Relatively recently, I posted Pauline Oliveros' 1970 New York Times article “And Don't Call Them 'Lady' Composers” on my Facebook page, garnering some interesting conversation. The place of woman-identifying artists has been, and continues to be, a topic of debate. Linda Nochlin's 1971 article for ARTNews critiqued the question after which the article is entitled: “Why have there been no great women artists?” The cheeky byline for Nochlin's piece: “or, silly questions deserve long answers.” It's almost surprising that this conversation keeps needing to be rehashed. It is telling that many things haven't changed all that much since Nochlin's piece was reposted on the ARTnews website last spring.
As Nochlin argued, we mistake whatever is as what is natural, and so we must question these assumptions designated as facts. She states that “the very position of woman as an acknowledged outsider, the maverick ‘she’ instead of the presumably ‘one’—in reality the white-male-position-accepted-as-natural, or the hidden ‘he’ as the subject of all scholarly predicates—is a decided advantage, rather than merely a hindrance of a subjective distortion.” This “outsider” position affords woman something that the “white-male-position-accepted-as-natural” can't see; its “ideological limitations,” “intellectual distortions,” and “conceptual smugness.”
A show at the end of January at Cherub's Den, a house venue located in the Kirkwood neighborhood in Atlanta, was a refreshing albeit not extremely experimental show that featured four solo performances by woman-identifying musicians.
Cherub's Den hosts shows of various kinds: acoustic, experimental, punk, but also general variety shows. The venue was originally called LadyHouse when a previous group of women were living there, but changed names when Madeline Polities, Lucy Kilgore, and Eva Marie Nelson moved in and started booking shows. Eva describes how the venue does “have some all-ladies shows and we are a house full of ladies booking shows, but [we’re] not advertising it that way. It's just something that should be happening more naturally; not making it a thing.” In light of the upcoming LadyFest Atlanta, WUSSY’s guest editors for the week, it's important to situate the festival within a broader context of gender and music.
The January 30, 2016 show at Cherub's Den, which was wide-ranging and generally engaging, featured four solo performers—Dromez, Rin Larping, Celines, and Chelsea Dunn. The night started off with Chelsea Dunn (ATL). She has been playing in the two-person experimental music project Dux with Casey Battaglino since 2014—Chelsea on cello, Casey on analog synth—but for her show at Cherub's Den, Chelsea was solo on cello, contact mic'd and sent to pedals. Next up was Celines (ATL), a solo project of Valentina Tapia, using a sampler and vocals. Lindsay Smith's solo project Rin Larping's (ATL) set comprised improvisations using a cat piano, contact mic, and various pedals. Dromez (Dayton), who ended the night, produced a harsh noise set using metal sheets to produce sound. Her set was a physical exercise in sound. On tour from Dayton to Miami for INC (International Noise Conference) and then up to NYC, Dromez melted faces.
Shows like these, which feature woman-identifying performers without the usual fanfare of promoting the show as such, are important in figuring and reconfiguring the landscape of electronic and experimental music. As of late, there has been more attention paid to the “invisible women” in electronic music, the early “pioneers” that have been overlooked or forgotten. The lists usually name Ada Lovelace, Delia Derbyshire, Pauline Oliveros, and Annette Peacock, among others. Writing in Wire, Abi Bliss argues that this “fetishizing” of the woman musical “pioneer” only serves to reinforce the separation of women musicians from the “normal” course of music and sound-making. She writes that “presenting them as oddities and exceptions to the rules of their times risks banishing them to their own special glass cases, away from the main exhibits in the museum of musical history.” Male musician “pioneers,” on the other hand, are considered avant-gardists, producing and fueling the next generation of experimenters.
Electronic musician and experimental vocalist Antye Greie-Ripatti (poemproducer aka AGF) produced “NERDGIRLS - herstory of electronic music,” which presents a more comprehensive narrative of woman-identifying electronic musicians. The project, which was commissioned by Club Transmediale Berlin, as well as the internet network and database for female artists female:pressure (of which she is part of the core group), seeks to provide an alternative history that doesn't consider women musicians as rogue outsiders that emerge at random times. Rather, the site and the herstory counter the myth that there aren't women in the field; it's that they're not being recognized. Lindsay Smith stated in an interview with Creative Loafing that she felt that Atlanta provided an accessibility that other cities don't have in comparison. I wouldn't say that I necessarily agree with this sentiment, but I will take it as a call to continue to do better.
I'm excited to continue to see shows at Cherub's Den from these artists and others, in particular Chelsea Dunn's work as a solo performer and with Dux. Dux's processes of making music, which produces a resonant relationality in its sculpting of sound, is compelling. I think that we can look at Dux's processes of composing, improvising, and experimenting as a metaphor for the work that we can continue to do as curators, show bookers, music producers, artists, and audiences. We can look beyond what we think we know and control, stop searching for the particular “source” of the sound, and listen to how it's sounding, what it's doing, and what kind of world it's making.
Meredith Kooi is a visual and performance artist, curator, and critic based in Atlanta, GA. She is chief-editor-curator-director of ALTERED MEANS, an amorphous curatorial platform she founded in 2014, and she has also been since 2011 the editor and assistant director for Radius, an experimental radio broadcast platform based in Chicago. She is currently a PhD candidate in the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts at Emory University where she is finishing her doctoral dissertation that develops a feminine poetics of transmission art.