Cyberfeminism: Next Protocols

Subject: Cyberfeminism: Next Protocols
From: Elizabeth Hinkle (
Date: Wed Jan 05 2005 - 16:02:40 EST

Kevin Austin forwarded a post from William Osborne on my WAVE_LIST
(women and music technology discussion listserv) about the new
Cyberfeminism text to the CEC lists. So, I am also sending my response
to the Osborne post here for those who are interested. E H-T

Hello to all - hope everyone had a happy holiday season. And as for
happiness, let us all keep our world colleagues in Asia and Africa in
our thoughts and prayers.

I spent 10 days blissfully away from email, blogs etc.... So I am only
now seeing William Osborne's posting about this new text which naturally
interests me greatly especially since
I am emailing off to Computer Music Journal today my review of what
looks to be a related text: Women, Art and Technology (MIT Press)
editor Judy Malloy - containing essays by and about women who use
technology in multimedia work (on the composer end of
things, Pauline Oliveros and Pamela Z have essays included). More on
that text to address some of the interesting
questions William asks most specifically: 'our colleagues in the
visual arts seem a few steps ahead of us' 'we have a few books
that explore the history of women in electronic and computer music but
little that explores or propounds feminist theory in these fields'
'what are some of the reasons that women seem better represented in the
digital visual arts than in computer music?'

Here are my suggestions/thoughts/answers to these queries based on my
considerable experience:

1. We have a few books that explore the history of women in electronic
and computer music but little that explores or
propounds feminist theory in these fields: Actually, we have NO books
that explore the history of women in electronic and computer
music.....what we DO have are some excellent chapters in some women and
music books (like the Edwards chapter in the Pendle book and the Grigsby
chapter in the Zaimont book), some wonderful journal volumes (Organised
Sound vol 8.1 - 2003 and Heresies 10 - 1980), and other terrific journal
by scholars such as myself, Andra McCartney and Mary Simoni.... We do
not have a comprehensive history text yet but, ahem, we
will - in a couple of months - from Ashgate Press. Alas, this is only
Volume One - United States but I am writing as fast as I can on the
other countries! So, yes, we are still in a situation where
professors/teachers/students must hunt around a bit for the goods.

I might hasten to add, however, that the same is true with this new
Cyberfeminism book and also with the Women, Art, and Technology book -
they are comprehensive collections of essays NOT historical texts.
[the question here then becomes...which is 'better', these essays or a
textbook in the tradition of a Norton book or
interesting topic which I tackle in my review for Computer Music
Journal....stay tuned.]

2. I started with THAT issue first because it leads into some of the
answers to the other questions. Feminist theory in traditional
and popular musics (as well as queer theory) has been going great guns
now for some time. This is because such careful theoretical
examinations are always the SECOND step in scholarly study of a subject.
 First, one has to
actually discover the subject itself. We've been through all the 'Gee,
I never even knew there was an Amy Beach!' era and, of course, popular
culture is so in our face all the time, one would have to live under a
rock in order not to be aware of Madonna!
The who, what, when, where of women and traditional and popular musics
has been mostly that music and those lives can be put under
the careful microscope of theoretical study.

This is not yet, however, true in electronic and computer music. We
are still in the discovery stage in my opinion. An excerpt from
the introduction to my book postulates as to why this is:

"Comprehensive biographical research and musical analysis of the works
of women composers active prior to the twentieth century has also become
extensive. This is no doubt primarily due to the fact that earlier music
in the more traditional forms can often be more readily discussed and
studied than recent avant-garde and electronic works. Also, much of this
research has been conducted by musicologists many of whom specialize in
past eras of music history."

and " Little research and writing, however, has concentrated on
providing in-depth study of women composers of experimental and
avant-garde music with biographical information and detailed discussion
and theoretical analysis of their works. Most notably, women composers
of the post-World War II modern musical era have been neglected. This is
an especially significant omission because since that time women have
experienced greatly expanded opportunities for their musical expression
enabled in part by the work of the feminist movement for professional
and educational equality."

My theory about this is that just as in-depth study of traditional and
popular musics generally requires a great deal of knowledge of the tools
of construction of such musics (notes, key signatures, instruments etc.)
so also does the study of electronic and computer music (computers,
synthesizers, networks, digital video, digital audio). have
to find someone to study it who has both
the musicological chops and the technical chops to tackle the issue
(see Hinkle-Turner, Simoni, Oliveros, Z, McCartney above). There are
now a significant enough number of scholars/composer/technologists
interested in doing this that such offerings are
becoming increasingly available. Additionally, most of us are actually
engaging in a 'hybrid' type of presentation: historical as well as
theoretical - in an effort to catch up perhaps but also because most of
us find history without analysis rather lifeless.

If you recall, I had some opinions (at which some took umbrage!) as to
the state of feminist theory and electroacoustic music based
on my experiences at the otherwise excellent Feminist Music and Theory
7 conference at BGSU where my paper about Alice Shields and Pamela Z was
put on a panel with a paper about Clara Schumann....hmmm, they are all
WOMEN, I'll grant you that but besides this, there was an obvious lack
of understanding about where such a paper as mine might fit into the
subject matters of other papers. However, this is exactly why I present
at these conferences... I learn a whole lot about feminist theory from
all those 19th century composer papers (I still think that many of the
pop music papers point out what is patently obvious to me, however,
these ideas may not be patently obvious to scholars who are less
immersed in the pop culture as I am) and , hopefully, those paper
writers learn a whole lot about late 20th and 21st century composers
from me. William....we WILL catch up I promise you!

2. Our colleagues in the visual arts seem a few steps ahead of us/what
are some of the reasons that women seem better represented in the
digital visual arts than in computer music : To the first issue, I
answer.... Our colleagues (male and female) in the visual arts have
ALWAYS been a few steps ahead of us musicians. The only real parallel
art and music movement that I can easily recall is the machine art and
music of the Futurists. First we had impressionist painting then we had
impressionist music...first we
had the beginnings of cubism, then we had the beginning of
serialism.... Why is this? I don't know. One theory I have is that
abstract and/or new visual ideas and images are easier to grasp and
accept (by the media which has always driven everything) than
new musical ideas and images. This may be due to the temporal nature
of moves along and if one is experiencing it in the concert
hall, one cannot have the performer stop and repeat difficult sections
(though we used to have concerts like that at the University of Illinois
and they were great!). However, one can stand and stare at a Helen
Frankenthaler painting in a museum all day and come back for more the
next day until one 'gets it'.

To the representation issue: I just think that this is a false
impression. Women are not better represented in the digital visual arts
than they are in the digital musical arts....they just currently have a
'little bit better press.' The Women, Art, and Technology book
came out of a concerted effort by Leonardo Journal and Leonardo Music
Journal to solicit essays over the years by women about their art. The
Computer Music Journal - its sister publication at MIT - has not made
such a concerted effort and in fact, until about a decade ago seemed to
actually actively campaign against such submissions.

I might also add here that in the same year that the Leonardo/MIT Press
book project was begun (1993) about women and visual artistic
technology, MIT Press actually REJECTED the exact same proposal that I
sent to them about doing a book about women and musical artistic
technology (I still have the letter - they claimed that 'there would be
no market for such a text'!) maybe it
isn't the MUSICIANS that are behind, it is the PUBLISHERS that are!

There are hundreds of women in many countries actively participating in
digital musics - their stories are now beginning to be told.
Everyone pay will be a fascinating ride.

Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner

Dr. Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner
Student Computing Services Manager
UNT Computing Center
ISB 129 940-565-4808

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