Pink Noises: Women on electronic music and sound
Independent researcher, electronic music producer and DJ
Tara Rodgers' book Pink Noises is a long overdue feminist intervention in the historiography of electronic music. Pink Noises emphasizes the pioneering, substantial and diverse work that has been accomplished by women but so far remained largely invisible in previous accounts of electronic music development. Thereby, Tara Rodgers starts to correct the century long lack of representation that profoundly underestimates the presence and diversity of expressions by women working with sound and electronic music. The title Pink Noises (which is also the name of the producer/musician/DJ network pinknoises.com founded by the author in 2000) refers to pink in terms of a "marker of female difference", and noise as a "site of disturbance and productive potential". Tara Rodgers also refers to the term Pink Noises in physics and audio engineering, as "variations of white noise, or unstructured sound that contains every audible frequency". Moreover, Tara Rodgers introduces her interviews with women artists as Pink Noises in and by themselves: "sonic interventions from multiple sources, which destabilize dominant gendered discourses and work toward equal power distributions in the cultural arenas where sounds reverbrate" (2010:19).
Structured as a collection of interviews/ conversations, Pink Noises documents and explains ground breaking innovations and visions in electronic music production and technology from the perspectives of the pioneers themselves. Ground breaking and legendary international artists are interviewed, like Pauline Oliveros, Kaffe Matthews, Giulia Loli (Mutamassik) and Chantal Passamonte (Mira Calix). The book is structured into six themes in electronic music; time/memory; space/perspective; nature/synthetics; circulation/movements; language/machines/embodiment; and alone/together. From a variety of different angles, Rodgers and her interviewees disentangle assumptions that cast technology and music—and electronic music in particular—as male domains while, most importantly, discussing the dimensions and meanings of sound, expression and representation. Moreover, Pink Noises reflects upon the cultural and political potential of sound itself. Tara Rodgers conceives of the potentials of sound, as a category of critical and aesthetic analysis, to feminist concerns in particular, arguing that "sounds can be thought of as pressure and movements, doing cultural work" (2010:19).
Pink Noises is an extremely important contribution to the study and documentation of electronic music because, unlike previous literature on electronic music, Tara Rodgers refuses to stop at the "thresholds that have silenced women's work in historical accounts." Tara Rodgers thus looks beyond the commonplace observation where most standard accounts stop and conclude that women constitute a minority in electronic music—as if this observation would explain their absence in literature and media. With Pink Noises, Tara Rodgers challenges the normalization of male dominance in the patrilineal historiography of electronic music. Against the grain of ideologies aligning women with normative modes of heterosexual and capitalist reproduction, Tara Rodgers makes the argument that sounds themselves are reproductive, "To account for reproductive sounds in all their temporal depth is to challenge the patrilineal lines of descent and the universalizing male claims to creation that have thus far characterized dominant discourses in electronic music" (2010:15).
Although the professional interventions of interviewed artists go as far back as the 1950s, it is striking that similar gendered issues and experiences seem to reoccur throughout the generations of women who work with sound and electronic music. However, it is encouraging to read about the ways interviewees have prevailed and ignored gendered biases in the business; only to cultivate their subversiveness, innovation and determination even further.
To someone who is extremely interested in the technical aspects of working with sound and music production it is very instructive to read Pink Noises. However, to someone who does not have a specific interest for technical aspects it could be difficult to follow the very informed conversations between the author and her interviewees. Helpfully there is a detailed glossary on technical concepts.
It is apparent throughout the book that the author has had previous contacts and collaboration with many interviewees, presumably through her own professional activity as a musician and her work with pinknoises.com. Many of the participants in the book are part of the same international and/or overlapping musical/ professional scenes. It would be interesting to read more about the ways the author is situated in her field of study and the ways in which this influences her selection of interviewees, her questions and the responses. Although Rodgers probably has many good reasons for her decision to let interviewees speak for themselves and make their own analysis I sometimes feel that additional concluding, contextualizing and comparative commentary would be helpful. Also, it would have been great to have a chapter on Tara Rodgers herself, and her long standing experience, electronic music production and reflection as electronic musician Analog Tara.
All in all, Pink Noises is an extremely well informed, informative and inspiring discussion of some of the most crucial aspects and developments in electronic music. The innovators and actors behind these developments happen to be women and Pink Noises thereby highlights the astounding male centeredness in standard accounts and representation in electronic music.