In a Nutshell [No.2]

Introduction by Semay Wu

Our second event was held on 26th of April, 18:45 pm at Studio 1, The Royal Conservatory in The Hague. The speaker of the day was Anne La Berge (flutist/improviser/composer stretches across international and stylistic boundaries. and the panellists were Mariette Groot (who runs a mobile store called Underbelly, offering records, books, magazines, films and small musical instruments., and Ji Youn Kang (a composer, sound artist and noisist based in The Hague.
from the last event, together with Anne.

Anne La Berge’s talk

To be Curious

Anne has a force that allows her to talk to the audience in a very engaging and truthful manner. Her engagement with the listeners bring them to attend her words and her gestures in such a way that it almost becomes intimate. She pronounces strong, and leaves long enough silences to bring important points home. Somehow, by looking directly into curious eyes and talking about being curious, it seems to work on many a level of understanding and empathy. The idea of curiosity is one that supposes a self-confidence to finding out about things. Something that perhaps closes the gap between thinking and doing, or query and knowledge. How do we nurture this curiosity towards the gender issue when our societies have suppressed it for some, and supported it for others? If this issue is problematic, then why? What exactly should we acknowledge as being fundamental towards the ever-wide gap that propels gender to take sides?

Anne’s own curiosity carried her alongside a rising doubt that something was not right: how do you answer the inner doubt of who you are, and what your role is in society? Isn’t it what we all have, to want to stand up as we are and be counted; to be able to make our own decisions; to strengthen the foundation of our skills? Curiosity, it seems, is a necessity that allows you to cross over the rickety bridge that threatens to block your advancement in life, if you fear the plummeting depths below.

By sharing her own background with us, we see how the notion of female role-models is a very important deal-breaker. Without them, we need to work harder to pull ourselves up, to imagine who we could be, and how far we can see ourselves become. This also applies to all other identities who feel that they have very few role-models to aspire to.

The awareness of this important matter should propel us to look around us, and become active in our support for the exposure of female role-models. The question is, who are they? By being active in including female role-models in our choices, we allow a richer discourse to happen within our daily conversations, opinions and actions.

Anne’s talk:

* In our adolescent years, who are the female role-models that we can aspire to, who are composers? Does this influence our decisions whilst trying to establish our own role in society? Is the career path as a female composer a viable option? Questions are asked about what you will imagine yourself to be.

As a child, Anne presumed that all opportunities would be open to her. Yet because she didn’t know of any female composer during her education, she concluded that – as a woman – it was not something she would do herself. Not having female role-models made a great impact on her initial decisions. Since then, she counts her role-models to be of all ages, for example, amongst her younger colleagues, such as Marie Guilleray, a composer-performer who lives in The Hague.

* Establishing career: Years of researching performance techniques as a virtuoso performer from the age of 17 (flutist) of contemporary music for other – usually male – composers. After working for some years like this, Anne decided to take on the task of creating an environment of her own. She decided to pursue a career where she balanced her roles as an interpreter of composers’ scores, and as a composer-performer of her own work. In Holland, she created a space which would allow improvisers and composer-performers of electronic music (male and female) to develop and exchange their skills and define new categories to describe the music she was interested in.

* La Berge initiated the Amsterdam based concert series Kraakgeluiden, and the series ran for many years. About 60% of the time Anne La Berge was the only woman in the room, whether she was behind the bar or on stage. It struck her that her male colleagues had created a certain common language, where she felt unable to join “their game”. This game of giving each other gigs and opportunities at these events, was not extended towards her. Often her role was reduced to getting them another drink, insuring their audio was working and/or to pay them.

* Towards the end of the series, Anne’s curiosity turned towards inviting the musicologist Helen Metzelaar to write an article about this phenomenon which was published in Organised Sound in 2004(1). Metzelaar came to the conclusion that the basic communication skills – that humans develop as children on the playground – continue when they are professional adults: boys would gather in the centre to kick balls and wrestle, whilst girls would watch and wait along the side lines making strategies.

* Emotion is the underpinning quality of all communication: using language, body language, spoken language, musical language and/or artistic visual languages. In this context, the different “isms” – being racism, age-ism, or sexism – are very similar, and are in fact inside the same phenomenon.

* As Anne wanted to change this gender dynamic she decided to become a “player” and she entered “the political game” proactively: taking responsibility on the Board of Directors of the organisation Women and Music in the Netherlands(2). Her goal was to bring the existence of creative women in music to the attention of the general audience and the funding organisations. She organised a few significant events hoping to bring together women composers in the Netherlands to work with each other, and to support each other. During this time and to her surprise, a significant group did not join her efforts to create an active network of female composers that would work with and for each other.

* Anne raised the question that many female artists face, namely the decision to raise a child. If the fact that when/if the biological clock strikes, how great an impact does this have on a woman’s career?

* Gender Balance in general is always changing. Gender Balance is a process. Geographic, historic, political and social circumstances determine the changing roles of who we are as male and female and the changing ‘isms’, and gender-isms.

(1) METZELAAR, Helen. (n.d.) Women and “Kraakgeluiden”: the participation of women improvisers in the Dutch electronic music scene. Organised Sound, 9(2), 199–206. August 2004. doi:10.1017/S1355771804000287

(2) Stichting Vrouw en Muziek

Panel discussion with Anne, Ji Youn, and Mariette

Discussion points:

  • How do terms such as ‘composer’ limit and define us and our work?
  • How these terms can lead to self doubt and a lack of acknowledging the value of our work?
  • How can we broaden these definitions and allow for more diverse interpretations and approaches rather than having them be defined by historical, economic and educational structures.

Notes: This is more constructive than the act of defining yourself in other terms…because you do not agree with the current definition as it is. Taking ownership of terms such as composer.

Formal educations (phd) are valuable in some aspects (money, recognition, exchange of ideas) but it does not guarantee that you will have more creative force.

No prerequisites to creativity.

  • The importance of taking ownership of your work and developing the ability to communicate on a technical level.
  • How does gender influence the ways in which we are educated and how we approach education? Or vice versa, how education approaches gender?
  • Are men more focused on the tools themselves and women more focused on how they can be used to achieve certain results?

Notes: How we are brought up with different approaches to learning.

Clichés: Women afraid to break things, men love to break things.

“Men are more focused on the tools, and women are more focused on what do I want to make? And what tool is best for that?”

  • How can we be more supportive when communicating and collaborating with people who feel less confident about their ideas, abilities and knowledge?

Notes: Do we accommodate different attitudes and personalities? Do we recognise difference and engage with it?

  • How can we actively encourage people to revise their vocabulary and attitudes to foster a sense of inclusion and authenticity whilst avoiding feelings of suspicion?

Notes: Confidence often perceived, and smugness.

  • Is there a tendency towards associating particular knowledge and language within niche communities with a sense of ownership, protection and exclusivity?

Notes: How can we challenge the common language in ways which invite a more diverse audience?

Self doubt in professional context, (imagery and language can be used to reassure, bring more diverse audience, less tech talk more artistic / experiential aspects)

Also different methods of communication, abilities and knowledge, different machines.

  • How does gender influence the ways in which we strategise and achieve our goals?
  • Is there a tendency for men to be individualistic and competitive, and women to approach their work in a more collective manner?
  • What are the characteristics, experiences and influences that lead to such behaviour?

Notes: “attributed to a male characteristic, is individualistic male competitiveness. We are in our own lanes and who is going to be the first to do this? To achieve some sort of role. In my experience it’s seen more as a female tribute to work in a collective sense to achieve goals. I really don’t believe that it’s a natural thing, I have a feeling that it’s conditioning”

Staying curious and avoiding feelings of victimisation allows us to investigate further, discovering the factors that contribute to such behaviour and suggesting possible strategies for improving the situation.


More photos from the Event by Anne Wellmer


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