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  • Pamela Z: A Tool is a Tool
    them repeated at length And because my voice was constantly coming back at me in the delay loops I began to play a lot more with timbre and texture These were to become key elements in my work equaling and surpassing my previous emphasis on melody and harmony I was so effected by this new instrument this device that most musicians were more likely to refer to as an effect than as instrument that it wasn t long before I went out and purchased a second digital delay Those delays along with yet a third one and a multi effects processor remain as the core of my performance set up to this day With the dramatic changes that came about in my music due to the use of this new tool my hands and my body were freed up for gesture and movement and I became more focused on the performance aspect of my work I came to see the sound I was making and my physical behavior while making it as an integrated whole I learned during this period of time the mid 1980 s that performance itself was a discipline and that I was as much a performer as I was a musician Found objects and toys that were both sonically and visually interesting augmented my compliment of instruments I used things like a Slinky the wonderful wonderful toy a pair of hammer handles an empty 5 gallon plastic water bottle and some strips of Plexiglas as performance tools The effect that the addition of these objects had on my work was in some ways as profound as that of the introduction of digital processing I have a piece called Bone Music in which I use an Alhambra water bottle of the type usually found inverted on water coolers Although I only physically make a sound with this object three times at the opening of the piece the bottle is so important to the structure that I cannot do the piece without it This poses a small problem when touring outside the United States where water coolers are not so common The three quick sounds that I make by slapping the bottle linger in digital delay loops for the duration of the piece and form its rhythmic base And the visual impact of this large object remains as I continue to physically manipulate the object silently while singing My lack of skill with or understanding of a new tool has often worked in my favor One example of this would be a discovery I made after I got my second delay Through efforts to make the two delays sync up with each other I inadvertently created my first set of out of phase loops At that time there was no MIDI clock to slave one device to the other so I was trying to adjust the delay lengths and get the two of them in synch Obviously I couldn t make them precisely the same length manually so the loops would start together and then gradually begin drifting apart When I heard this sound I was immediately in love with it and I wondered what ever possessed me to try to get them in sync in the first place I began writing pieces that deliberately incorporated out of phase loops I was delighted with my discovery Ignorant such things as of Steve Reich s early works I thought I had invented the idea Mistakes of this kind have long been an enriching force on my work and continue to be Brian Eno refers to these unexpected results as happy accidents Many composers have deliberately imposed external forces on their work as a way of cultivating unpredicted results Perhaps most notably there is John Cage with his chance operations Numerous others have employed mathematical algorithms or other systems to create the structure of their pieces For me the introduction of new tools continues to be a great catalyst and the accidents that happen because of the learning curve are often far more interesting to me than anything I might have thought up on my own Once I begin to develop some facility with a particular tool regardless of whether it is an acoustic instrument a piece of electronic hardware or a new version of some software my work is then effected by my newly found proficiency on the instrument In the past several years I have been creating recorded works using digital editing software on my Mac As I gained skill with non destructive editing programs such as Digidesign s SoundDesigner and ProTools I began working in new ways I began making sculpted sound collages with small bits of layered text and found sounds My first hard disc recording works were informed by the live work I do with digital delay loops but I quickly started making more complex and varied structures working with smaller bits of sound and altering the samples As a composer performer my choice of tools instrumentation is often determined by my own capabilities as a solo performer I began using the BodySynth several years ago when I wanted to introduce pre sampled sounds into my live works Up until that point I had only used samples that I created in real time in my digital delays as I performed I wanted to be able to use sounds I could not sample on the fly but I didn t want to use a sequencer to play them I wanted to trigger them myself but wasn t interested in adding a keyboard or some kind of drum triggers to my set up I needed to keep my hands free and not do anything that would limit my ability to gesture I learned about the BodySynth which was created by Ed Severinghaus and Chris Van Raalte when they loaned me one to perform a piece called Dream Encoding with Zakros New Music Theatre This instrument which uses electrode sensors to measure the electrical impulses generated by the performer s muscles allowed me to use physical gestures to trigger samples and manipulate various sound parameters so of course I had to buy one Once I did I began creating a lot of work that used a variety of sampled sounds I was able to introduce traffic noises text samples and sounds literally from my kitchen sink into my live performance works The introduction of the instrument changed the way I was composing Of course tools alone do not make great art I like to think that the advances I described above stem from the combination of the effects of using the new tool and my strengths as an artist An important part of an artist s process is selection and it takes an intelligent open and inventive ear to recognize and select good ingredients and then build them into something viable In the end the instrument is really just a tool Like my digital processors and my found percussion objects And like my voice And as an artist it is always important for me to be concerned about what work I am actually making with this tool It frustrates me to see a world so seduced by new technologies that many have forgotten to be concerned about the output We suddenly see a superabundance of works being created by people who are clearly more interested in what software they have mastered than they are in the value of what they are making with it One hears endless jokes about content as sort of an afterthought in a project And worse yet sometimes they re not jokes The multi media industry with terminology pirated from the fine art world blurs the line between art making and commercialism thus attracting many people who are seduced by the combination of becoming professionals in a big money industry and the cachet of being able to call themselves artists There have always been people who believe that having a great tool will make them great artists or magically result in the creation of great art but buying the finest violin or tennis racket does not a great musician or athlete make However having a new tool can certainly inspire great work from someone who has the potential to make it Hopefully a good side effect of this rush to embrace new technology is the opening up of some new artists who perhaps never realized they had that potential In the meantime it has awakened in me a sort of curiosity about artists choices of instruments or tools I find that I am fascinated with artists who work with relatively low tech tools and I am also drawn to work by artists who have developed very technically complex tools for making their work Some of the most exciting work I ve seen lately combines very different types of tools Acoustic instruments with electronic ones mechanical devices with digital devices machines with flesh and blood instruments And it is interesting that in a field that historically has seemed very male dominated many of the artists doing this are women There have always been a lot of women composers yet music history books with a few notable exceptions such as Kyle Gann s American Music in the 20th Century don t tend to reflect that And since historians of the past generally neglected to acknowledge the contributions of women I suppose it shouldn t surprise me that in the history of electronic music few women have been given much notice either I am aware that there is a disproportionate number of male artists in this field anyway but there are quite a few more women in the field than one might think from reading most of the books and journals on the subject I have a feeling that along with all the other reasons tools may have something to do with that It seems that people s expectations of the kinds of tools an artist would use are somewhat separated along gender lines In fact when I have remarked about the absence of women s names in various histories or collections of electronic music I often get responses like Well you know women aren t as interested in holing themselves up in a lab with a bunch of electronic gear To which I am inclined to reply Actually I can name for you quite a few who are The tool that women seem to be expected to excel in using is the human voice And when we do excel in that we do get recognition for it Cathy Berberian Diamanda Galas Joan LaBarbara Meredith Monk all these women are very respected and well known for their work with this very technically complex instrument They are much more celebrated than are any of the men who use extended voice as a main component of their work But Pauline Oliveros Laetitia Sonami Annea Lockwood Laurie Spiegel Maryanne Amacher and the many other women who have done great work in both the designing and using of systems for electronic music are much less likely to be mentioned than their male counterparts The message seems to be If you want recognition for what you do you need to stick with the tools you are expected to use At a certain point in time I became very interested in the male voice I wanted to hear more men doing modern music that required them to extend their voices Several years ago when I was doing a regular Morning Concert slot on KPFA fm Berkeley I tried to do a radio program on men doing extended vocal work I had a hard time finding enough recordings to fill out the program I saw John Cage at a new music festival Composer to Composer in Telluride CO and I asked him if he could suggest any recordings of extended vocal pieces for men After a lengthy pause he laughed and replied I m afraid there aren t any I had had such little success in my search that I was inclined to believe him at first but as I did more searching I slowly began to discover several David Moss Roy Hart Dimitrio Stratos and Jaap Blonk to name a few But it still is easier to find female artists working in challenging ways with the voice just as it is easier to find male artists doing non vocal experimental music And again although I don t claim that the actual numbers are balanced there are quite a few of these artists in existence and many of them are exceptional in their field Yet they don t get the amount of recognition that their opposite gender counterparts seem to get They are not being rewarded for breaking the norm in their choice of tools This goes a long way in explaining at least in part why it might be that there aren t more women who choose to work with non vocal electronic music and why there are so few male experimental artists selecting the voice as their chief instrument Whether it is because of natural tendencies or because of deeply rooted socialization men and women can often be very different in their approaches to making art and these differences are magnified when the art is experimental or avant garde in nature I have observed when teaching performance workshops that women are often much more comfortable using their voices and bodies in untested ways Sometimes even men who are great improvisers and who feel quite at home making loud bizarre even shocking sounds in public when using some kind of external tool a saxophone a percussion instrument a piece of sheet metal become shy and uncomfortable when asked to experiment with their voices Perhaps the external instrument is like armor or a shield between them and the audience so using it to produce strange or unusual sounds may feel less awkward than making a sound that comes directly out of one s face When an artist uses his or her own body as an instrument it is like being naked Making wild sounds with an external instrument may seem exerting control over something while making those sounds with the voice might seem like losing control i e madness hysteria I don t mean to over generalize There are many men who are quite happy using their voices and bodies in performance and there are many women who are not But in a general way women in our culture are not only socialized to feel more comfortable baring themselves in that way but people are socialized to feel more comfortable accepting it from women Likewise our culture has always socialized women to feel less confident working with mechanical or electronic devices and people in general continue to have less confidence in women s abilities with them This perhaps seems like an overly obvious or perhaps archaic observation But as a female artist working with technology I get little reminders from time to time even as we approach the year 2000 that this is still so For example although it doesn t happen as often as it used to I still get asked questions like Who set this up for you or Who taught you how to do that questions I don t imagine I would be asked if I were a man The funniest part about it is that compared to most people I know working with live electronics in performance my set up is relatively simple I tend to use all the devices I have in fairly straightforward ways I am encouraged that these questions are slowly being replaced with questions like Did you design that system yourself or did you work with a collaborator on it I ve even been asked that about The BodySynth an instrument which I use but did not create It s interesting that I find myself thinking so much about these issues now In the past I have never really been very focused on sociopolitical issues around gender and making art I always went about tinkering with whatever was needed in order to do the things I wanted to do I never remember personally having had any concerns about the ability to do something technical having any connection to gender and I don t remember feeling self conscious about being the only woman among people doing the kinds of things I was interested in But then of course I was the same person who had to have it pointed out to me by others that I was the only Black person at a function or in an organization I never really thought about these kinds of things much Naïve as that may have been I didn t even tend to notice A few years back I was trying to design a program in which I would teach audio workshops at The LAB Gallery in San Francisco I was applying for a California Arts Council artist residency grant and needed to come up with a strong concept that would be useful to some kind of under served local community Laura Brun the LAB s artistic director suggested that I do a program for women or girls I was very hesitant to offer a program that would exclude anyone on the basis of gender At the time I was thinking of working with at risk youth and I didn t want to go into schools and say Sorry only girls can do this workshop The first workshop I offered through that program was open to all high school students We distributed applications to several San Francisco high schools where I did live performance presentations and then I met with LAB staff and we selected applicants who seemed to be most in need of such a program and seemed serious about wanting to do it Although many girls would approach me after the presentations in the end I got more boy applicants than girls In the first meeting of the

    Original URL path: http://www.pamelaz.com/tool.htm (2016-02-10)
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  • American Mavericks SFS 2000
    She spoke about how difficult it was at first for her to deal with people members of San Francisco Symphony Chorus who needed her music to be on paper in order to learn it but how beautifully they got it once she sang with them and they got it in their bodies Lou Harrison was also there for the after concert question and answer though his work was not programmed on this particular evening and charmed everyone with his jovial responses to Michael Tilson Thomas who throughout the series showed himself to be quite knowlegable about and committed to this music Lou said that he thought this Maverick business was really just about being interested in what it is that you are exploring to the extent that you stay with it even when that means you have to be totally alone He said All my friends call me a very interested person Later backstage I asked Meredith why she didn t just refuse to send a score and force them to learn it by call and response in rehearsal Her answer was the obvious one The chorus never has enough time to learn the material They only had a few rehearsals with her so it was important that they got the music before hand The before concert talk by Susan Key was a bit more academic but livened up when Lukas Foss came on to discuss his work with her It also included a Theremin demonstration and a fascinating little factoid about Ives writing for the Theremin or something quite like it before it was invented and then having to wait for the technology to exist before the piece could be realized The performances themselves were wonderful and at times thrilling The Ruggles Sun treader featured the bright and bombastic

    Original URL path: http://www.pamelaz.com/pzreviews/mavericks2000.html (2016-02-10)
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  • Review Index
    Reviewers by Pamela Z The San Francisco Butoh Festival 1999 reviewed by Pamela Z Maverick Icons 2000 reviewed by Pamela Z First Annual San Francisco Electronic Music Festival 2000 reviewed by Pamela Z Donald Swearingen s Living Off The List

    Original URL path: http://www.pamelaz.com/pzreviews/reviewindex.htm (2016-02-10)
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  • Wunderkabinet Images
    15 05 The LAB San Francisco Pamela Z in collaboration with Matthew Brubeck co composer cellist Christina McPhee video There is at work in this body of vulgar knowledge a

    Original URL path: http://www.pamelaz.com/wunderEmbarc.html (2016-02-10)
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  • PZ’s Reviews
    me that critics are often more interested in proving that no one could be hipper than they are and in listening to themselves turn one clever derisive phrase after another than they are in examining the breadth of what actually took place at an event and how that effected the audience It also seems to me that the papers are sending people to review shows who really despise this kind of work It is after all challenging work It is often work that is not for the faint of heart or for those who favor the conservative I m not saying that a reviewer should be ready to make a glowing report of everything they see but to be fair to a genre of work the reviewer should at least have an affinity for and a deep knowledge of that particular artform You would not send a person who despises Ballet to review Ballet You would never get an actual review of the event in question just a modified list of the usual complaints about the form itself And the critics who get sent to review classical opera are Opera Lovers People who know opera inside and out own huge opera collections can name names throughout history of singers they love and singers they hate recordings that did justice or did not etcetera So our field sorely needs reviewers who love experimental work People who are willing to go night after night to hear new music or see experimental dance and interdisciplinary performance work People who remember the heyday of Performance Art not because they read accounts of Karen inserting yams into orifices but because they were there Night after night And those people exist Lovers of Challenging Work are plentiful in the Bay Area Sure there are plenty of

    Original URL path: http://www.pamelaz.com/pzreviews/pzreviews.htm (2016-02-10)
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  • San Francisco Butoh Festival ‘99
    think Or some creature that crawled from the center of the Earth perhaps In any case I think she has a cord attached to the center of her gut that goes all the way down to the center of the earth where it s anchored to keep her from floating away off of it The first evening was also mixed for me I enjoyed the whole thing but I was riveted in this case by the second half The performer Anzu Furukawa did an awe inspiring solo performance which I was later told had lasted a full hour I did not perceive that time going by I might have guessed that it was perhaps a half hour but frankly I didn t think about that at all until someone pointed out the time afterwards in the lobby saying we went in for the second half at 9 and now it s 10 Her movements even the subtle ones at the opening of her piece that suggested the behavior of a person straining not to fall asleep in a public place were all at such an intensity level that every eye in the house was trained undistractedly on her She could send ripples of reactions through the entire room with only the movements of her eyeballs at certain moments Her movements gradually expanded from things she could do sitting at a chair behind a table which in and of themselves were expansive to movement that painstakingly carried her across the room and back I was very inspired by her work She did tempt fate however in a way that I thought perhaps unnecessary Her table which held a candelabra was positioned too close to one of the legs that draped the stage left side Her movement at one point moved the table too much so that the flame was too close to the curtain for comfort I don t think that was her intention I think the table was not supposed to move when she was working on it but it did and she continued dancing Finally the Theatre Director at ODC took the initiative to simply walk across the stage and adjust the curtain so that it was not so dangerously close to the flame The whole room sighed a sigh of relief for that I don t think our lives were really in danger but I don t think one can be too careful about something like that All that aside Ms Furakawa s performance was strong enough that we could almost instantly forget about the momentary intrusion of a non performer s body in playing area and we were back with her immediately I left the theatre with images of her focused movement as deeply etched on my memory as the Traviata aria Sempre Libera she used in the final section of the piece The final day of performances in the Butoh Festival was a long one I m not sure that programming a marathon format from early

    Original URL path: http://www.pamelaz.com/pzreviews/butohfest99.htm (2016-02-10)
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  • Wunderkabinet Images
    images from WUNDERKABINET 09 15 05 The LAB San Francisco Pamela Z in collaboration with Matthew Brubeck co composer cellist Christina McPhee video The Journey

    Original URL path: http://www.pamelaz.com/wunderjourney.html (2016-02-10)
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