I was introduced to Ninah Pixie through her fantastic 3-CD compilation, "Women Take Back the Noise". It took three years of collecting songs from 47 women around the world, but Pixie has produced a phenomenal showcase of what noise-making women are capable of. Featuring three different groupings of three very different styles, this compilation will make those who doubt the ability of women musicians think twice. I was lucky enough to catch Ninah Pixie this November and ask her a few questions.
My introduction to "noise" was through my friend Dan Burke (Illusion of Safety) when I was living back in Chicago in the mid 1980's. I can't remember exactly how he and I met up, sorry to say, but I was intrigued the very first time I saw IOS perform live, which was probably 1986. I then began to experiment at random with early samplers (including a Casio SK-1), vocals with fx, turntables and tape decks. Soon after that I was introduced to the works of artists such as z'ev, Throbbing Gristle, and Nurse With Wound (to name a few) which inspired the formation of an experimental noise duo with my ex- husband that we called Pagan Amen. We opened for IOS at a couple of events, played live on WZRD, and for a brief time did some cassette releases and mail-art, mostly through the more eclectic record shops around Chicago's North side (Wax Trax, Vintage Vinyl). When my ex and I left Chicago in 1988, we ended up in Santa Cruz and immediately began zooming to the left of the radio dial for experimental music and found dAS's show on KZSC. I had no idea that he had been trading tapes with Dan and they'd already arranged for IOS to play live on the radio show. Dan stayed at our place while he was in town and we went to that radio show as guests that night. That is how I met dAS, hence my introduction to Big City Orchestrae, which I've taken part in as a member/collaborator/performer for the past seven years. Working creatively as a part of a collaborative entity such as BCO is what lead me to take on production of this compilation.
The all-female aspect of the compilation was actually an homage to a couple of live BCO shows from the early 1990's that I saw on video from dAS's archive. I was inspired about these performances after hearing they were titled 'Women Take Back The Noise' shows, and thought that it would make a great theme for a compilation. The original title was created by some of the band members of BCO specifically for those early shows as a fun wordplay based on the 'Women Take Back The Night' phrase.
Now, there has been much chatter on both sides of the fence for years and years about the lack of representation of women interested in noise and related experimental genres. I've taken a lot of flack for creating a "noisy drum circle" and people have yelled at me for this being a "gender-based compilation"- but if folks would actually take the time out to look at what went into it (documented online and in the CD liner notes), they might have a better sense that it's just a celebratory work and not a battle mentality that went into putting it together. I would like to think that a celebration of many people gathered from around the globe who work with frequencies, waveforms, sonic, piercing and otherwise, would appeal to people who are interested in hearing this sort of work, regardless of whether it comes from men or from women (or squirrels or toasters for that matter). Groups of people sometimes do cool shit when they band together. Goes back to pagan times and even before that. Not my rules. Besides, to my knowledge there hasn't really been anything out like this compilation that hasn't been exploitative (hence the "Extreme Music from Women" comp ala Susan Lawley) so I thought I'd give it a stab. The result of my research filled three discs, and of course as you would imagine, could have gone on into infinite volumes. UBUIBI has a long history of doing theme-based, small edition releases, usually in handmade packaging, and this is yet another good example of that.
Mostly everything I am involved with these days (besides my part-time day job) falls under the UBUIBI arts-music umbrella. I've met and worked with some fascinating artists and musicians through my involvement with BCO, which seems to be an infinite journey that I look forward to continuing, both in studio and live performance avenues. Meanwhile, dAS hosts the 'No Other Radio' program on KPFA, which I get to ride side-saddle for as much as possible, and occasionally we guest on other people's radio shows, which I rather enjoy. We're also hosting a 3-day live performance series here in Oakland this December, based on the 'Women Take Back The Noise' release, featuring a worldwide selection of artists from the compilation. [see end of this interview]
"Orgonauta" was a word that I made up to reflect the quieter spectrum of noise that some of the tracks seemed to encapsulate, combining the words "Orgone" (taken from the orgone energy discovered and researched by Dr. Wilhelm Reich in the 1960's) with "Argonaut" (of Jason and the golden fleece mythos). "Scheherazade" (the fictional storyteller of The Book of 1001 Nights) seemed the perfect title for the second disc, which is made up of tracks that were of a more whimsical/melodic nature than all of the others, and which combined elements of storytelling and spoken-word along with chaotic electronic beat structures. "Vociferous" pretty much speaks for itself from the definition "conspicuously and offensively loud" and seemed quite fitting for the third and final disc of the compilation, which houses a dynamic grouping of glitch, harsh, and what some noise aficionados like to refer to as "noisecore". In the end, after going through about 100 different mixes of all of the tracks everyone sent in (which were over 140 individual pieces), the most enjoyable method of organizing them seemed to be grouping them into themes. Personally I'm very fond of themes so it was a very intuitive and natural direction to end up in.
Well, we most definitely would have had to change the title for one thing. Some people take things to a very serious extreme when dealing with gender based ideas, so I've discovered from taking on this project. From my own experience interacting with forums and message boards while putting the release together, I dealt with an equal amount of men and women (albeit a small amount) who voiced their disapproval of this compilation for one reason or another regarding gender issues, which is completely understandable, I mean, everyone has the right to their opinion. There were a few men who wrote in when we were collecting submissions to see if they could be on the tracks with their wives/girlfriends. There were also a couple of women who wrote in that they worked with other people and wanted to collaborate but that some of the other musicians were guys. I think there definitely would have been a much different compilation had we opened those doors and not kept to quite as stringent a theme, however, UBUIBI has a long history of projects based on themes, and 'Women Take Back The Noise' was yet another example.
Most of my overall experience as a performer and musician has been with groups of people, or at least a couple of other people, men and women (and on occasion children or insects). On some levels, especially when you start talking about technical things like setting up equipment, studio production, engineering, that sort of thing, you might tend to see more men in those positions than women, especially at live venues and clubs. I can't speak for what goes on in the music industry, personally, but from what I understand it's been a struggle for some women to land certain jobs that mostly have been done by men in the past. I do see the trends of more and more women in these roles, especially now that so many people can have an entire studio inside their laptop. However, I feel that to truly answer your question, it would really depend on the genre of music you're discussing and also the environment and if you are talking about people who are in bands, or those who work in professional studios, hoist the gear, do the programming, compose the music, that sort of thing. Generally speaking, I feel that it's still shocking to a lot of people when they find out that a woman engineers her own radio program (*gasp*), or produces her own music, runs a theater, etc. But I do also feel that this way of thinking is ending. I do feel the numbers of women in certain musical genres and musical professions may have been fewer in the not so distant past, but with the giant increases in both technology and population just in the last 50 years alone, not to mention what you can do with the internet to-date, that's all going to come out in the wash. So let's just all enjoy getting creative and learn to treat each other well in the process.
BCO is planning a couple of big releases in 2007, one of which is our long-awaited pirate-themed release, which will come with an illustrated coloring book designed by our good friend, Mike Dringenberg. We will also begin the process of scoring and recording an experimental-noise adaptation of the Spanish gypsy ballet/opera "El Amor, Brujo" (Love, The Magician) by Manuel de Falla (c.1914) which will most likely be a very limited edition once again in handmade packaging of some sort. Women Take Back The Noise Live Performance Series
December 8, 9, 10 - 2006 • 21Grand Arts Space, Oakland CA
416 25th Street (at Broadway) in Oakland.
$10 at door or $25 for a 3-day pass.
3- day passes are available online at www.ubuibi.org/wtbtn or at the door Friday Dec. 8th at 21Grand and Thursday Dec. 7th at the Luggage Store Gallery (New Music Series).
Full event calendar can be viewed at: www.ubuibi.org/wtbtn/wtbtn_events_2006.html
-- Eden Hemming Rose (11 December, 2006)