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Diversity and Equity Explored at Women in Music Tech Symposium

By Javier Burdette

Artists, speakers and various experts representing the global concern on gender inequality in the arts came together on Feb. 5 and 6 to present their work and discuss the matter at UCI’s Integrated Composition Improvisation and Technology and Women in Music Technology 2016 symposium, also referred to as ICIT and WIMT, respectively.

The beginning of the symposium was marked by an introductory reception Friday evening. The first night of the event saw a host of performers, including Olga Volness, Synthia Payne and Blevin Blectum. The acts combined special lighting, video and unorthodox instrumentation.

Throughout the next day, talks on the role of women in the industry were held.

There is no field small or obscure enough to be left untouched by the cruel fingers of gender disparity, as speakers  Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner, George Hessl and Sky Macklay explained.

Hinkle-Turner, author of the book “Women Composers and Music Technology in the United States: Crossing the Line,” addresses the issue of women being left out of the history books. According to Hinkle-Turner, most books written on music technology, the field of music that combines computers and other forms of electronic equipment along with traditional instruments to create a uniquely modern sound, largely ignore the contributions made by female music technicians.

While a few undeniably notable figures in the genre, like Pauline Oliveros, are able to break through gendered barriers and gain notoriety, the majority go unrecognized. When asked about the current condition of women’s involvement in the field, Hinkle-Turner said it is society’s demand that women serve as mothers and homemakers that holds them back professionally. “We have equal rights, but there is still a lot more expected of women,” said Hinkle-Turner.

Austrian-born George Essl, a Wisconsin native who has worked in the field for twenty years, estimates that women constitute less than 20 percent of music technologists. He sees this phenomenon rooted in the overall lack of females in the field of computer science as a whole.

He believes it is the “nerdy guy” culture surrounding careers in technology that leads to avoidance of the study. One can only guess what kind of implications this could have at UCI, a school that is so heavily focused on STEM. Is the university an exception to the rule, or compliant with it?

Artist Sky Mackalay, a student at Columbia University, reaffirmed Essl’s statements, citing the narrow, overly-technical and male-dominated way music technology is run as a source of intimidation for women and musicians from other similar disciplines.

We can only hope that events like Women in Music Technology symposium — those that blend artistry and academia in a socially-aware manner — will slowly open the chink in the shield behind which gender inequality takes shelter.