mid-Fifties and the late-Sixties. Instead, today we have composers willing to mix media and sonic materials in thoroughly inventive ways to achieve ends which are new-sounding, and often more engaging, than that of the "academic" avant-garde.
This is the outgrowth of a fundamental change in concerns which has been evolving not only among the composers on this album but in a growing segment of the musical avant-garde, of which these members are some of the most fecund and inspired. These new sources of inspiration certainly were not as widely shared fifteen years ago. Several composers represented here are deeply concerned with Eastern influences: meditation, healing, trance, states of serenity. Others are inspired by traditional (or "ethnic") musics and their subsequent metamorphoses into such popular forms as rock and roll. Still others bring to bear a sense of wit and satire, rarely a prominent feature of avant-garde music in the early 1960's.
Another gratifying turn of events in the 19701s has been the emergence of a substantial number of first-rank women composers in a field traditionally dominated by males. Although there always have been women composers, until this recent period society in general, and the music world in particular, has discouraged them from composing careers. Particularly in the United States, where the struggle of the women's movement has been waged most successfully, there has been a great number of composers such as Pauline Oliveros, Annea Lockwood and Laurie Anderson whose music has been instrumental in beginning trends and influencing others to carry on similar experiments in veins which they first have mined.

To quickly survey the contents of this album, we begin with the late Johanna M. Beyer (1888-1944) who in 1938 composed her Music of the Spheres as a part of her political stage work Status Quo. Scored for "three electrical instruments or strings" with lion1s roar (a percussion instrument) and triangle, Music of the Spheres is one of the first composed pieces of electronic music. Thirty-nine years after its birth it received its first performance on March 13, 1977, during a recording session for this LP at 1750 Arch Studios in Berkeley. Beyer was a student of Henry Cowell and was in close touch with the composer Percy Grainger both of whom were for many years involved in the pursuit of then-elusive dream of electronically-produced sound made available in a fashion usable by composers. But her career ended with her premature death in 1944 (she was in her mid-fifties) and her music has rarely, if ever, been played in the interim. The fascinating combination of acoustic and electronic instruments in her piece anticipates by decades this now common practice.
Pauline Oliveros' Bye Bye Butterfly (1965), composed at the San Francisco Tape Music Center, is a real-time tape-delay collage work which typifies the humor in many of her compositions of that period, including pieces in which performers were called upon to produce absurd theatrical actions. Her later work, drawing on meditation processes for their bases, has been a most successful, and widely-copied, method of obtaining total integration of audience and performer.
Annea Lockwood's World Rhythms, using no electronically-generated tones whatsoever, incorporates several levels of recorded ambient sounds, accompanied by widely-spaced strokes of a large gong. She has spent the past decade developing a body of meditation-inducing compositions which uncannily tap the deepest recesses of the unconscious in a peaceful, quiet, and quite powerful way.
Ruth Anderson is working with healing processes as a basis for her present compositions. Her steady-state piece Points is a hypnotic, calming essay in pure sine tones. Anderson's body of work has gone largely unpublished and unrecorded although she has been an important influence through her very inventive teaching at Hunter College in New York for many years.
Laurie Anderson uses the recorded medium to create fascinating "songs" molded in pop vocal style but charged with an avant-garde musical sensibility and an incisive poetic sense incorporating a healthy dose of humor and satire. These pieces, often performed in a theatrical manner, feature Anderson's voice, half-singing, half-crooning, against curious repetitive instrumental figures overdubbed in separate "passes" of the tape (on different tracks of a multi-track recorder).
Megan Roberts lately has been exploring the medium of rock 'n roll. Her first effort along these lines was I Could Sit Here All Day an example which retains less of the rock influence and more of the avant-garde character of her previous work. Nevertheless here is a feeling of ritual, raw power, and driving momentum to this piece which centers it closer to certain traditional African musics - the pure source - than to Roberts' expressed inspiration, The Dave Clark Five.
Finally, Laurie Spiegel, a JuIlliard alum equally at home with the Elizabethan lute and the GROOVE hybrid system of computer programming, gives us a computer-generated piece which offers a new and exhilarating perspective on traditional Southern mountain banjo picking.

Any complete survey of the staggering variety of electronic music by women would run for many more LPs than could be attempted by one record company. In Los Angeles, Bebe Barron was an early pioneer in the medium as was Ruth White (one of a small but distinguished list of students of composer George Antheil).
Currently in the East, the members of the Columbia-Princeton group, Pril Smiley, and Alice Shields, are very active and have been recorded commercially several times. Liz Phillips, Charlotte Moorman, Joan La Barbara, Daria Semegen, Barbara Kolb, Doris Hays and Beatrice Witkin continue to produce fine work and are active in teaching, writing, and concertizing, all to good effect.
On the West Coast, much credit is due the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College (Oakland, California), one of the nation's most active hotpoints for new music activity. The campus, once exclusively for women (male graduate students have been admitted for many years), long has been known to have had one of the West's best music departments. Under the direction of Robert Ashley, himself a leading figure in the emergence of live electronic music, the strong encouragement of women graduate students in composition has given us such talented composers as Maggie Payne, Beth Anderson, Ann Sandifur, Peggy Ahrens, Jill Kroesen, Virginia Quesada, and numerous others. Frankie Mann, Shells Booth and Joanna Brouk, working independently in the West also have made significant contributions. And in Southern California, Emma Lou Diemer (University of California, Santa Barbara), Beverly Grigsby (California State University, Northridge), and Zina Louie (Los Angeles City College) command important teaching posts.
Also of great importance is the music of the French composer Eliane Radigue who lives in Paris and who composes lengthy steady-state pieces which are model studies of pure intonation. Others working in France include Corinne de Luna and American-born Eugenie Kuffler. In England, Lily Greenham, and in Holland, Tera de Marez Oyens, have employed their considerable backgrounds in music theory and composition to make fascinating pieces in the text-sound (sound poetry) genre. And flutist-composer Christina Kubisch of Milan has impressed with her theatre pieces heard in 1976 at Phil Niblock's loft in New York.
This is only a sampling of the many composers which might be investigated by those who are more than casually interested in the wealth of material available. Hopefully, others will be inspired to recognize and program such pieces in concert and, most importantly, on record. For today it is the latter medium which is responsible for 90% of the music experienced by most people in the U.S., and in the avant-garde field, communication internationally is largely maintained by the exchange of commercial LPs.
This first anthology of women's electronic music demonstrates great refinement and skill at work in a variety of different styles, several of which are unfamiliar or new even to those who follow contemporary music. The fact that these pieces are more listenable than that of the Sixties avant-garde does not point to a musical regression as some critics have overeagerly assumed when discussing modern works using, say, consonant harmonic structures. Rather, and I think this is common denominator for these pieces and something which women composers and artists have been instrumental in legitimizing again for this period in time, these works signify a new consciousness of the relationship of art to human life and the important and positive interaction which can be the role of a more personalized art in our day-to-day experience.

-Charles Amirkhanian
August 1977