A Bench Mark for Fairness?

June 22, 2001

I was looking at the program for the recent "Tempo Festival" organized by CNMAT (Center for New Music and Audio Technology at UC Berkley) and noticed that of the 20 composers and/or improvisers presented only 1 was a woman. (The lone example was Cindy Cox's composition "Hysteria" written for Abbie Conant's "Wired Goddess" project. See the Tempo Festival program at: <http://tempofestival.org/>)

19 to 1. 

I was wondering how this ratio happened. There are no women faculty at CNMAT, but they do work with women as guest artists, and they are aware of the social issues involved. (David Wessel lived and worked with composer Latitia Sonomi for several years; Cindy Cox is Ed Campion's sister-in-law and he helped her with technical aspects in the creation of "Hysteria;" and Matt Wright recently co-composed a work with Abbie Conant using poetry selected and read by his fiance. Matt and Abbie are planning further collaborations.)

Was it just an oversight and a forgetful acceptance of an unfortunate status quo? Men to women ratios similar to 19 to 1 are not uncommon for many programs of some of the world's major computer music centers. 

At the last ICMC the ratios were better. Seventeen percent of the works presented were by women, or about 6 to 1. All the ICMC's pieces were selected by anonymous submission from a pool of over 600 works. [For details see the endnote.] Since six hundred works represent a fairly large sampling, and since the selection process was gender blind, the results make a valid sociological statement about the number of highly qualified women computer music composers that exist. The ICMC's gender blind 6 to 1 ratio thus casts a negative light on the averages of around 19 to 1 for several major computer music centers where program selection is seldom gender blind.

Perhaps 17%, or about 6 to 1, could be used as a frame of reference when creating programs. I don't suggest this as a quota, but simply as a bench mark to give one perspective. Scientists, engineers and composers know how subjective our perceptions and decisions can be, and thus the value of bench marks. If women composers and/or improvisers represent less than about 1 in 6 of our programs, then we might want to ask ourselves what's affecting our perceptions and decisions and if there are good reasons for women being less than even 1 in 6. (And in the off chance there are good reasons, how such a dismal state can be corrected.)

In the one concert of the Tempo Festival that featured actual compositions, the 1 to 6 ratio was held. It was the four concerts featuring all male improvisers that brought the stats down. 

It seems (and is) grotesque to ask that 50% of humanity be given a -minimum- standard of only 17% representation, but that would still be about three times higher than women currently have on many programs of some of the major computer music institutions. It would be a start. In reality, we have an obligation to strive for higher levels. In the visual digital arts, women often represent from 30 to 50% of the participants. Why must music be so backward?

All my best,

William Osborne

The statistics for the ICMC can be found in two reviews published by Abbie Conant and I. See: "From the Machines of War To the Body As Compiled Code" _Musicworks_ (No. 79, Spring 2001) on-line at <http://www.osborne-conant.org/icmc-eng.htm> The review is also published in German. See: "Körperlose Musik?" _MusikTexte_ (Heft 86/87, November 2000) on-line at <http://www.osborne-conant.org/icmc-ger.htm>.

The ICMC 2000 emphasized works in a style sometimes referred to as "accousmatics." Since this style seems to be more common in Europe than in North America, and since women have less representation in European computer music, this might have pushed their representation in the ICMC programming down slightly. There are only 16 women university-level composition teachers with full time, regular contracts in the 18 countries of Western Europe (total pop. 386 million.) Nine Western European countries do not have -any- women composition teachers at the university level. The most astounding case is France which does not have a single woman in such a position even though it has a population of 58 million people. For details see: Reinhold Degenhart and William Osborne, "Where Are the Women?" _IAWM Journal (Vol. 5, Nos. 2/3 1999) on-line at <http://www.osborne-conant.org/Profs.htm>. The article is also published in German. See: "Wo sind die Frauen" _VivaVoce_ (No. 51, Dezember 1999) on-line at: <http://www.osborne-conant.org/profsgerm.htm>.