As Winnipeg's New Music Festival approaches, we meet four sonic sculptresses who ushered us into the sound world of the future.
WNMF 17 is coming.
I am, personally, very excited.
I thought it would be nice to start preparing our ears and minds for the onslaught of awesome with some of the most brilliant women working to change the sonic landscape of the 20th century. Born between 1925 and 1937, each of these characters had a particular part to play in the evolution of electroacoustic music and sound art. I've even given them all titles! Anyway, let's get to it.
A few episodes ago, I talked a little about the two Pierres and Musique Concrète. In passing, I also mentioned a woman named Daphne Oram as the genre's British representative. Well, that's not all she did. In another episode titled Painted Sounds, we explored the magic of Evgeny Slopo's Variophone which translated photographed patterns into sound. Ms. Oram had yet more ideas about the synthesis of graphic sound.
This co-founder of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop deserves more of an introduction than that. She explains her techniques and her inspirations in this relatively comprehensive retrospective of her work from – conveniently – the BBC.
Daphne Oram: the innovator
Our next character in this history is Delia Derbyshire. Enchanted by sound, Delia applied to work in production at Decca Records after earning BAs in both Math and Music at Girton College, Cambridge, but was denied employment. Why? You guessed it (so long as you guessed that it was because she's a she). Luckily, Daphne Oram had set a different sort of standard at her Radiophonic Workshop – Delia started her work there in 1960. Check out filmmaker Kara Blake's documentary about this underrated sonic cowgirl.
Delia Derbyshire: the prodigy
Now, to France! It was, in fact, a radio broadcast of Pierre Schaeffer's Musique Concrète that inspired a young French pianist/composer to seek his tutelage. Starting in the early 1950s, Éliane Radigue studied with Schaeffer and later worked as Pierre Henry's assistant in the 60s. It was after a move to New York that her own compositional voice, her most organically visceral storytelling, first came through with the help of the monophonic analog ARP 2500 Modular Synthesizer. From Ars Electronica, an IMAfiction feature on this synthetic siren.
Éliane Radigue: the storyteller
The lesson to learn from our next aural activist is how to listen. Pauline Oliveros started with an accordion. Then a violin came into the picture... Later, a french horn and a tuba. Experimenting with electroacoustic techniques in California, she was one of the founding members of the San Francisco Tape Music Centre in 1962. It was the Vietnam war, however, that changed her sonic aesthetic to meditations in sound (and silence), anticipating her experiments in Deep Listening and her ideology of sonic awareness. We lost Pauline at the end of 2016, but her legacy is as solid as her black belt in karate. Bay area public media company KQED featured Oliveros in an episode of Spark, a series dedicated to regional persons of interest. Check it out.
Pauline Oliveros: the listener
Tune in next Wednesday for another episode of Mid-week Musicology here on Classic107.com!