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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Giving Birth to Sound: Women in Creative Music (Buddy's Knife, 2015) ****


By Paul Acquaro

What a nice concept - this book, edited by publisher Renate Da Rin and co-edited by bassist William Parker, explores how gender and experiences have shaped the creative work of women who have made their careers in music. I was only three interviews in when I was struck by both the simplicity of the books construct and how, because of its approach, it drew such rich insights from the subjects. 

Here is how the topic is approached: each musician (48 musicians in all drawn from a broad swath  of the classical and jazz world) are asked a set of questions that are laid out at the start of the book. Ranging from the personal 'Did your parents encourage you to become an artist/musician?' To gender bias 'how has being a woman held you back in the development of your musical career?' to the creativity 'what is your process and system of putting music together?' and beyond (spirituality, truth, politics - you know - the fuzzy stuff). Perhaps from a researchers point of view, some these questions may be a bit leading, but that seems to work well for the editors.

For example, here is what saxophonist Lotte Anker says about gender biases found throughout culture: 
The hidden and subtle discrimination is for example when writers (and others) define you as gender/sex before artist/musician/human being. Or when gender stereotypes are reproduced in media, in commercials or in education among kids: for example never questioning why the girls run over to (or are put behind) a vocal microphone and the boys run to a guitar or to drums. Or when some promoters want to be progressive and support female musicians but end up ghettoizing them.
Or Violinist Renee Baker who addresses the historical role of women supporting partners at the expense of their own careers:
A part of me just decided that I could support other artists but my talents would not take a back seat for the sake of saving someone else's ego. I believe men expect to be supported and women don't expect success.
And there are moments of plain heartfelt advice. Says pianist Marilyn Crispell:
My advice to women or men who are trying to live the life of an artist is just to be true to yourself. Follow your heart, and do the best you can. It's probably not going to be easy, financially, emotionally, physically, but if it's something you NEED to do because you can't imagine not doing it and feel driven from the deepest part of your being, you will find some way to do it.
Without a running narrative or an attempt by the editors to intervene, they let their subject's word's fill the page. Some don't even answer the questions as much as improvise off of them like flutist Nicole Mitchell's story telling appraoch. Typographic changes indicate the answers to different questions, and through it, the book ceases to be a Q&A and rather becomes a musical text. The strands of thoughts flow together and apart, creating their own vignettes, clouds of thoughts, and articulated feelings.

The end result is a book that can be read as you please: be deep and methodical, connect the questions and answers, or let it flow around you, absorbing the text like sound. While not exactly focused on free-jazz, Giving Birth to Sound is an interesting book, built upon a simple concept that asks questions without solid answers, and asks you to examine attitudes and challenge perceptions.

3 comments:

Colin Green said...

An excellent and nicely balanced review, Paul. I particularly liked the Crispell quote.

Stef said...

It would be good to have some Women in Creative Music to also write about it : the Free Jazz Collective could do with some gender diversity!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your review, Paul!
Highly appreciated.
Renate Da Rin