By the 21st century, a book like Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound (Duke) should be a curio, a relic of a bygone age when albums and live performances by women making electronic music were overlooked or unknown. Unfortunately, a full third of the 24 interview subjects in Pink Noises were new to me—and I'm supposedly fluent in what's happening in the avant.
Conducted and compiled by Tara Rodgers, Pink Noises is an excellent addition to a still-too-short shelf of anthologies that compile composer interviews such as Soundpieces by Cole Gagne and William Duckworth's Talking Music. Like Gagne and Duckworth, Rodgers heeds no boundaries, venturing across styles and genres from improvised electronics (Ikue Mori, Kaffe Matthews) to turntablists (Maria Chavez, DJ Mutamassik) to instrument inventors and designers (Carla Scaletti, Jessica Rylan) to those who work collectively (Le Tigre) and take unusual approaches to installations and field recordings (Annea Lockwood, Christina Kubisch).
Rodgers begins the book with the godmother of electronic music, Pauline Oliveros, whose explorations of sampling and loop-based performance in the 1960s foreshadowed how most electronic music is made today. After emerging in what was formerly an aggressively all-male domain, Oliveros cautions that, still today, "You see all-male performances, programs, you see all-male faculties, music by men—you don't see any place for yourself."
Rather than follow a chronology, Raodgers groups the interviews under rubrics that connect seemingly disparate work. Under "Space and Perspective," composer Maggi Payne states, "I'm sculpting the space or changing the architecture of the sound so that it becomes a tiny point source [then] a huge trapezoid," while improvising turntablist Chavez emphasizes the relationship between space, performance, and the audience: "I think people have a view of being loud, being abrupt, as being aggressive. But silence is really aggressive, too."
The accumulation of interviews in Pink Noises reinforces the truth that every artist follows a unique path. Susan Morabito recalls initial struggles to get gigs with inspiring frankness, Eliane Radigue details how she makes her sumptuous droneworks with an ARP synth and why it was crucial for her to forsake the instrument's keyboard, and Bevin Kelley of Blevin Blectum offers sensible advice: "I don't think you need to be able to build the computer to make good music with computers."
Pink Noises makes no claim to being complete. Indeed, anyone aware of exploratory electronic music can point to missing figures Laurie Spiegel, Hildegard Westerkamp, Judy Klein, Brenda Hutchinson, Michèle Bokanowski, Roxanne Turcotte, Alice Shields, Ruth Anderson, Joan Schuman, Elainie Lillios, Marina Rosenfeld, Natasha Barrett, Olivia Block, Laeticia Castaneda, Sawako, Meri von Kleinsmid, Bonnie Jones, Liz Allbee, Joy von Spain, and maybe you. I'm hoping for a sequel.