CURRENT SET TO MAKE NOISE
Arts festival focuses on feminism
In June of 2016, the Deep Minimalism festival at London’s Southbank Centre presented a program of key compositions by electronic musicians going as far back as the 1950s. These were artists whose pioneering work shaped the future of the genre.
They were almost all women and largely unrecognized for their achievements alongside far less accomplished male contemporaries.
Artists such as Daphne Oram at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop were key to the development of the modern digital instruments and led to discussions around whether the synth is the ultimate feminist instrument. That, and many other topics, are likely to be presented at CURRENT: Feminist Electronic Art Symposium 2.0.
With a mission statement that “the goal of this symposium is to foster and disseminate feminist content through the cross-pollination of ideas, and intergenerational knowledge sharing,” the event includes five days of programming ranging from exhibitions and concerts to workshops, panels and youth mentorships. It’s the creation of four Vancouver-based women — Nancy Lee, Soledad Fatima Muñoz, Ash Luk and Alexandra Chen — who all were driven to “create a more equal landscape within the growing electronic arts ecology.”
“There is a perception about the arts realm that it is more progressive than it actually is, but we have been working in the electronic music scene for a long time and almost always as the only women” said Muñoz. “Doing my master’s in Chicago, the sound program’s tenured instructors are all white men. So from the D.I.Y. to the academic level, I wouldn’t say that the electronic arts world is that inclusive.”
As a producer and practicing artist, Nancy Lee provides a platform for women and people of colour to showcase their creation at events put on by Chapel Sound. She notes that building a community that is more representative of what the actual population looks like is doing more than changing club culture or the mainstream industries around electronic arts. CURRENT is more than a showcase, it’s a place to gather and distribute the tools and training to achieve one’s goals in a climate that is too often stacked in favour of the power structure.
“We are focusing on a structural change right down to changing the way symposiums work, by making all of our workshops, panels, lectures and presentations free of charge to reduce that major barrier,” said Lee.
“We want to create space and opportunity for women, people of colour, queer and non-binary folks. But we also want to include men of colour and white men because its important to have everyone be part of this feminist dialogue as it takes us all.”
But digging deeper into the subject of feminism also requires the driver’s seat to be occupied by the 30+ artists, performers, filmmakers and speakers appearing at the event. The “dream of a new future” begins changing perspectives.
“We want a symposium that can include everyone, obviously,” said Lee. “But it’s not from a white male perspective. We’re coming from our perspective out on the periphery and making it the centre, right down to the language and topics.”
The organizers recognize that, alongside the political philosophy, there are nuts and bolts building blocks too. In presentations and workshops ranging from Pitching Your Project to the NFB Interactive Studio or Grant Funding 101 with CreativeBC, MusicBC and FACTOR to Intro to gear with Girls Rock Camp or Intro to DJing for women/nonbinary/ LGBTQ21A+, participants will both learn and connect with the community.
Like pretty much everyone in the Lower Mainland and, increasingly, any urban area of the province, price and availability loom large.
“We’re running out of space, literally, as we are getting pushed out of our studios and priced out,” said Muñoz. “Being a woman of colour from refugee parents, I don’t have the same money that someone from a different background has so I can’t access all the same
synths the bros can, and that’s not fair. But it can also be a good thing, because it’s led me to build my own instruments, learn open source programs and create a different sound that combats the monoculture that has been sustained for so long by those with money and power.”
You can hear the results of Muñoz and others’ efforts in the numerous performances at CURRENT. The founders’ deep connections to their disciplines have led to the symposium featuring some really exciting names.
Highlights include heralded Brooklyn-based Peruvian sound artist Maria Chavez dropping a session in abstract turntablism to late night sessions with artists as varied as Queens-based soundscapist Stud1nt to locals like Goo, whose Where the Green Ants Dream is one crazy, tripped-out slice of mind-altering swooshes and eerie belltones. This opportunity to deepen knowledge of the female talent out there in the local electronic scene is, sadly, rare.
“We are working in so many mediums, all the time, that it can sometimes be a challenge to define what you do,” said Muñoz. “And you don’t have to.”
“It’s all in the digital realm now, whether it’s art, music, film, etc.,” said Lee. “All the mediums are overlapping, and we’ve been building on this one on top of the other.”
Two years on, CURRENT appears to be achieving its capacity building goals and that can’t but help the overall creative environment.
There is a perception about the arts realm that it is more progressive than it actually is, but we have been working in the electronic music scene for a long time and almost always as the only women.