Electronic Music : Straight Talk

Electronic music artist Atom™ in ASCIIImage via Wikipedia

Music Technology: The Great Democratizer

Lecture from the November 9th Lecture/Recital

Murray State University

IAWM Electronic Music Concert 2010

Today I had several different routes I could follow for this electronic music concert.

1) Number 1. I could hum, hah, and harangue about the injustices in the world. I could give you one example after another about how difficult it is being a composer who is also a woman, who is also young, who is also Latina. I could whine and weep and exhort you to understand the plight of young girls and talented women who face adversity each day when they attempt to convince professional orchestras and opera companies to play their music.

But the truth is: who cares about the few hundred women who have difficulty having a symphony performed when there are billions of women being denied basic inalienable human rights, even the right to be born. Their only crime? XX not XY.

2) Option Number 2. I could give you a historical overview of electronic music. We could sit here and trace the birth of electronic music, from the record player and ondes martenot and theremin all the way through the whacked out 80s with MTV and Laurie Anderson's drum suit. We could talk about France's IRCAM electronic Studios and the contributions of women like composers Pauline Oliveros and Alice Shields. I could mention younger generations of electronic music composers like Kristine H. Burns and Alex Shapiro. But to be honest, you can Google or Wiki almost anything I have to say about electronic music history.

So if you are interested in electronic music history, here is a quick list (quick, write them down):




Ondes Martenot

Pauline Oliveros

EIS System





Mixed media

Dick Higgins

Tape Music

John Cage



O Superman

Wendy Carlos

Louis Barron

Alice Shields

Alicyn Warren

Alex Shapiro


Char Davies

Beth Anderson


Brenda Hutchinson

Joan La Barbara


Laurie Anderson

Laurie Spiegal

Rebecca Allen


Virtual Reality

Bell Labs



Performance Art

Forbidden Planet

Graphic Notation

Yoko Ono



Science Fiction



So. What are we going to talk about today?

Electronic music? Yes.

Technology? Yes.

Women? Maybe.

We are going to talk about YOU. What is happening now in technology, where it's going, what you can do with it.

Technology is the great Democratizer. If I don't want someone to judge me based on my appearance, gender, or age, I can create a new avatar, an identity, all linked to a valid e-mail account and website which tout my achievements without giving away a single personal detail. I can contact someone across the ocean (or even just two blocks away) via text or FB or Twitter, collaborate on a project, distribute it, and never have to meet a living, breathing soul.

What is beautiful about this? If you, or you, or you want to create a great piece of art, whether it is music, or visual art, or an ebook, all you have to do it create it and hit SEND. It doesn't matter if you are ten, or twenty, or one hundred and ten. It doesn't matter if you speak Spanish, or Mandarin, or Arabic. If the music is good, if you know what you are doing, you can share your creations with the world.

Heck, even if your music is bad, someone is bound to like it out there. (Look how many idiots love Kesha and Katie Perry's garbage).

So here is the crux of today's talk:

Five Practical Tips from Someone Who Knows Their Sh*t (stuff)

1. Say Something

Seriously, there is a massively huge world out there. In case you didn't get the memo, the economy sucks, people around the world are starving to death, corporations are raking in billions, and the media keeps shoving expensive crap down our throats.

So say something. Don't waste your talent, whether its in music, or art, or writing, or math, or whatever. Don't waste it. Use it. And make a freaking difference.

Musicians, there are thousands of songs out there about dum tweeny bop crushes and partying. Are we really that lame? There are tens of thousands of string quartets, thousands of symphonies, and tens of thousands of piano solos. Is that what we are about? Tiny little notes on scraps of tree bark?

Make a difference with your music, your art. Change the world one note at a time.

2. Get with the program.

Which program? Garageband, Audacity, Acid, Fruity Loops, Cubase, Cakewalk, Ableton, Logic, ProTools, Finale, Sibelius, PC, Mac, or Linux...it doesn't matter. The program is just the tool, the creator of great music is you. And don't worry if you can't read a note, never wrote a lyric in your life, or don't know a major dominant from a majordomo. Music is sequential and exponential. You learn one new skill today, you will know two tomorrow, and four the next.

I wish I could tell you that I have a top of the line studio back home. That I run everything on only the best equipment in the world, and that I have tens of thousands of dollars of engineering goods at my disposal. Truth is, my studio used to be the most ghetto of studios. For years I composed using a crappy kid's keyboard hooked to a decade old MOTU and used a demo version of Pro Tools. The tools didn't matter. During that same time, one of my film scores made it to the NY International Independent Film Festival, another was a finalist in Miramax's Greenlight Competion, and another was chosen for an international sound festival. My studio was garbage. I am not.

So don't stress what program, just get the program. Any program, and start making music.

3. Get it out there

What's the point of writing the most amazing symphony, love song, or beat in the world if you keep it all to yourself? Get the music out there. You don't need to wait for a contract or someone's permission. Get your music out there.

How are you going to know if it is good or bad or just plain ugly if you keep it safe at home? Set your music free, and wait to see where it lands (or crashes), then write some more. One day you will find that you actually are good at what you do, and you won't even realize it until people start asking you for advice.

4. Keep at it

Figure out why you do what you do. And I am not just talking about music. Why do you study what you study? Find what you are passionate about, whatever it is, and pursue it like a starving wolf hunts its prey. Thirst and hunger for what you do. If you don't care about what you do (what you write), then no one else will care about it. Be passionate, and screw everything else.

5. Share the wealth

Once you get to the point where you are doing what you love and actually living your dream, and you will if you work hard, then share the wealth. Share your knowledge and your experiences. Help those around you get to where you are. It makes you a better person, it helps someone else, and it makes this crazy world just that much more livable.

Now we are going to listen to experimental electronic music by several talented women. These women share nothing but their love of music. They are from different countries with different backgrounds, use different tools, and have entirely different approaches to music.

As you listen, close your eyes and immerse yourself in the sounds. Forget that you are sitting in a lecture hall at Murray State, and enter into an altered state of mind.

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Anonymous said…
Huh... for the sake of your audience, I would say this is pretty inflammatory and alienating:

"Look how many idiots love Kesha and Katie Perry's garbage"

How many such idiots were in your audience?
Anonymous said…
The entire audience. The lecture was to college students, mostly non-music majors. Almost all loved pop music that was big at that time. The point was to jar thought, not give another boring lecture. Even anger is better than apathy. :) Thanks for your comment!

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