The unsung heroines of Punk/Post-Punk/No Wave/New Wave

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 13, 2009 05:46pm | Post a Comment
Since its beginning, rock music has been a male dominated affair. Women, such as Wanda Jackson, were not just anomalies but curiosities. By the '60s there were plenty of girl groups, female soul singers and a few female-fronted rock bands, but the few actually female-dominated rock bands like Ace of Cups, Fanny, The Girls, Goldie & the Gingerbreads (the first all female rock band to sign to a major label) and even the Shaggs aren't exactly household names. That seemed to change in the '70s, when Suzi Quattro and The Runaways seemed to lessen the shock of seeing girls wielding instruments. Whether he was joking or not, Roger Ebert took credit for the girl rock revolution by creating the Carrie Nations in his screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Things really began to change with onset of the new wave of the late '70s. Not only were there female-fronted bands like Siouxise & the Banshees and Blondie, but there were also bands integrated in various ways, like Talking Heads and later The Mekons, Gang of Four, &c. Now, although you could still listen to the radio for a year without hearing an all-female rock band, it's not entirely out of the question. These bands aren't all entirely comprised of women, but they definitely broke the mold.

The Au Pairs "Come Again"

The Bloods "Button Up" (audio only)

26 women's history fictional films

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 10, 2009 11:06pm | Post a Comment








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Delia Derbyshire - electronic music pioneer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 6, 2009 07:33pm | Post a Comment

The Guardian once described Delia Derbyshire as “The unsung heroine of British electronic music,” seemingly implying that there are other heroines of British electronic music that are more widely… sung. I suppose there is Daphne Oram but the English never use less than three adjectives when one will suffice, so let’s just say that Delia Derbyshire is an unsung heroine of music. That she happens to have worked primarily in electronic music is secondary and that she was British shouldn't be held against her. She was a wizard and pioneer who, instead of guarding her magical abililties, eagerly shared her techniques and discoveries, but was stifled by the BBC’s draconian demands that their artists work and die in anonymity.

Delia was born in Coventry on May 5th, 1937. As a girl, she learned piano and violin and attended Barr's Hill School. She later attended college at Girton in Cambridge. After initially pursuing studies in math, she switched courses to music before graduation. After graduation, she began to look for work in the music field, quickly butting up against the deeply entrenched sexism of the field. In fact, in 1959, upon applying for a job at Decca, she was flatly told that their policy was to not hire women to work in the studios. The United Nations proved more diplomatic than the folks at Decca, and she worked there for a short while. Then she returned to England and found employment at the London-based music publisher, Boosey & Hawkes. She didn’t stay long.
In 1960, she was hired as a trainee studio manager at the BBC, working with the Radiophonic Workshop, then just a few years old. It was an organization charged with producing experimental incidental music and sound effects for the BBC Third Programme’s radio plays in cases where the normal orchestral score was deemed inappropriate. Her predecessors had included Harry Desmond Briscoe and Daphne Oram, two noted pioneers of electronic music and musique concrète.
Derbyshire came on board following Oram’s departure, as part of a group of young artists that also included Brian Hodgson and John Baker. Many of her initial pieces were collaborations with artist/playwright Barry Bermange. One such piece was 1964’s The Dreams, a sound collage of people describing their dreams with Derbyshire's electronic sounds.

Gradually, the Radiophonic Workshop began producing more music and sound effects for television than radio. One year earlier, in 1963, Derbyshire performed her mostly widely-heard work when given the score for Ron Grainer’s theme to a new science-fiction series, Doctor Who. Incorporating filters, tape loops and valve oscillators, she fashioned one of the most memorable pieces of electronic music ever, and one that's especially dear to Whovians. Grainer was so impressed he sought to give Derbyshire co-author credit but the BBC prevented it. Although officially uncredited, the popularity of the theme resulted in her employers giving her many other assignments and she ultimately produced over 200 pieces including noteworthy scores for Great Zoos of the World and Cyprian Queen. The BBC was, however, by no means entirely supportive of her work, rejecting many of her compositions, claiming they were too bizarre, “too lascivious for 11 year olds” and “too sophisticated for the BBC2 audience.”

As a result of the BBC’s restrictions, Derbyshire began to work outside their confines in 1965. Her initial collaborations included working with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Roberto Gerhard (on Anger of Achilles) and Ianni Christou. In 1966, her music was combined with light shows at a festival at Bagnor’s Watermill Theater, perhaps the earliest electronic show even in England. She also recorded a demo, “Moogies Bloogies” with the under-appreciated Anthony Newley, although it was never released. Derbyshire, Hodgson and Peter Zinovieff formed Unit Delta Plus, later exhibiting their music at Zinovieff's Putney townhouse. One such exhibition, The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, (at The Roadhouse in Chalk Farm) included the only public performance of The Beatles' "Carnival of Light.” Derbyshire also provided music for Yoko Ono's "Wrapping Event," in which Ono tied herself to the lion statues (which she’d wrapped in white cloth) on Trafalgar Square.

Unit Delta Plus proved short-lived and broke up after a performance at the Royal College of Art in 1967. Derbyshire next worked with Guy Woolfenden, contributing to the score for Peter Hall's production of Macbeth and, in 1968, his film, Work is a Four Letter Word. Derbyshire again worked with Hodgson in setting up the Kaleidophon studio in Camden Town with fellow electronic musician, David Vorhaus. Along with Vorhaus and Hodgson she formed White Noise and released, through Island, An Electric Storm. When Hodgson and Derbyshire left, White Noise became a solo venture for Vorhaus. Meanwhile, Derbyshire and Hodgson (using the pseudonyms “Li De la Russe,” and “Nikki St. George,” respectively) provided music for The Tomorrow People and Timeslip over at the BBC’s rivals, ITV. If you're like me, you loved The Tomorrow People and it's great theme. On the other hand, if you're like my stepbrother, David, you claimed the sight of a melting, alien Adolf Hitler was the stuff of nightmares and were a big wuss.

In 1973, Hodgson left the BBC and created Electophon with John Lewis. They were later joined by Derbyshire and recorded several albums, as well as the soundtrack to The Legend of Hell House. In 1974, she composed the music for Anthony Roland's award-winning film of Pamela Boone's photography, Circle of Light and the Dutch short, Een van die Dagen. Derbyshire’s complete discography has yet to be fully compiled, but her credits also include the music for the Brighton Festival, the City of London Festival, the RSC Stratford, Greenwich Theatre, Hampstead Theatre and an ICI-sponsored fashion show.

By the early ‘70s, frustrated with music and battling alcoholism and depression, Derbyshire retired from composition and instead found work in art galleries, bookstores, museums and as a radio operator. After many years, she re-entered the music world in 2001, working with Spaceman 3’s Sonic Boom on MESMA (Multisensory Electronic Sounds Music & Art), an organization aimed at advancing electronic music. At the time she said, "Working with people like Sonic Boom on pure electronic music has re-invigorated me. He is from a later generation but has always had an affinity with the music of the ‘60s. One of our first points of contact -- the visionary work of Peter Zinovieff, has touched us both, and has been an inspiration. Now without the constraints of doing 'applied music', my mind can fly free and pick-up where I left off."

Unfortunately for fans, no long after enthusiastically returning to music, Delia Derbyshire died on July 3rd, 2001, in Northampton. Her private collection was bequeathed to Mark Ayres who, in collaboration with Manchester University, is working on fully digitizing her entire catalog of work. As of now, it appears here and there, on Doctor Who, Vol. 1: The Early Years, Doctor Who, Vol. 2: New Beginnings and BBC Radiophonic Music. In 2002, a play about her, Blue Veils and Golden Sands, aired on Radio 4. Two years later, at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre, another play about her, Standing Wave -- Delia Derbyshire in the '60s, proved that this unsung heroine still has her fans, and may someday soon find adequate recognition for her pioneering work.

Talking Book - Just One of Stevie Wonder's Masterpieces

Posted by Miss Ess, February 24, 2009 12:30pm | Post a Comment
An album that consistently brings me to tears is Talking Book by Stevie Wonder.

I was fortunate enough to grow up near a classic independent record store, Village Music, where I purchased Talking Book many years ago during one of my dreamy hours-long visits there.

When I got the album home, I stared and stared at its front. I absolutely love the cover of Talking Book -- on it, Stevie is literally feeling the earth between his fingers, much like he does verbally on the record. He doesn't need to literally see it to understand what it is made of; with music, he captures both the grit and the softness that make up humanity.

Over the years my favorite track has changed bunches of times, but since college I have predominantly played side 2, skipping "Superstition," which kicks it off (killer track, just heard it enough times, plus its mood feels different from the rest of the side), and going straight from "Big Brother" to the end. The four songs that close side 2 of Talking Book are definitely my favorite run of songs on any Stevie album.

Throughout this album, which Stevie largely wrote, produced and played all the instruments on, he touches on unscrupulous politics and the possibility of everlasting love with salient clarity. He sheds light on the daily lives of those living in poverty, noting that the corrupt politicians in charge, not the poor, "will cause [their] own country to fall" (still quite apt these days). He also sings songs with overwhelming optimism regarding love despite past disappointment, both in himself and in others. The album captures an illuminating feeling of hope, a vibrant sense of anticipation.

I'm continually staggered by the fact that over all the years I have been listening to this album, my enjoyment of it only grows.

Here's a '95 performance of "Big Brother" -- not nearly as good as on the album, but fun to see and hear, nonetheless:

What Your Favorite Fleetwood Mac Member May Say About You...

Posted by Miss Ess, February 5, 2009 02:39pm | Post a Comment
One of the best things about working at Amoeba is that I am surrounded by people who think like me. No, I don't mean we all worship Brian Wilson and Jeff Mangum and listen neverendingly to Roy Harper imports... I just mean that employees here always already relate everything back to music somehow. Our life lessons are only concrete when they are reverberating in song.

A friend and I were chatting yesterday with a customer at length about Fleetwood Mac. We talked around and finally settled on the idea that you can really tell a lot about someone by which Fleetwood Mac member is his or her favorite. I should add though that we only took into account the band's current incarnation -- this doesn't apply to the Peter Green-era Mac. Anyway, I've been enjoying thinking about it over the past day, so I thought I would share our musings here. Sure, they're reductive, but come play along:

If your favorite Fleetwood Mac member is...

Stevie Nicks: You may have always been a misfit or maybe you just have a flair for the dramatic. You might even have an affinity for crystals and spells. You live life with passion and are an opinionated leader. You are unfailingly guided by your intuition. Just guessing, but I bet somewhere inside you have always been a storm.

Lindsey Buckingham: You have a bit of an ego on you and it takes you time to check out and coif your hair in the mirror every day. You are intelligent and stubborn, and pretty much a perfectionist. I'm not saying you have a lot of chest hair but that might also be the case. And you probably have a penchant for wearing eyeliner (guyliner) on occasion as well.

Christine McVie: Her maiden name was aptly Christine Perfect. You are easy going-- cool as a cucumber, in fact. You are a fairly quiet individual, maybe a bit traditional. Still waters run deep with you. Your face does not often betray your inner emotions, and it's not just from that face lift you had a few years back. You root for the underdog and take pleasure in life's details.

Mick Fleetwood: You are probably a drummer too, or were one in a past life. You really don't care what anyone else thinks about you. Maybe you have a thing for berets too.

John McVie: You are a sarcastic jokester. Or maybe you are one of those people who just has to be different at all costs and likes an argument. You are the kind of person who is perhaps overly self-aware and so defiant that you wear shorts year round -- weather be damned! Look, McVie is clearly not the greatest member of the Mac. He just isn't.

I'm sure many people buck these trends and are nothing like the person they enjoy most in Fleetwood Mac; it's just kind of fun to think about.

The main thing about the Mac is that they are stronger and more powerful, moving and electric, when they join forces together onstage or in the studio -- The Chain, people! Different strokes for different folks is what makes the world go round -- and thank goodness or we wouldn't have an entity as dynamic and flawless as Fleetwood Mac! Truly a supergroup.

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