Books about musical history tend to skimp on the technical details. Which is understandable: Unless you play an instrument or can read music—not always the same thing—involved talk of modes and chord voicings, or about equipment both arcane and up-to-the-minute, can make civilians’ eyes glaze over. That sometimes happens in Pink Noises: Women On Electronic Music And Sound, but only because Tara Rodgers, the McGill University Ph.D. student who founded a website of the same name 10 years ago to spotlight female DJs, electronic musicians, and sound artists, is as interested in the way these women do their work as what inspires it, or what it represents. And a few paragraphs on user interfaces, various Roland synthesizers, and analog circuits won’t kill anyone.
Many of the interviews in Pink Noises focus on electronic music as a means to discovery. “I really fell in love with the ARP synthesizer,” French-born composer Eliane Radigue recalls. “Immediately. Immediately! That was him!” A different kind of recognition hooked harpist and computer scientist Carla Scaletti: “Your brain has memory, delay, attenuation, and feedback—it’s an IIR filter!” (That stands for “infinite impulse response”; it’s a part of a signal processing system.)
Rodgers’ introduction discusses the way electronic-music creation is often discussed in warlike terms, and there’s talk of the differences between female and male creativity. Riz Maslen, who records as Neotropic, sums it up this way: “I’ve worked with both men and women, and the tendency I feel can be down to men knowing what the latest piece of gear is, religiously reading some magazine reviewing a piece of equipment, or knowing its entire workings by reading the manual.” Maslen prefers a less literal approach to creation. Rodgers, on the other hand, is diligent about gathering her information.