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Where are the women in your local music scene? — Paris Edition

International Women’s Day logo

Last year for International Women’s Day, I took a look at the orchestras of Manchester and how women were represented in their activities. Since then I have moved to Paris and seeing as I am studying at IRCAM, it seemed apt to investigate how well female composers are represented at this institution. Initially, my curiosity was sparked by a particular decorative feature in the staircase of IRCAM’s main building: the walls are hung with shadowy portraits of composers who have worked here in one capacity or another. I counted the portraits; there are forty running all the way up four flights of stairs, but save for the photographs of Florence Baschet, Kaija Saariaho and Cecile Le Prado, they are all of men.

With that rather unscientific measure in mind, let’s look at the course on which I’m studying at the moment. This year’s class contains 6 women and 9 men, which while not perfectly equal ranks as quite balanced considering I have previously been on courses where female participation was less than 10%. There is an online archive of the composers who have studied on Cursus 1 since 2004, so I put together this table to see how the demographics develop over time:

Table showing proportions of female and male participants in IRCAM’s Cursus 1 programme.

Over nine years, the mean female participation is 27%, once dropping as low as 10% (in 2006/07) and only twice hitting its peak of 40%.

Pie chart showing 4 female composers against 32 male.

As a way of seeing how this is reflected in IRCAM’s public-facing programming, I counted up the composers being performed in IRCAM’s 2011/12 Paris season (without counting the Cursus 1 concerts at the end of this month). This programming is highly varied and includes young composers involved with Cursus 2 or the Tremplin project with Ensemble intercontemporain, as well as performances by various invited groups and composers in residence. Of 36 composers performed, 4 were women — 11%.

There are deep-rooted and complex reasons behind these disappointing figures, and I don’t wish to pin the blame solely on IRCAM for the imbalances — the apparent filtering out of women certainly begins much earlier in their career paths — but I do think it is important to raise awareness of these issues. The continued celebration of any cultural role — such as that of the composer, but an even more extreme case is that of the orchestral conductor — which appears to be systemically male-dominated is in need of scrutiny. I would be very interested to hear thoughts on how best these inequalities might be adressed or why the numbers look like they do.

In the meantime, International Women’s Day is about celebrating women’s achievements, so get listening to some of my talented colleagues Tatiana Catanzaro, Elvira Garifzyanova, Heera Kim, Diana Soh, Lisa Streich and Ying Wang, or if you have Spotify, plug yourself into Tim Rutherford-Johnson’s IWD-themed playlist.

Update, 10/03: Two people have suggested that perhaps female representation on Cursus 1 might correlate with the presence of women on the juries that select students. This seemed slightly dubious to me, but the archives also list jury members, so I was able to do some further analysis (PDF, 76kb). It shows no clear relationship between the two, but it does allow us to note that over the last nine years just 11% of the Cursus 1 jury members have been female.

June Unfolding on BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3 logo

During the interval of BBC Radio 3’s live concert broadcast on Friday 2 March, you can hear me talking to King Edward Musical Society chairman Tim Ward about my orchestral work June Unfolding, which they premiered last summer as part of the celebrations for the 750th anniversary of the royal charter of Macclesfield. The piece was written as part of Sound and Music, Making Music and PRS for Music Foundation’s Adopt a Composer project, so many thanks go to them for pairing me up with KEMS. As well as us talking, you’ll also get to hear some excerpts of my piece and about the collaboration between Andrew Hall and Essex Symphony Orchestra. Listen in!

Logos of PRS for Music Foundation, Sound and Music, Making Music and King Edward Musical Society

La leggerezza delle città in San Francisco

San Francisco Tape Music Festival 2012

On Saturday 21 January, La leggerezza delle città will be played as part of the 2012 edition of the San Francisco Tape Music Festival. The three-day festival will, among other things, celebrate the 100th birthday of John Cage alongside a selection of electronic music from around the world, including pieces by Joseph Anderson, Matthew Barnard, Martin Bédard, Christopher Burns, Dan Joseph, Orestis Karamanlis, Stelios Manousakis, Émilie Payeur, Alexander Schubert, Adam Basanta and John Young.

Thanks go to Matt Ingalls and the rest of the festival team for organising everything and programming my piece. And as always Irma and Davitxun, without whom the piece wouldn’t exist.

Listings: Official page | Venue | Last.fm

Happy New Year!

Last year I put together a lengthy look at good stuff I’d seen, heard and read. To close this year, here are some much briefer notes on some of the best things I encountered in the last 12 months.

Sunset - August 2011

Richard Craig, Inward — Without a doubt the best disc of new music I’ve heard this year, as the Rambler foretold. Either Spotify it or buy it now.

Dmitri Kourliandski, Negative Modulations — One of the first concerts I heard after moving to Paris in September was by the young ensemble Le Balcon. They introduced me to this wonderful ensemble, electronics and video piece. Here’s an mp3.

Evan Parker, Peter Evans & Okkyung Lee — Parker’s reputation barely needs any burnishing and performing in this trio in November he was liquid brilliance as was to be expected, but it was young American trumpeter Peter Evans who really shone. Improvising at its best.

Helmut Lachenmann / EIC, ConcertiniEnsemble Intercontemporain’s performance of Lachenmann’s spatialised ensemble work Concertini at the end of November reminded me that he is without equal.

Drew Baker, microscript — This 10-minute work, played here by Chicago’s Ensemble Dal Niente, was one of my favourite recordings found online this year.

2011 was really notable for being a year when I finally found time to read some of my stack of waiting books. If you pick anything to read in 2012, make it David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. There is no question in my mind that it is one of the most wonderful books of the 20th Century and at just one thousand pages long, at least a thousand too short.

See you in 2012!

Small Atlas at the Fondation Biermans-Lapôtre

Soundinitiative at Fondation Biermans-Lapôtre poster

On Monday 5 December, soundinitiative will give their second performance of my Small Atlas at the Fondation Biermans-Lapôtre — the Belgian-Luxembourgish house at the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris (and my current home). The concert, which is free, begins at 20:30 and also features music by Oscar Bianchi, Kaija Saariaho, Stefan van Eycken, Philippe Leroux and Fausto Romitelli. To get there, take the RER B to Cité Universitaire.

All will be welcomed and we can make merry after the concert, courtesy of the obligatory ‘pot de bienvenue’.

Listings: soundinitiative | Venue | Facebook | CIUP

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