Many labels make an effort to raise the profile of female electronic musicians, but pan y rosa discos goes all out. Of their fifteen releases so far this year, eight are by women. Their music demonstrates an incredible variety of styles and is drawn from a wide variety of countries. Incredibly, all of the downloads are free! Our respect for label head Keith Helt continues unabated as quality music comes our way multiple times each month.
When listening to the first few seconds of attractive synthesis by Latvia’s Līga Smirnova, one thinks, “oh, it’s just another club-based synth track.” But listen just a little longer, and all preconceptions will be destroyed. The five-part piece eradicates all traces of club culture on its way to becoming a thick, drone-based suite. Part two alone begins like a cyclone and ends like a forest fire. By the fourth segment, the cycle has become a maelstrom of sound: beeping, whirling, grinding, warping. An industrial beat develops midway, an indication of something much harder and darker. When the sirens enter, one can sense the apocalypse.
Smirnova “lives for electronic music,” which is evident by her extensive discography, much released under the pseudonym Marta SmiLga. Her second label release of 2018, nebeculae magellani, honors her twin love of astronomy. The siren is replaced by a warning alarm, the viscosity by delicacy. One can imagine floating like Ripley, hoping to make it home alive. The two-part work sparkles and winks like dust clouds, the yin to the former suite’s yang.
Jelena Glazova may be another Latvian artist, but her approach is vastly different from that of her labelmate. Relying on heavily processed voice, Glazova creates soundscapes that flutter and pop without providing any hint of their human genesis. the malady of death is a bleak field of overt and suggested sound, lurking rather than pouncing, consistently dangerous from beginning to end. “mechanical breathing” sounds like thunder filtered through an iron lung, or a lion on a bullhorn. The album is dedicated to French auteur Marguerite Duras (Hiroshima, mon amour), whose groundbreaking oeuvre continues to influence multidisciplinary artists.
The script flips again with tay_ploops (Jessica Gabriel). The Vancouver-based artist also uses voice, but her voice is recognizable throughout, delving into poetry, fragment, onomatopoeia, and all manner of stutter and loop. spool oops is a fun album, as one might expect from the title, as well as by some of Gabriel’s other careers (puppeteer, clown). We think she might get along famously with Japan’s 木目鳥 / Mokumedori, a performance artist who creates puppets of varying sizes for use in her performances. In her delivery, one may also hear hints of Lucretia Dalt and Felicia Atkinson. But Gabriel has her own distinctive approach, marked by a lightheartedness evident in the repetitions of “it’s not fair” in the track of the same title, sampled and looped from an old program. Even the crying on the subsequent track turns into “crylaugh” ~ a wolf howl, a rusty swing, a strange disorientation of surprising survival. And in “slush march,” she’s simply having fun with wordplay, a stream of consciousness tumbling and tangling one word at a time. “2 many ppl” references Grandmaster Flash’s “New York, New York” and yields an alternate explosion of the same wild energy. Given the sampling of Marvin Gaye on the closer, we’re sure it’s intentional.
Shifting gears once again, we encounter the work of London’s Lola de la Mata, an impossible to categorize artist whose work demonstrates incredible intelligence and complexity. de la Mata’s main interest is the kinesthetic nature of the body in relation to movement and sound. Her work has often been used in dance performances, as the nuances of her compositions lend themselves well to creative interpretations. In Remise en Bouche (Palate Cleanser), one can hear percussive breath and snapshots of song, along with static and feedback, trains and bells, violin and voice. The immersive track “self (portrait)” simultaneously struggles for expression and is expression, serving as a metaphor for the album’s theme of “the misogyny women experience in the creative industries.” Are we hearing each other, or reducing each other to fragments of sound? “Voiceless” is the album’s most chilling piece, as a pitched-down voice intones, “I am here, I’m at your disposal,” representing the infantilizing attitude of dismissive men. While short, the track manages to make an uncomfortable impact, reminiscent of that felt while listening to Holly Herndon’s “Lonely at the Top.” It’s hard not to hear the ticking of “Curtain Call” as a sociopolitical bomb. The strained choral presence of “Reveries” sounds like an elegy for innocence: a reverent pause, a gathering of strength before the telling of redacted truths.
Vietnam’s Nhung Nguyen (Sound Awakener) offers an intriguing combination of static and chime on the 12-minute single piece Oblivion. The drone influence is apparent along with the “drifting, falling” feel of ambience, justifying the description of the work as “calm, meditative, chaotic and noisy.” While listening, one feels the tug between peace and activity, retreat and forward surge, work and play, regret and letting go. Field recordings and found objects ground the composition in reality, while radio waves and electronic manipulations nudge the listener into a dream state. There’s no resolution to the piece, nor is any intended; if anything, the implication is that we are to live in balance, not homogenizing disparate elements but incorporating them in such a way as to respect the power and grace of each.
Those listening to these releases in order may flinch when they reach Anna Xambó‘s H2RI, a collection of twenty one-minute tracks rife with feedback and noise. The album would make a great alarm clock. But there is also pattern in noise: frequency, repetition, dynamic contrast, give-and-take. The album is generative, but also relies on the contributions of others (all of whom are credited). The original online sounds have gone through a series of processes, including the filters of a self-built coding system. The mind struggles to make sense of these tracks, hearing Atari beeps in the fifth track, a teletype machine in the seventh, a hearing test in the closing duo. Once tentative assignments are achieved, the noise no longer sounds like noise. The same process holds true for those acclimating to the sound of cities: after a while, we no longer hear the machines.
The latest label release comes from Brazilian artist Bella, and captures a live half-hour performance inspired by water and light. The piece, titled UN, is as dark as the unmapped fathoms, where furtive movement is often imperceptible and creatures create their own illumination. One can imagine this piece filling the performance space with reverberation, sound waves bouncing off walls and traveling through bodies. It’s a visceral experience whose power becomes evident in contrast. When the deep rumbles retreat, higher tones rush in to fill the gap; when tone dissipates, metallic whispers strive to take control. The hull of the bathysphere may be strong, but not for a moment are we safe.
The percentage of women on the pan y rosa discos label is equal to the percentage of women in the world. This makes the label a true find: their dedication is impeccable, their selection superb. Stay tuned as the next release is never far away. (Richard Allen)