Saturday, September 13, 2014



Browse around in the dictionary and read the biographies of celebrity characters always cheer me up. So good to be reminded that such classics as Colette or George Sand struggled all life against fate or exclusion. It gives even more reality to life. See how proper nouns can feel more inspiring than common nouns.

Irving Penn's portrait of Colette

How to define feminine music, a delicate question. Why a feminine music when there is not officially such things as male music in the first place ? What is it that we feel the need of giving this head-ups ? You know what I mean, definitely a delicate matter. Is it because we're more willing to show some fragility in the work, to often give space to the insignificance, the very details. Is it because we, girls, are more willing to remain silent once the work's done, make no big deal of showing how great we are. Is it how the supposed lack of ambition (?!) has made such harm to us, in a sense that we've permanently got that stuff someone has stuck on our back hanging like an April fool, I don't know, nevertheless, I'm proud of what I am and I do love being a woman.

George Sand by Nadar, 1864 

I know that thoughts are real, they cause biological and physiological effects on the body which responds to it, music being one of these mental inputs. So rather than talking genders I should talk mechanics and we're sure all bodies work the same way, aren't we. I remember hearing a Belgian singer named Arno say that he plays music for all those who have two holes in the nose, it certainly is trivial but I quite agree with that. Though, I've been more aware of cultural differences between men and women with time, the edges blur as soon as coming to creative leanings.

An experiment we had with my composition teacher Denis Dufour in acousmatic class proved me how hard it is to assign a gender to a piece of avant-garde music. That was during the weekly listening sessions we used to have all students being gathered in the larger studio of the Conservatoire. He came across the idea of doing a blind test on music and genders. Well the result is that we gave the wrong answer for most of it, we failed miserably, especially when very avant or when no voice in it, how many men sounded feminine.

This shows how deep the subject is and also how clichés are still deep-anchored, though such concepts as gender reveal themselves resistant to time,  it is a very elastic material the mind models; and music's a seashell one can hear the human spirituality through, the dearest thoughts and wishes making waves, crashing against each other, creating pure beauty for the ears. 

Something that has got under my skin from first getting David Bowie's Hunky Dory in 1971, I remember getting the album with my Mum on the bus home I sat staring at the sleeve, she said "he looks like a Girl" - "I know!!" I replied, and the music had this strange quality ex "Oh You Pretty Things" and then "Queen Bitch" that led me straight to the Velvet Underground. I also must add T.Rex and "Ride A White Swan" my first ever single in 1970… Now "Sister Ray" was the track that really hit home to me, I would listen over and over again to this "sound" now this was beyond music, and the start of my infatuation with where sounds could take you.

A few years later Cockney Rebel appeared now again a "sound" thing, they removed the electric guitar from the then current Glam Rock, taking the "Rock" out of Glam Rock. Steve Harley : "at the time the New York Dolls are just a rock band" (echoed by Bowie in 2001!). The early gigs had this strange vibe, I suppose you had to be there for this one, but a real "queer" vibe with the image and the music. Mark Stewart commented loved Bowie but was something else with the early Cockney Rebel gigs. Then things like Robert Wyatt's "Rock Bottom, Can all about "sound" oceanic and as it says in The Sex Revolts.... At their peak, Can's created the ultimate anti fascist music:healing music that melts rigidities of body and mind, music that is in some sense "feminine"despite the all - male personnel of the band. Can's music incarnates the notions of philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari - ideals like "becoming woman","becoming child" and "becoming music". In their worldview, its the becoming that is important - the crossing of boundaries, the process of metamorphosis and migration. Stasis is death, flux is life.

Then you had the punk explosion (see more on the first entry of the column) which covers aspects of this. I must mention Patti Smith as well, a massive inspiration, not just the androgynous look on the Horses sleeve, but the music as well.... and as it says in The Sex Revolts Land "is truly like the ocean wave after wave of noise crashing like breakers, then remounting their assault".

The next sound was probably My Bloody Valentine and "Loveless" this really hit the spot, the ultimate blurring of masculine and feminine in rock music, it actually sounded like i felt, just consumes me, just a beautiful rush of sound, i feel deep within. Androgyny in sound !

Arthur Russell another artist making this cosmic oceanic music that really touches me, also A R Kane.........Arthur Russell.... Becoming-woman, Becoming-child, Becoming-animal, Becoming-cosmic................................. As Tim Lawrence wrote : Russell was able to become-woman not by becoming an actual woman (through a sex change) or attempting to pass as a woman (through drag), but instead through a series of cumulative practices. The contours of Russell’s becoming-woman can be traced to his physical proximity to a series of scenes and, in particular, his avoidance of comparatively macho music cultures that were not only dominated by men (something that defines many music scenes) but perhaps more importantly by men behaving in a masculine way. In the field of art music, Russell steered clear of serialism because of the music’s denial of bodily pleasure and emotional expressiveness, as well as its insistence on molar hierarchy, impermeable aesthetic borders and social stratification. 

Annea Lockwood - Piano Garden, 1969

Instead he gravitated to the field of minimalism/post-minimalism, which was more open to female composers (including Maryanne Amacher, Laurie Anderson, Jill Kroesen and Annea Lockwood); was non-phallocentric in its deployment of tangents, repetition and circularity; and anti-patriarchal in its willingness to dismantle the mind/body binary and give value to the exploration of the non-rational (both bodily and spiritual). Russell’s engagement with the pop/rock terrain followed a similar pattern. He appears to have avoided psychedelic rock in San Francisco because of the culture’s tendency to valorize masculine virtuosity and individuality, after which he co-founded a band whose very name, the Flying Hearts, suggested a form of becoming-woman-ness in its emphasis on emotional connectivity. Lacking a lead vocalist and developing a lulling aesthetic, the Flying Hearts contrasted sharply with the precise, linear, aggressive contours of punk and new wave. And when Russell joined the Necessaries he became unhappy with the band’s tougher sound and heavy reliance on lead singer Ed Tomney, who occupied rock’s well-honed position of man/leader/poet/figure of cool. Meanwhile Russell showed no interest in the angry and sometimes intimidating aesthetic sensibilities and performance rituals that became the hallmark of downtown’s ear-splitting no wave scene."

Avant electronica one of the main places for my fix on this sound, Oval another artist who makes this beautiful sound which i really feel. The Jungle scene also had its moments with as Burial commented its  " forbidden sirens"  loved Omni Trio, Foul Play etc. Musique Concrete, also some beautiful pieces of music, one from Francois Bayle that just morphs and modulates in the most beautiful way, it really touches me, one among many. I must add Maryanne Amacher and her beautiful drones dig deep into the body, she makes a sound that i can actually taste, as Florian Schneider said "sometimes I can taste sound".

Alvin Curran on Maryanne Amacher : "With Maryanne, I felt the woman-power of an artist for the first time in my life. Her unique hearing of sounding events and her loving sensibility toward space, people, and incredibly drawn-out duration, her pure, uncompromising commitment, her unabashed femininity and ironic humor, were for me a musical lesson long overdue. And let’s not forget her husky laugh, her fastest-gun-in-the-West comebacks, her self-acquired scientific sheen, and her ability to drink anyone under the table. Does this explain why she had so few devoted women friends? Why men approached her as one approaches an oracle? Why she worked like a dog and remained poor as a mouse?".

Pauline Oliveros, the sound of Annette Peacock, the way she manipulates her voice, the list is endless : Cathy Berberian, Diamanda Galas, Patty Waters, Yoko Ono, Laurie Spiegel, Anne Lockwood, Eliane Radigue, Christina Kubisch, Meredith Monk.

So i will finish with this from Christoph Cox in Musique Feminine: "Kristeva calls this plane "the semiotic"; and philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari call it the "body without organs". All three maintain that it has a unique resonance with the feminine. For Deleuze and Guattari, the liberating transformation of the human subject and of music into a body without organs first requires a "becoming woman", a dismantling of the libidinal investments that characterise Man and Music as norms, and the cultivation of a broader range of affective relationships. From this perspective, experimental electronic music signals the becoming-woman of music; and women have a privileged relationship to musical experimentation. Here, women do not follow but lead. And this musique feminine offers a glorious world of noise that is hers and, via his becoming-woman, man's as well. "

Now the books I have read that have really helped me get all this stuff straight in my head, 
it has been a revelation for me reading them :
A Thousand Plateaus - Deleuze & Guattari.
The Sex Revolts  - Simon Reynolds and Joy Press.
Deleuze and Music - Edited by Ian Buchanan and Marcel Swiboda.
Living Through Pop - Andrew Blake, Tim Barnes, Jeremy Gilbert, Steve Hawes, 
James Watson, Imruh Bakare, in particular Jeremy Gilbert on "White light/​white heat" 
jouissance beyond gender in the Velvet Underground and his take on Sister Ray which is 
basically where this story starts for me !!!!

So that is it we are just scratching the surface here on something i have lived for a long time. To have Berangere giving her thoughts so great as her music a big part of this whole thing for me, crosses boxes and connects with so many things I love, vivid and complex! Where Music the perfect canal to gather the flow of thoughts, give a meaning to music and somehow make it my own seems so natural that way. See you next week for some more.