In April 2006, I attended a striking Signal+Noise night at VIVO – then called “Video In” by most. I wrote about it at the time on my blog, Alienated In Vancouver, commenting how male-dominated the proceedings seemed; I was truly troubled by what I witnessed.

I normally don’t bother too much with identity politics, a realm where the faithful often go too far in striking (self-)righteous postures and thereby accuse and alienate people who generally mean well, or at least don’t mean ill (or sometimes don’t mean anything at all – f’rinstance, I couldn’t give a hot wet fuck about gig posters of Isaac from The Love Boat with a bomb in his hair, if anyone remembers THAT little local furor). I have too much to do fret such things, generally speaking; but that evening at Video In troubled even me. Performance artists Stefan Brunner, Michael Wilhelm and Daniel Lercher did a testosterone-rich all-male piece where they beat each others’ miked bodies in a quasi-ritualized fashion, producing sound from their symbolic violence. Benjamin Bellas, Justin Cooper and Reed Barrow did a piece involving psychotherapy where females barely even got mentioned (as if men in therapy talk about anything else!). Michael Lloyd performed music in front of a “framed” video image of a female face. Jesse Scott Colin and Paul Warren Bennett did a piece involving food and conflict where the only female was peripheral to the main performance, in the role of a servant of some sort, existing solely to pour them the odd glass of wine. Finally, at the night’s climax, Dan Kibke and Ole Eldor offered a rather Cronenbergian performance where they operated on an inert female, Christine Carriere, dressed as doctors, with the screen above supposedly showing her innards – a male investigation of the female that got more than a few people’s hackles up, though Dan and Ole protested that neither of them “intended” the readings the more feminist-minded viewers took away from what they’d done. Not only were there were no female composers or musicians on the evening’s bill, but there weren’t even women shown in the context of the performances who were actively involved in producing anything (unless pouring wine counts). Framed, stifled, subordinate, silent, or flat-out-fucking-unconscious: women on this evening, to the extent that they were present at all, were objectified, problematized, manipulated, and/or marginalized. There was no active role, no subject position available to them. Worst, it seems whoever programmed the night hadn’t even noticed this detail; there was a sense of total failure on the part of both organizers and artists to critically reflect on the gender-political aspects of the performances, as if we’d been transported back to some pre-feminist hi-tech Stone Age boy’s club…

I don’t think I was the only one who came away from the night thinking Vancouver needed a more active female presence in the experimental music scene. Sometime thereafter, I recall, perhaps in response to the feedback generated from the evening, seeing Velveeta Krisp set out a sign-up sheet at VIVO to encourage more women to get involved with experimental music here. I actually am not sure if that gesture on Velveeta’s part played a role in the formation of the Her Jazz Noise Collective, but I know when they debuted at the Vancouver New Music Guitars! Guitars! festival a year or two later, I was most happy. I made it to several Women’s Studies events at VIVO thereafter, seeing a lot of very creative and exciting art get produced. And some not so; the nature of Her Jazz seems to be to create a space for women to experiment, and in order for anything to truly count as experimental, the possiblity of failure has to be there. On many a night, though, I was very happy to close my eyes and find my consciousness pleasantly reconfigured by the sounds the Her Jazzers, in their various permutations, produced; and occasionally I was utterly blown away by how good things got. Seeing Set Sail To Sea perform a psych-rock guitar drone duo at a Cobalt Fake Jazz event, and being on hand to watch a “sacred circle” of Her Jazzers perform a minimalistic noise ritual at the Western Front, remain two of the most interesting experiences of locally-produced experimental music I’ve had.

We currently have a very female-friendly avant garde scene in Vancouver, but even four years ago, this was not the case. In order to have as many women as we do active on the scene, someone had to consciously step up to the plate and get involved in organizing events and encouraging people to get out to see them. I’m not really sure who the most credit should go to – I’m most familiar with the contributions of Aja Rose Bond, Anju Singh, and now-relocated ex-Shearing Pinx guitarist Erin Ward – but I AM sure that the Her Jazz Noise Collective is of invaluable importance to this city’s weird art culture, and that without it, there’d be a lot more nights like that Signal+Noise one that irritated me so. I don’t take the Her Jazz Noise Collective’s presence here for granted for a second, and neither should anyone else.

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