On being in the audience

The solo artists as they are described in the Womadelaide 2014 program:

Ane: mesmerising remarkable crystalline proud new delicate beautiful
Abby and Lara: romantic charismatic dazzling
Buika: broken sensuality smoky exceptional emotional depth passion
Carminho: brightest new passionate emotional spine-tingling
Emel: voice of jasmine powerful lyrical melodic unexpected
Emily: Edith Piaf in the body of Jessica Rabbit delightful talented gifted lush original wistful
Erin and Tess: gorgeous heart dreamy earthy haunting
Loren: rare subtle beauty successful
Megan: excellence evolve darker intimate
Nai Palm kaleidoscopic hard to pin down well deserved
Neko sophisticated downcast ambitious noir melodic immediacy loving embrace big great
Ngaiire: new exploring huge stunning vocal detail lyrical intelligence
Nkechi gracing enjoyed remarkable sassy irresistible soaring breaking hearts frenzied
Thelma: cast a spell emerged compelling

Antonio: greatest
Asif: reigning favourite expanding brilliant inventiveness effortlessly meditative trance-like
sudden thrilling exceptional most transcendental
Airileke: hard
Robin: native funky spicy heat wildly most
Billy: unrivalled enduring
Dylan: hot heavy extended outlandish inimitable riotous
Bunna: distinctive propelled
Danyel: propelled raucous pulsing stirring infectious;
Femi: charismatic outspoken formidable dynamic edgy biting pulsating phenomenal
Jeff: dashing vigour technical brilliance artful dynamic startling devastatingly
Jon: stellar
Kutcha: prominent
Manu Christoph: engaging wild new reinventing; tangled up drenched
Makana: dynamic high-octane transforming bathed dubbed
Mikhail: hip energetic raw shamelessly catchy sharp
Mathias: powerful intense
Pokey: wide conjures
Roberto: new lion prodigy grabbed dared hotbed irrepressible force of nature
Ryo: funkiest unashamedly howls soulful sharp purrs
Sam: youthful vigour enthusiasm spirited unconventional homemade mongre
Speech: amazing
Sunny: hard-driving thrillingly original funky

Music is genderless. When I listen to good music in a comfortable environment I am transported to experiential spaces that include awe, suspension of time, incredulity, envy and joy. I am stimulated mentally, musically, and physically (are intense full-body goosebumps a type of synaesthesia?). My world is altered: what didn’t exist, now exists. Possibilities emerge from the previously unimagined, suggesting or creating new and expanding futures.

It matters when established bandleaders like Zorn choose to work primarily with men.

The presentation and production of music is gendered. Most programming of music events stimulates an internal heat-reaction in me that is equal to that generated when I removed my contact lenses after chopping chillies. When a concert program is all male, sometimes I can’t make myself attend. When 90% of an audience is male, (and 5% is their girlfriends), I can’t comfortably hang around. When a room is male-dominated, aggro, drunken, but I still want to hear the music, I’ll sit out the interval alone in a toilet cubicle. When I look at the men and the women in a band I see different shopping and bathroom commitments, and I think: ‘he had half an hour more time to practise today’. When the singer says ”Hey guys, you know when your girlfriend says/goes/does …” I walk out.

When I read festival programs I am amazed at the gendered language: the non-confronting, romantic women who can only dream of having the men’s superlative adjectives and adverbs like greatest, favourite, funkiest, most, unrivalled and formidable. If I were a newly arrived musicologist from a far-away galaxy I would deduct that women involved in music are mostly singers, are a much rarer species than men, have expensive, ever-changing, time-wasting wardrobe requirements, and perform completely different cultural roles to men (I’m yet to find ‘smoky, delicate, emotional Barry’).

In February this year I went to the Zorn in Oz concerts, which were part of Adelaide Festival. I have some Zorn CDs from way back and was a participant in a few Australian versions of Cobra in the 90’s. John Zorn is a highly successful musician. He’s played with hundreds of people, and composed, and contributed new approaches to improvisation. He is a major figure and was bringing dozens of breathtakingly good musicians to Australia. I have always been glad I attended the final show that Miles Davis performed in Melbourne around 1988 ; likewise, it seemed important to hear Zorn and friends.

Men who have a choice, yet exclude women look so very 20th century, so Footy Show, so limited, so daggy.

While I am usually annoyed at being market researched after festival events, after Masada Marathon, the first concert of Zorn in Oz, I would have readily answered a questionnaire such as this.
1. Estimate how much it cost to transport, accommodate, and pay Zorn and more than 20 mostly male musicians.
2. Ikue Mori was notably the only woman who performed as an instrumentalist. Which of the following is true:
a) Ikue Mori is the only female instrumentalist in New York
3. As a tax payer whose money goes towards funding such events, how do you feel about hearing few women playing in this concert?
a) Good
b) Very good
c) Very very good
4. As a tax-paying low-income earner who has purchased a ticket to a publicly-funded event, how do you feel about hearing so few women in the program?
a) Good
b) Very good
c) Very very good
5. To be taken seriously, which of the following is the best outfit for a musician:
a) A going-out t-shirt, jeans, and flat shoes
b) Flesh-flashing colour co-ordinated lycra dresses and heels
6. Do you agree that Zorn, Joey Baron and Marc Ribot should have worn colour co-ordinated outfits?
a) No, it is all about the music.
b) Yes, definitely, I think all musicians should look pleasing, attend wardrobe fittings, and discuss which colour their outfit will be.
7. The four women in the vocal quartet had only rehearsed as an ensemble for a week. Was this fair given most of the other music was played by men who’d been playing together for up to 40 years?
a) People are just doing their thing
b) The one in the green dress didn’t know her part
c) Irrelevant question. I was there to hear John, Joey, Cyro, Trevor, Stephen, Kenny, Marc, Jamie, Dave, Bill, Mark, and Erik
d)I liked the dresses

The air conditioning was good, the concerts started on time, it was well publicised, I am in the 45-55 age bracket, it was easy to purchase a ticket. Sometimes the music was intriguing, virtuosic and impressive. The musicianship was incredible. However, for me, Zorn in Oz was not a comfortable listening environment. It is ridiculous that gender inequality is perpetuated in some music genres on many stages in 2014. (As Melbourne’s first female tram driver said so succinctly: “you don’t need a penis to drive a tram”). If a woman is on stage there’s a good chance she’s a singer- it’s no coincidence that female vocalising is the only gendered sound … no threat or competition there … and the gender difference is enhanced by clothes, shoes and make-up.

The language is also present in reviews. From Masada Marathon review in glamadelaide:
The women: “…Mycale presented like celestial nymphs of mythology, (or Zorn’s delightful and much-improved version of the Spice Girls). The radiant quartet, Noemi Liba (subbed for Ayelet Gottlieb), Sofia Rei, Sara Serpa, and Malika Zarra treated us to a capella bliss in the form of words, harmonies, songs and vocal beats in Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic and French. These story telling women, channelling ancient cultures, added a vital layer to Zorn’s tomes…incomparable Ikue Mori…”

The Spice Girls?!

The men: “…The awesome Medeski-Dunn-Wollesen trio upped the intensity with John Medeski owning keyboards, Trevor Dunn almost tearing the strings off his bass, and Kenny Wollesen hitting the cymbals well into next week…exuberant Zorn…spectacular and fierce quartet Abraxas raised the bar and the roof…Aram Bajakian and Eyal Maoz duked it out with guitars…Kenny Grohowski did his best to knock the letters off the Pearl kit…Erik Friedlander showcased his versatility, talent and passion…Jamie Saft fantastic…Wollesen brilliant…Dunn, Baron and Baptista equalling the genius of Marc Ribot on guitar…Uri Caine’s solo piano pieces, bright, complex, poignant, and beautiful….Baptista…most thunderous drum underpinning the mastermind of the Zorn mix, far superior to any Bond theme ever… outstanding maestro!”
And from The Guardian, which at least acknowledges the onstage gender imbalance:
“…blistering effect …12 crack ensembles or soloists… Zorn…furiously exuberant it could have stripped the paint off the back wall… dressed down in combat trousers and a red T-shirt …guiding spirit…dancing…conducting…slashing hand gestures… offering encouragement…beguiling, mournful and ancient-sounding… Highlights included the all-female vocal quartet Mycale (the only women, bar one playing a laptop at the end, on the stage) whose complex, Spanish-inflected songs were elegant and breezy…Blumenkranz’s earth-shaking bass…viscerally funky…Erik Friedlander matched technical precision with emotion to heart-tugging effect … free jazz at full power, with the sound pinning you to your seat.”

It matters when established bandleaders like Zorn choose to work primarily with men. It matters when they have the opportunity to mentor younger musicians yet continue to only choose men. It matters when we don’t hear older and younger women on stages because that absence testifies to missed touring, missed performing, missed wages and missed career progression. Meanwhile men continue to build themselves as the best, greatest and funkiest, gain more experience (again), and of course earn most of the money. The status quo is perpetuated – even at publicly funded festivals that I am paying for - that the group of humans who happen to have a penis are the most, brilliant, devastating.

To me, men who have a choice, yet exclude women, look so very 20th century, so Footy Show, so limited, so daggy.

These thoughts distracted me from the music in Adelaide. I raged inside. I spoke to strangers at interval about it. I went home and wrote about it. If I had been in my home town I would have probably left and not gone back. My fumings and writings have stolen hours from my practice time. Sometimes I can quell the feminist voice but sometimes, as in Adelaide this year, it finds a way out and overwhelms my experience of the music.

Carolyn Connors is a vocalist, composer, pianist, and accordionist who has created a diverse range of works in the fields of contemporary music and theatre.