Her Noise – Meet The Womanchine
Yesterday I was lucky to attend a creative workshop on Sound, Gender, Feminism and Activism at the London College of Communications. I’m still recovering from the (happy) shock of being in a room packed full of people who get excited about the same things as me – making electroacoustic music, adventures in sound, women in music, gender equality – and being able to talk together, easily, without having to explain too much.
We listened to a talk about how sound engineers are taught to “clear up the clutter” of mid-to-low range frequencies in female vocals to – in the words of one Kelly Clarkson – “compress the hell” out of them to produce the hard, shiny, flat sound of commercial recordings. This was followed by a marvellous anecdote about Bjork poking her engineer with a stick whenever he reached for the EQ (there was no EQ or compression used on her vocals for Biophilia). One upside of producing your own work is that you can preserve the tonal and emotional range of your vocal expression without having to reach for the stick, even though it makes mixing a more lengthy and considered task.
I could – and should, and may yet – write an epic post about the event, linking to the blogs of all the speakers – but at the moment there’s just time to share this piece of 1930′s film, which a filmmaker presented as part of her research into gender and the machine. It’s the original vocoder, operated very skilfully by a woman to produce a male voice. Get your head around that act of sonic gender b(l)ending!
I also learned about BBC radiophonic workshop pioneer Daphne Oram who, perhaps because she wasn’t responsible for the eminently hummable Dr Who theme tune, preferring more abstract sonic territory, is less well-known than Delia Derbyshire. Here is Daphne’s ‘Pompie Ballet.’ Only one word for it – Oramic. And magic.