Interview With Analog Tara

Analog Tara - aka Tara Rodgers - is a composer, writer and historian of electronic music

She started PinkNoises in 2000 to organize and promote the work of women in electronic music and continues to participate in feminist music outreach and education as well as teaching, touring and producing her own new music which she shares online.

You started your site highlighting women in the electronic music scene, Pink Noises, in 2000. By musicians on the Internet standards, that’s fairly early. By social criticism and blogging standards (not that you’d fall into either category specifically), it would be very early. What are the biggest changes between now and then, both regarding being a woman in electronic music as well as in being a musician and advocate on the internet?

It did feel like the early days of the internet! was one of the first online communities connecting women who DJ and make electronic music. The timing of the project was linked to the growing prevalence of personal email accounts and internet connections at home in the mid-to-late '90s.

I was living in New York City at the time, and a lot of us artists and creative types were starting to buy domain names and figure out how to get websites set up for ourselves. It sounds like ancient media history now, but all of this was very new at the time. That said, I probably would've made a project like Pink Noises happen anyway. I was thinking of doing a feminist zine in print and then the internet came along at the right time. And I was lucky to work with a small group of talented and enthusiastic volunteers who collaborated on the website design, writing, and marketing. 

Of course, some things have changed a lot since then in terms of music and the internet. Now there are so many more ways to use online networks to connect with others around shared interests and politics. You can connect with many more people in an instant, and use existing social media platforms in creative ways. Tools for making electronic music have also exploded in variety since then. In the '90s, home recording studios and laptop-based music production setups were gradually becoming more accessible to more people, though this happened over some years, not overnight.

There will always be a certain barrier to entry when it comes to being able to afford electronic music production tools, but now there are so many free and inexpensive music-making apps and software platforms, for phones and tablets too, and online networks for artists to immediately distribute what they create. These have been big shifts for the music industry and for electronic music cultures.

In terms of women and gender diversity in electronic music, there have been some gains but also ongoing challenges. On one hand, I've been so inspired to see numerous other kindred projects emerge. Female Pressure, the online network started by Electric Indigo, began around the same time as and has grown into a massive international network that continues to do programming and collective actions to support women in electronic music.

Newer projects, like the Discwoman collective in New York, opensignal in Providence, the Women in Sound Zine in Pittsburgh, Women's Audio Mission in San Francisco, and the Sound::Gender::Feminism::Activism biennial conferences in London, also represent important and exciting work. There are so many projects along these lines now, I can't even begin to name them all, and that's really exciting. 

At the same time, I've had conversations with others in this field about how the pace of change remains slow - how sexism, misogyny, racism and other forms of discrimination persist in electronic music scenes as well as in academic music departments and in the pro audio field. The fact that younger generations are organizing new projects and collectives is evidence that issues many of us fought for before are still far from resolved. But this is something we see in other areas of cultural politics and social change as well, to be sure: that feminist movement and social movements are by necessity iterative and ongoing. 

How much does place impact your work? Do you find anything you produce to be city or location inspired or do you find your work in any way city or location limited?

Place has absolutely impacted creative work for me over the years. I think of this not in a romantic sense, but in very material ways. Housing costs and employment opportunities inform the time, space, and focus you can bring to music in the hours outside of a job.

Also: the proximity to performances and exhibitions, like how much you have to plan ahead or drive to get to a show vs. being spontaneous; what kinds of touring acts are coming through town; to what extent there is an industry presence or a cultural institution presence (like museums); how much do shows typically cost - all of these things affect the mix of artists you're exposed to and able to meet in person, and in turn the kinds of professional opportunities you may have. 

There are also the histories of musical genres and traditions that are present in particular locations, which resonate in the community and can be important to people who are booking shows. In DC and Baltimore, for example, there are robust noise and improv and punk traditions that I don't connect to in a strong way musically.

At the same time, people are very open-minded, and I can sort of hang my work off the edge of one of those genres in some way, at least enough to get on a program! There are also many electronic music makers around DC and Maryland, like myself, who have been doing this work for a decade or more. This has been a refreshing point of connection for me to find now, compared to some cities where the music and sound demographic skews more thoroughly younger and more transient. 

In part, because I've had an online presence for so long, I've had lots of opportunities to travel to share music and ideas with people around the world. This has been great, although it has also produced a funny sort of disconnect in that I've often gone long stretches of time without ever presenting my work close to home! Over the last year or so, I've been deliberately traveling less and performing more around the DC area. I'm enjoying that shift, making new connections here. 

I know you teach now, do you have any particular thoughts on the differences or intersections between teaching, performing, composing, writing and organizing?

I spent about 4 years on faculty at a few different universities, however it's been a few years since then and I'm not teaching formally at this time. But I remain committed to being an educator! I think there are many ways that one can be an educator - through publications, public lectures, community workshops, digital projects, informal mentoring... Some people do incredible work as educators through their social media presence, for example.

For me, to be an educator means being committed to sharing knowledge and finding ways to make your work or ideas accessible to people who aren't already experts in the subject. Those are the threads that can connect many sorts of activities. I like that this work of education can take many forms... 

Admittedly I don’t keep up with sub-genre specifics, but I don’t really know what electronic music is. I used to know about things like techno and house, which I don’t see those labels much anymore - and there was industrial and things like that. Now EDM is effectively an industry as much as a genre and “electronic music” has pretty well saturated every other genre. How do you see what you do fitting into some idea of an electronic music landscape - and what do you think the electronic music landscape actually is at this point?

I hear you! I don't follow sub-genre specifics much at all. It's an interesting question: what is "electronic music" now that so much music is thoroughly electronic? I wonder if the answer has to do with whether electronics are absolutely essential to communicating the musical idea. Like, if the power's out and the batteries are run down, can you still play that track for people in a way that communicates the essence of it, without your performance being like a full-on translation or a charade? If you can't, then *that's* electronic music! :-) 

On fitting in: sure, I think a need to define your work in a way that is legible and acceptable to others comes especially in the form of external, professional pressures. I find that it comes and it goes. There have been years when I've pursued a career in music, either as a musician or a scholar - and in those times, there can be strong external forces pushing you to define or brand your work in a way that registers a certain value to others.

And, if you want your work to circulate in those channels, you have to find a way for it to fit - by how it is named, by the form it takes. Every artist or cultural producer has to figure out for themselves, I think, to what extent negotiating these external factors helps or hinders their work, and what they're willing to sacrifice in that negotiation.

Eventually I figured out that it doesn't interest me much to calibrate creative work to external forces, or at least that I want to minimize how those forces are impacting my work. At this point, I'm not pursuing a career related to music - I make money doing other things - and there's a nice sense of creative freedom that has come with that. It can increase your chances to more closely listen to and follow your internal creative compass in terms of why you're doing the work, who it is for, what forms it needs to take, how much time a project needs to be finished. 

I do have a pretty big back catalog at this point, and it spans genres like house, techno, downtempo, ambient, electroacoustic, jazz piano, computer music... I'm sure I could do more to brand and promote my music and sound art that is available online - but after a point, I usually prefer to move on and make something new!

And ultimately, I make music because I need to; it is part of who I am. I make it to share with a handful of dear friends who have always supported it. I make it to share in performance contexts where I try to create a special sound environment for people to feel or dwell inside for a little while, where the success of the work is about that occasion of feeling. In that sense, it doesn't matter much if anybody associates it with a genre or even remembers my name after the next act starts.

You mentioned having an extensive backlog, how do you go about deciding when it’s time to release something or scratch something? I imagine it’s tough drawing lines between songs/albums/releases/performances and then the other stuff you just keep on the shelf. I’m always curious how someone knows when something is ready or not.

This is a case where changes in technology have perhaps driven some of my habits, for better or for worse. In the early-2000s I completed something like 3 full-length CDs and a few EPs as well. With those physical objects, there was more of a real sense when something was truly done - especially if you were going off to get it duplicated and shrink-wrapped.

There was longer deliberation over what would or would not go out into the world. Now that these objects have basically gone away, I'm much more inclined to upload a track or even a short draft of something that is not finished to SoundCloud or YouTube, to share it online sooner rather than later. Like other uses of social media, it's almost real-time, like: "I'm here! I made this today." 

I've become more at ease than I used to be with feeling that I don't always have to polish off a pristine final product, that it can be equally beneficial to share artifacts of your process as well, especially to get feedback along the way. And if I don't have the time to commit to a big project like a full album, that it's fine to just produce and share one track. The most important thing is to keep making things. 

Do you have any rituals associated with your work or your music?

Hm... yes. Certain domestic routines, such as cooking and baking, are very meditative and grounding for me. And I need to feel grounded to be able to allow myself the focus and the emotional access to make music in the ways it needs to be made, and not just in some surface-level way. Like most people, I rarely have the time to do as much creative work as I would like to do, or to explore it as deeply as it deserves.

But, I find that if I am able to find the time and peace of mind for meditative routines like cooking and baking, this better enables creativity in the form of music or writing to flow - so that the quality of time and focus that I have for that work is stronger, even if the quantity of hours is limited.  

The other ritual I would mention is doing a good sound check before a performance. Often one's sound check gets squeezed for some reason, with the demands of the venue or the needs of other performers. My recent performances have been very much about creating a sound environment that can be *felt* - by using sounds across the frequency range and also by animating the space with spatialization effects. So I'm getting fussier about making sound check a more strict ritual, to make sure there is time to test things out and make adjustments ahead of the performance so that the sonic experience, the feeling of sound in the space, is the best it can be.