Women in the field

Slightly reluctantly, I found myself investigating women in sound and music for audio-visual media, as a university assignment.

I say reluctant, as these discussions of low representation – and why it’s low – always make me feel a bit scrutinised and defensive, being a woman myself.

I come up against the ‘boys and girls are just different’ thing again and again whenever the subject is approached, and deep down the (unintended) message registers that having two x chromosomes means I don’t naturally belong in this world.

And although this is surely not what people intend, some small voice in me also wonders whether I will have the natural gifts of my male peers – or perhaps that I’m some kind of freak if I do get into it!  I also have this nagging sense that if I am not instantly amazing at the work, I confirm in people’s minds that it’s not a girl’s game, rather than just thinking “ah well, on with the learning”.

I know, I know, it is ridiculous…!  I’m at liberty to pursue whatever career interests me, even if it is a highly competitive world dominated by the xy types.  But whenever you’re a minority in anything, it is impossible just to be yourself doing the work, no matter what people will say.  Whatever it is that makes you different is also visible.

However, things became a bit more positive as I went on.  I have had some fascinating and – actually – very encouraging interactions as a result of this work, and plan to extend it a little for my own interest.

I enjoyed my communications with Caro Churchill of the Delia Derbyshire Day charity based in Manchester, who has been privately sharing her experiences of teaching electronic music in primary and secondary schools and introduced me to the project Female Pressure.  She firmly believes that visibility is the key, that girls see women working in electronic music and draw their own conclusions.

Caro pointed out that Delia Derbyshire herself said “Women are good at sound and the reason is that they have the ability to interpret what the producer wants, they can read between the lines and get through to them (the producers) as a person. Women are good at abstract stuff, they have sensitivity and good communication. They have the intricacy – for tape cutting, which is a very delicate job you know….”  See here for the interview the quote came from!

I received a very supportive message from the good people of Spitfire Audio.

I have had some really interesting, nuanced answers from Dr Andy Hill, writer, film music scholar, former senior music supervisor for Disney and teacher of some very well-known names, about the culture in the entertainment business and to what extent it holds women back.

I had a fascinating chat with Donna Lynas of Wysing Arts Centre, a thriving ‘arts research’ hub that has a particular focus on being a platform for the less heard voices.

Many people are interested and concerned about this issue, this is quite clear; I think change is eminently possible.

Uni wanted a 13-minute video essay and I was under severe time constraints (both in terms of time allowed for the work and video length).  This meant that I was not able to include the breadth of content I wished to, nor to make the video as slick and professional as I would have liked.

I may yet make a longer version, with more input from other people in the field and maybe with a score by myself and/or other women. I’m still in conversation with quite a few people about that.

It also led to a new Facebook community after I privately shared it with some online peers, ‘Women Composers’ Collective,’ which has been fantastic – bringing together lots of hyper-creative women from all sorts of different areas of sound and music making!

This was a bit of a personal journey too, then, given that I began the process reluctantly!

For the time being, here is what I have produced so far:

 

Reading #4 – Raucous Soldiers!

This is an article by Patrick Bury in The British Journal of Sociology (Bury, 2017).  I came across it half by accident, but found it interesting.

It is also relevant to my work on world-view in that it helped me identify another area of diverse outlook – the closed military life versus civilian incomprehension!  (I’m in the latter camp, by the way, which is perhaps why I found the research so diverting.)

There were some astute insights into a very specific social environment, one defined by tradition and hierarchy, and into how behaviours are governed by it.

This work focused on an unusual breakdown of habitual adherence to roles and discipline and the conditions that precipitated this.  The author concludes that a recent stressful tour of duty in Afghanistan served to flatten the authority gradient by placing junior officers in positions of great responsibility.  It also picked out certain agitating factors on the night, like the inclusion to a senior officer outside of the regimental ‘family’ which seemed to serve the ambitions of the commanding officer and breach and therefore disrupt the firm etiquette of this traditional social occasion.

How this looks to civilian eyes and how this narrative can be reproduced succinctly in story to help us civilians enter into the military mindset is where I may apply this work.  I believe soundtrack could be highly referential in this case, referencing:

  • Sounds associated with this tradition – with drinking, with chants and traditional forms of words, with the banging on tables and the scraping of chairs in rising for the big toast.
  • (This is the toast that didn’t happen this time when it went wrong – could the chair scrapes sound different, as the junior officer whose speech went wrong moves his chair back to run from the room, as the other chairs squeak when the remaining company turn round to watch him go?  Could the new scrapes evoke the old ones, imagined in daydreams as the man prepared the big speech in days leading up?)
  • Sounds associated with battle and junior officers granted agency beyond that to which they are accustomed in drills.
  • Sounds associated with disorder.
  • The ambient environment would be rather claustrophobic, close and dry.  This could be used to good effect in conveying the sense of an out of control situation that one cannot escape from, or the uncomfortable proximity of people who suddenly feel different as order breaks down.
  • I note also that while no doubt there were some woman officers present, the predominate sound of the room would be male.

It is all speculation, as no such project is planned!  But interesting speculation all the same.


BURY, P. (2017) Barossa Night: cohesion in the British Army officer corps. The British Journal of Sociology 68, 314–335. doi:10.1111/1468-4446.12236