This is the sound of social action
There’s a new six-credit seminar course at Concordia called the Feminist University, and it kicked off this term with a section on gender in sound.
The class is co-taught by Kimberley Manning, principal of Concordia’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute and part-time professor Karen Herland. They asked Eldad Tsabary, coordinator of the Electroacoustics Studies Program, to introduce the section with a local focus — though it’s a global problem.
“Gender has been imbalanced forever in electroacoustics. I am talking about the worst in the entire university. Only five per cent non-male,” says Tsabary, an assistant professor in the Department of Music.
“But it’s not just here — it’s everywhere in the world!”
That set the stage for the main act.
Manning invited a group of influential women from the Montreal music scene to lead group discussions: Catherine McCandless (Young Galaxy), Amy Millan (Stars), Marika Anthony-Shaw (founder of Plus1) and Taharima Habib and Éloïse Choquette (Rock Camp for Girls Montréal).
Students moved from group to group. People listened, shared and zeroed in on gender-in-sound issues. The real work had begun, and it will continue for the duration of the year-long course.
‘Our focus is to understand exclusion’
Manning has been connecting with faculty like Tsabary to create a culture of change across the university. By December, the class will have organized into five different projects, with Tsabary mentoring the one on gender in sound.
“In gender studies and women’s studies, our focus is to try to understand exclusion,” Manning says.
“It’s not that women’s studies can understand how to fix electroacoustics, but it can help us think about what might be useful interventions.”
Students are trained through feminist theory and social action research methodologies to tackle institutional inequities. Their outcomes could take many forms, from curricular or syllabus changes to events. Manning hopes that students in her course will start to build the infrastructure to transform Concordia into a feminist university.
“The idea is to get students to engage critically with the idea, develop some kind of intervention, present it and critique it.”
‘Change is slowly starting to surface’
Chris Lackey is a third-year electroacoustic studies student taking the seminar. He was inspired by the work of his fellow student Joanne Mitrovic last year, who led the charge for change within the Department of Music.
“As I started to educate myself, I became more and more interested. Eldad introduced me to Kimberley at the Loudspeakers conference. It was inspiring to see the potential for action.”
Lackey says more students within the program want to continue where Mitrovic (BFA 17), who has since graduated, left off. "Things are being poked and prodded. Stuff is happening. Change is slowly starting to surface."
Electroacoustic studies at Concordia formally acknowledged the lack of gender balance in their student body and the need to address it during their departmental appraisal this summer.
It was an important step, Tsabary says.
“I see the potential to bring people together based on this shared goal. To think about it and to learn from it.”
Case in point, the program’s fall schedule.
When people from Ableton Live, the world’s most popular software for independent audio producers, visited Concordia to learn about the program, a switch went off. Tsabary invited one of their up-and-coming women producers, Sherry St. Germain, to host a series of music production workshops in the department: one with Rock Camp for Girls, one with girls from JPPS elementary school and one for his electroacoustic students.
And when the Akousma festival contacted the program to ask which guest speakers they wanted to see in the lineup, two of the three big names they chose were women: Hildegard Westerkamp and Elizabeth Anderson.
The interesting thing about change, Tsabary says, is that once it takes a hold of you, your perception changes accordingly.
“Once you fix your stance toward a certain goal, it becomes part of your perception and colours everything you do. It’s not just a departmental thing. It influences your understanding, your narratives, your actions. It’s a transformation of your reality.”