This morning I read an email thread on 80c (a group for artists using free software) discussing the underrepresentation of women in F/LOSS (Free, Libre and Open Source Software) – although the discussion relates to women in tech and computer music more generally also, it seems to be a much greater problem in F/LOSS.
This report has some useful discussion and statistics:
As a follow up to this Alex Mclean wrote a post suggesting a theory for exclusion in free software as lying in general boundaries to entry into programming and a lack of confidence preventing long term commitment (later edited removing the comments about confidence).
I had been thinking a lot last summer about how positive discrimination and attempts to engage women in tech – if not well thought out – can be just as damaging and off-putting to women involved in or interested in tech so I posted the following reply to Alex’s post (apologies that I was too lazy to turn it into a proper blog post!):
Interesting theory… but im not sure i agree. I think its more likely a problem with deep rooted gender stereotyping not yet having been addressed in this area.
Your final paragraph appears to characterise excluded groups (women being one of them) as being low in confidence and therefore not being able to apply themselves to the difficult task of learning how to programme. But I dont think it the case that women are inherently low in confidence for technical tasks. They are however culturally conditioned to have low confidence in this area.
I really think that a large amount of the exclusion of women stems from their objectification in tech. I’ve regularly had people say thing along the lines of (paraphrasing obviously) ‘oh, it’s weird your into this, women usually aren’t', or ‘oh it’s great that you’re into this even though you’re a woman’. i.e. the reaction is not ‘what do you do in this community’ but rather ‘oh, you’re a woman in this community’. This isn’t to say that people are often reacting negatively (although this has been an occaisional experience – for example when i once got completely cut out of a conversation that I had been part of because it got a little technical and the men conversing assumed that I would no longer be able to participate!), but they are often acting as though I’m a novelty or an oddity.
I also had a frustrating experience at ICMC last year where someone decided to organise an unofficial ‘Ladies Dinner’. This isn’t something i would usually attend as i dont believe in gender segregation but a couple of people that I wanted to speak to were going so I went along. However the result of this was that I then spent the majority of the rest of the week talking about how women are underepresented in computer music and the problems with this rather than talking about computer music, which is what I went there for! In the same week i was asked to apply for a commission specifically for female composers, which i did slightly begrudgingly as I have mixed feelings about whether this type of commission is promoting or segregating women. (i had intended to blog about this at the time but didnt want to jeopardise the commission by having ‘anti-feminist’ online rants!)
So, it seems as though women who are in tech are expected to talk about being a woman in tech, rather than talking about the tech itself. Early on in my masters degree i got labelled a feminist by my course mates – the vast majority of whom were male. As far as i could see I hadn’t really done much at this point to warrant this title aside from occaisionally complain about chauvinistic or mysogynst comments idly made by people who didnt realise what they had said was sexist.
Since then I’ve been involved in a large amount of discourse about being a woman in computer music and have in a sense accidentally – but willingly – lived up to the feminist title that was put upon me.
I also have had a number of opportunities come my way where my first thought has been that probably I’ve been asked to do this as they needed a token woman, I could be being paranoid here but when you’re in a serious minority and often judged on your gender rather than your merit it’s hard to know when someone genuinely likes your work, so I often find positive discrimination as much of a problem as negative discrimination.
My point of this being (finally), that maybe if we weren’t told so often that women are low in confidence in tech and need extra help to get into it then maybe we wouldn’t be so low in confidence in tech.
I really do care about the fact that women are underrepresented in tech communities and I do think that more should be done to discourage their exclusion. But i sometimes find that postiviley discriminatory discourse that characterises women as an other or seperate category or as needing extra help to reach the same technical and confidence levels as men is often as unhelpful as the negatively discriminatory cultural conditioning of women being objectified or less able to carry out tech tasks, and maybe if men in tech could talk to the women in tech on the same level as they talk to other men, with the same amount of confidence in their abilities and about what they’re doing rather than about the fact they’re a woman (celebratory or otherwise) maybe there would be less of a problem.
The piece XYZ that I worte for BiLE has been featured in a new e-zine, CNCPTN by Simon Kinch. The e-zine is available online at: http://cncptn.com/ and is also available as a downloadable pdf. The e-zine aims to showcase music from young composers with a strong conceptual or design element.
‘ + NEW SOUND BY CONCEPT AND DESIGN
10 works by 10 young composers and artists; where each piece has been conceived not only with the final sonic result in mind, but also to express or represent some pre-conceived concept or design.
CNCPTN is a new bi-monthly e-zine focusing on the concepts and designs behind the work by selected young composers and artists.
Each issue will profile the concepts and designs behind this type of composition and artwork, providing a platform for composers and artists to display more than just the audio they create, no matter how detailed or abstracted the original stimulus may be.’
I just got round to consolidating BiLE‘s aims in starting a laptop ensemble into something coherent… Thoughts, comments, criticisms welcome!
On the forming of a Laptop Ensemble:
- Democratic approach: BiLE rejects the notion of an autocratic ensemble with a top down approach in which the roles of composer/programmer, leader, performer are discrete and hierarchical. BiLE instead supports the approach of integration, collaboration and the blurring of the distinctions between, composer-performer-collaborator in a democratic non-authoritarian ensemble.
- Collaboration: BiLE supports the production of scores and collaborative compositions where the framework is such that each composer-performer is free to interpret the sound production elements of the piece. Thereby allowing each member to contribute their ideas and imagination to every performance.
- Musicality: BiLE asserts that Musicality should be at the forefront of the priorities of any music making ensemble. Therefore technological concerns are subservient to musical intentions and musicality is central to the criteria set out to define the ensemble.
- Inclusivity: BiLE is an inclusive ensemble with criteria for membership based on similar musical aesthetics and a high quality and complementary musical output rather than specific technical skills. This makes BiLE a creatively rather than technically focussed ensemble. BiLE members should be experienced in Composition and/or performance and dedicated to ensuring all creative output is of high quality.
- Cross-Platform: BiLE’s commitment to inclusiveness necessitates the ensemble to be cross-platform. Any ensemble member is free to use the software they feel is most suited to the performance and their technical skill level. BiLE has developed their own networking tools in order to facilitate this cross-platform approach.
- Open Support Forum: BiLE members should support each other in the creation of quality musical performances and in the production of new works through technical and musical guidance shared with other members of the ensemble. The rehearsals should be an open forum for ideas and discussion on music, technology, performance, improvisation and other matters relating to the ensemble.
- Communication: BiLE are committed to sharing their creative output with their audiences in as inclusive a way as possible. BiLE feel that visual aspects are an important communication tool in any performance and as such include visuals and movement as appropriate to the aesthetics of the piece being performed. BiLE shall also engage in talks and demo’s before or during performances to facilitate audience understanding of BiLE’s creative process and performance aesthetic.
- Progressive Experimentalism: BiLE should be a progressive ensemble priotritising experimentalism over historicism. BiLE should consider and utilisie the possibilities available by virtue of being a networked laptop ensemble and should not rely on old musical forms and structures to develop their creative output. Exploring the new forms and creativity that can be developed by the use of this technology is desirable so long as an emphasis on musicality is maintained.
I’m off to Venice this weekend (infact in about 12 hours or so) to perform with BiLE (Birmingham Laptop Ensemble) at Laptops Meet Musicians Festival atFoundazione Giorgio Cini. (hopefully with time to fit in a gondola and a pizza!)
We are playing two pieces: my piece XYZ (or Sonic Arm Wrestlers) and Partially Percussive by fellow BiLE member Charles Celeste Hutchins.
And a recording of Partially Percussive:
We’ll be repeating the performance in Birmingham and playing another piece: EA Sonata for Cello by Julien Guillamat at SOUNDkitchen‘s SONICpicnic on 29th July- so dont worry if you cant make it to Venice on Monday!
So I finally got round to uploading some of my newest tracks (wahey)!
They’re recordings from a collaborative project I did with Kurly McGeachie - an up-and-coming star of the Birmingham Performance Poetry scene.
We worked together to come up with two pieces which were performed at We Are Birmingham in February - here they are:
You can also find them on my Music page along with some more of my music
(I’ll be uploading some more music soon! Watch out!)
So it turns out that 2011 is pretty hectic… as i guess you can tell from the fact it’s now almost half way through the year, and my last post was in the final throes of 2010!
So now for the excuses: So far this year i think I’ve been involved in 4 new projects, written 25 minutes of music, performed 8 times, and been involved with the organisation of 10 events and got into the habit of functioning on very little sleep… not so surprising then that blogging has slightly slipped down the priority list…
HOWEVER I’m back and with a new resolve to update the 2 or 3 people who’ve ever read my blog with what’s been going on in the world of my music and interesting stuff that’s happened in Birmingham.
Keep checking back for new blog posts and updates to the other parts of my site (added some links to some better maintained websites than my own, a page where you can find out when and where my music is being played and updated the ‘Who am I?’ page so that it’s actually relevant)…
That’s all for now, have a good day!!!
I am no longer surprised by Birmingham City Councils cuts to BCMG and the other arts organisations who have taken a big hit! On a recent outing to the Prince of Wales in Moseley I had an encounter with Martin Mullaney, Birmingham City Council’s Cabinet Member for Leisure Sport and Culture, and when i asked him about the cuts to BCMG he seemed to be unable to recall who the organisation were (‘er…. Birmingham…. Community….?’) and when i reminded him his response was something along the line of that they give them a lot of money, they don’t really do anything for Birmingham, and never get good audiences to their concerts anyway (maybe you should check your facts Mr Mullaney?!) I tried to suggest that having an ensemble of international standing in the city was in fact good for Birmingham in terms of spreading the reputation of Birmingham as a cultural centre and everything that that brings with it, but according to Mr Mullaney, doing something FOR Birmingham = doing something IN Birmingham, and with their apparent ‘bad concert attendances’ (which in actual fact ive been told was an average of 80% capacity for last year!) BCMG aren’t doing anything IN birmingham.
I wonder whether Martin Mulaney has in fact EVER been to a BCMG concert, or knows ANYTHING about their comprehensive and far-reaching education programme?!
However, further to his argument, Mr Mullaney seemed to suggest that the only art worth supporting is that which works with the impoverished communities of e.g. Handsworth and that supporting art for the white middle classes of Moseley etc should not be the job of the Council… you have to wonder then why the council is choosing to continue to fund the likes of the symphony orchestra, the modern art gallery and the ballet which are stereotypically attended by the middle-classes and exactly what Mr Mullaney thinks is not the job of the council to support!
Mr Mullaney also seemed to have no idea who Birmingham Jazz are (another organisation who are getting a 100% cut!) and suggested that if he hasn’t heard of an organisation then they’re clearly not doing a good job, and probably no one else has heard of them either… im more inclined to think that if the Cabinet Member for Leisure Sport and Culture hasnt heard of an organisation thats getting an 100% cut to their BCC funding then HE’s probably not doing his job very well and should probably find out who they are and what they do before making a decision of that magnitude!
There was of course the ironic news this week that Stephen and Jackie Newbould, the Director and General Manager of BCMG, have been awarded the RPS Leslie Boosey Award affirming BCMG reputation for high quality and progressive music making. Surely this is something that Birmingham City Council and Martin Mullaney should be PROUD to support!