6 Women That Laid The Foundation For Electronic Music
It's easy to lose sight of a music genre's foundation in this rapidly evolving industry. Artists like Skrillex and Porter Robinson continue to innovate electronic music today, but those modern maestros are still beholden to their cultural ancestors. Despite the fact that men currently dominate electronic music, many women aided in shaping the course of the genre's development.
The UK-based website Champion Up North recently compiled an extensive list of electronic music's most influential women, and we have selected a few key matriarchs of dance music to profile below for their progressive achievements.
1. Delia Derbyshire
Dubbed the ""Sculptress of Sound", Delia Derbyshire made several crucial contributions to the development of electronic music. Initially rejected for a job at Decca Records (the same label that passed on The Beatles) for being a woman, Derbyshire got her early start at BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Her work in the sound effect unit resulted in a number of innovative productions such as the electronic adaptation of the Doctor Who theme song. She later set up Unit Delta Plus with fellow electronic music pioneers Brian Hodgson and Peter Zinovieff with the hopes of promoting a variety of electronic music. After the organization closed, she worked with Hodgson to create the Kaleidophon Studio.
2. Suzanne Ciani
Suzanne Ciani created a career out of making electronic sound effects and jingles. After forming her company Ciani/Musica, she composed the soundtracks to commercials for entities such as Coca-Cola, General Electric, and AT&T. Her work with Cola-Cola included creating the now-classic sound effect of a coke bottle being opened and poured, which is still heard in the company's commercials today. Ciani also contributed sound effects to the disco adaptation of the Star Wars score, an album that largely defined disco in the '70s. In 1976 she created the Columbia Pictures and Columbia Pictures Television theme music. Ciani went on to receive Grammy nominations for five of her albums, including her piano-driven LP Pianissimo II.
3. Wendy Carlos
Rhode Island-born producer and composer Wendy Carlos could be argued as the defining woman of electronic music in the '60s and '70s. Originally born Walter Carlos, she underwent sexual reassignment surgery after her early success and ultimate created number of groundbreaking albums, adaptations, and movie scores. She first gained recognition for her Switched-On Bach album, an entirely-electronic recreation of music from composer J.S. Bach that used a Moog synthesizer (now a staple of electronic music production). She created the first album wholly composed of electronically-produced environmental sounds with Sonic Seasonings and helped score the soundtracks to films like Tron, The Shining, and A Clockwork Orange. She even remastered her entire discography herself, even going as far as purchasing the master recordings from Columbia to improve them.
4. Bebe Barron
Born Charlotte May Wind, Bebe Barron worked with her husband Louis Barron to create revolutionary electronic music. Louis gave her the nickname "Bebe", a name that became synonymous with a lot of historical feats. The couple wrote the first electronic music for magnetic tape, a medium which advanced recording and broadcasting technology. They also wrote the first all-electronic film soundtrack for the movie The Forbidden Planet, but due to technicalities they were not considered for the Academy Award. After the two divorced, Bebe became the first secretary of the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States, a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating the electro-acoustic genre.
5. Carla Scaletti
While Carla Scaletti does not produce electronic music as frequently as others in this list, her work with the sound design language Kyma proved to be instrumental to electronic music. Scaletti began her work on Kyma in 1986, and production pioneer Bob Moog praised her creation in Keyboard Magazine in 1987. Kyma's visual programming structure allowed music producers, researchers, and others to easily synthesize electronic sounds. Used in films such as Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, WALL-E, and Finding Nemo, Kyma's importance defines Scaletti's contribution to electronic music.
6. Doris Norton
The music of Doris Norton may appeal to our techno and house fanbase, considering her music directly influenced producers such as Richie Hawtin and Carl Cox. Norton got her start during the early days of Apple, with the company sponsoring her debut album Underground. Afterward IBM Computer Music released two of her records, Automatic Feeling and The Double Side of Science. She also contributed production work to the Italian progressive rock band Jacula, a darker contemporary of progressive rock bands like Pink Floyd. Releases like Techno Shock and 01 Rave foreshadowed the quick growth of techno in the late '80s.
Check out the Champion Up North article to view all 14 women on their list.
Cover photo credit: musikresearch.com