(non)academic music and gender issues, etc


Subject: (non)academic music and gender issues, etc
From: Hannah Bosma (hannah@hum.uva.nl)
Date: Sun Jul 18 1999 - 08:15:07 EDT


This discussion about academic ea music reminds me of a discussion some
years ago about this issue, in consequence of the article "Terminal
Prestige" by Susan McClary (McClary, Susan. 'Terminal Prestige: The Case of
Avant-Garde Music Composition'" Cultural Critique 12 (1989): 57-81.).

In this article, she attacks mainly the academic way of thinking of
composers like Milton Babbitt, which makes his music seem "difficult",
"prestigious", etc. (McClary likes Babbitt's music, but for other reasons
the composer wants her to like it.) Her article is a very polemic reaction
against the "who cares if you listen" attitude she perceives in academia.
Since she was so polemic, she evoked a lot of vehement reactions (in
Perspectives of New Music, a.o.).

The problem for me with those polemic, stereotypical black&white pictures
about (non)academic music as sketched by Susan McClary, PAE and others is
that when you look/listen closely, the situation is not so simple, but much
more complex; while on the other hand, I still have the feeling that it
*is* an important issue, but very difficult to put a finger on without
superficial stereotypical generalizations. By making a difference between
Babbitt's way of thinking about music (which she resists) and Babbitt's
music (which she likes) McClary already complicated the issue in an
interesting way.

One thing that complicates the general picture of academic vs. non-academic
music is of course that there always were cross-overs and influences back
and forth between "high" (academia, church, court) and "low" (popular,
folk) music (whether conscious or unconscious). No one is isolated from the
rest of the world.

Another one is that different countries have different academic systems. In
The Netherlands, universities are for science, not for practising art. So
musicolgy/ethnomusicology/music studies etc. is practised and taught at
universities; performing, playing instruments and composing is taught at
conservatories (music art schools). There are also other institutions, like
STEIM, financed by the government. And individual composers can also apply
for governmental financing. Many composers combine composing with teaching
on a conservatory. Some people from STEIM also teach at the conservatory in
The Hague. Many composition-students are interested in "new" developments
in "pop"-music and write/make different kinds of "cross-over" music. Many
composers (whether of "academic", "non-academic" or "mixture" music) have
their own studio's.

Another thing is that due to financial problems of univerisities, there are
almost no good places there for young people. These young academics move in
and out academia all the time and also have to become independent...

Often, reference is made to the White Male Modernist Composer. Although I
see many of them around indeed, I think that
1) modernism is not that monolithic at all; and
2) sadly, it does not mean that there are more women producing post-modern,
non-academic music.

Ironically, at the same time when there are more and more women coming into
academia, the prestige of academia is more and more questioned and the
financing of universities, artschools etc. is becoming less.

The non-academic electronic music world is as much, maybe even more, a
man's world as academia. Learning electronic music skills outside
institutions, from an early age on, relies on male friends, peer grouping,
boys networks, male-oriented magazines, audio- and computershops with
almost exclusively men in it, etc. Is academia in this respect perhaps a
friendlier place for women, because there one can subscribe to a course
instead of finding a boys network to learn electronic music skills?

Take a look for example in the world of electronic dance music, whether
"experimental" or "commercial". Women mainly figure there as singers and
dancers.

Another strange phenomenon is that so much composers of electronic dance /
ambient music are saying (without further explanation) to be influend by
the Greatest White Male Modernist Composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, while I
do not perceive any relation of their music to the music of Stockhausen. I
have a strong feeling that with this reference, these electronic dance /
ambient composers are looking for academic prestige. (See Iara Lee's film
"Modulations", for example; there are only male composers/producers being
interviewed there btw.)

Luckily, more and more women are making academic as well as non-academic
music. Their place in history is still very small, however. In history, we
see fights about "old" and "new", "academic vs. "non-academic", etc., all
the time. The young ones ("sons") fighting against the older ones
("fathers"), while later on the young ones get older and institionalized
too, etc....

Perhaps, for women, other issues are at stake?

Please react!

Best,

        Hannah Bosma

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