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Louise Marshall

Published date
22 May 2019

Deep Listening: the Strategic Practice of Contemporary Female Experimental Composers post-1945

London College of Communication

What strategies did female composers working within post-1945 experimental musical composition have to adopt in order to write, perform and distribute their work? After the end of the Second World War in 1945, two parallel historical currents developed:

  1. opportunities for women’s work
  2. the creation of the technologies used for experimental electronic and concrète music

What opportunities did this create?

This research will focus around selected women composers’ working within the dominant hierarchies of the later twentieth century. From both a historical and a critical context, and will interrogate the innovation and collaborative techniques, that they had to utilise in order to negotiate their relationships with those structures.

The term ‘Deep Listening’ originates in the practice of composer Pauline Oliveros. It denotes an active listening process that listens not only to sound, but the environs of its production and its profound resonance within the listening body. My title is a metaphorical extension of Oliveros’s practice, a ‘listening’ that I will extend to consider issues that include gender, feminism, sexuality and economic considerations. And also as a way of indicating an interest in psychoanalytic modes of listening. My aim is to map the strategies that these marginalised female composers have created to – literally and metaphorically – make a noise and be heard.

My research will be based on a series of recorded interviews with a number of female composers, chosen for their innovative range of music and ways of working. Oliveros, (b. 1932) will be joined by:

  • Eliane Radigue (b. 1932)
  • Else-Marie Pade (b. 1924)
  • Annea Lockwood (b. 1939)
  • Laurie Anderson (b. 1947)
  • Hildegard Westerkamp (b. 1946)
  • Laurie Spiegel (b. 1945)
  • Ellen Fullman (b. 1957)

The interviews will be lodged in the Her Noise archive of feminist sound art at the London College of Communication.

Using these interviews as research material, I will develop a theoretical and critical framework influenced by psychoanalysis, feminism and gender theory, the methodologies of oral history and Bourdieu’s conception of habitus (1977) to analyse my interview material. My objective is to develop an initial theory of deep listening that speculates the existence of a feminist listening practice, that is akin to the theory of the gaze within the visual arts (Mulvey, 1989), and that will provide a superstructure for future researchers.


Professor Cathy Lane

Dr Salomé Voegelin