9 Women in Music Tech (WoMuTe) Heroes. Illustration by Oscar Martinez Castells.
9 Women in Music Tech (WoMuTe) Heroes. From left-right top-bottom: Ada Lovelace, Margaret Schedel, Laurie Anderson, Liz Phillips, Teresa Rampazzi, Laurie Spiegel, Delia Derbyshire, Hilde Marie Holsen, Holly Herndon. Illustration by Oscar Martinez Castells.

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In celebration of the International Women’s Day we present 9 women in music tech (WoMuTe) figures who are/were technological and musical pioneers. The selection of the 9 figures has emerged from the open call for participation Who is your Woman in Music Tech (WoMuTe) Hero? that was addressed to anyone. The call was announced both in the WoNoMute website and through different social media channels and mailing lists. For each figure, we asked to write a mini-bio of 150 words max. together with a nice citation. We are thankful for the fantastic response and contributions of the authors!

The WoMuTe heroes have been illustrated by Oscar Martinez Castells, who has broad experience in illustrating music tech figures, and with whom we have collaborated in the past with Women in Music Tech at Georgia Tech and the celebrated Music Tech Figures posters.

Ada Lovelace

“The engine might compose elaborate scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.”

Ada Lovelace was born in London and passed away with only 36 years old (1815-1852). Her mother, Anne Isabella Milbanke, brought her interest to mathematics, and her father, Lord Byron, brought her inspiration from the arts. Most of her education in mathematics was by exchanging missives with her tutors (‘distance learning’), which she later turned into how she taught mathematics to her students. She also received musical education. Ada Lovelace is known as the first computer scientist from her work with the mathematician Charles Babbage on the Babbage’s Analytical Engine. She developed the first algorithms of computer programs and ways of representing them. She envisioned potential uses of the Analytical Engine applied to creative domains such as music.

Lady Lovelace is considered an influential figure in computer music. She brought a “poetical science” approach, where imagination meets science. This perspective is still needed today to keep progressing in the field.

Author of the bio: Anna Xambó

Margaret Schedel

“I truly believe in the power of computation to augment both human intelligence and human emotion.”

Margaret Schedel is a musician first and foremost. She engages music as a composer and a performer, with traditional instruments – Margaret started out as cellist – as well as computers and interactive media. She is currently Associate Professor of Music at Stony Brook University, New York, with a double appointment at the Institute for Advanced Computational Science. Her research interests include gestures in music and the sustainability of technology in the arts. She is also involved in data sonification, particularly in biomedical informatics, where she seeks out physiotherapeutic methods for patients with Parkinson’s disease through sonification. Beside ‘making science sound’ her interactive multimedia opera, A King Listens, premiered at the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center and was profiled by apple.com. (*)

Author of the bio: Federica Bressan

Laurie Anderson

“Maybe cameras don't prevent crimes as much as they simply record them.”

Laurie Anderson is a world acclaimed American musician, author, sculptor, performer and video artist, born in Illinois, USA, 1947.

Her musical works combine storytelling with electronic music, and she often processes her voice in order to express certain characters and their ideas. One of her most famous works is her song “O Superman” from 1982. Although the song only consists of Laurie’s vocoded voice and a looping “uh”, it reached nr 2 in the UK charts, solidifying her place in the music technology hall of fame. Her works, while surprisingly humorous, are often political and existential, and circle around themes like surveillance, economy, the afterlife, and climate change. Constantly experimenting with different forms of technology has led her to a wide array of inventions, like the Tape Bow Violin, an instrument where the player actuates audio tapes instead of violin strings.

In 2003, Laurie became the first artist in residence at NASA.

Author of the bio: Henriette Jennsen

Liz Phillips

“The creation of an intimate space and place for audience engagement (most often in galleries and public spaces) provides one of the only ways for the art audience to actively participate in abstraction. My sound installation art is grounded in a consciousness of space, listening to architecture and an attention to the historical significance of each site”

Liz Phillips (born 1951 in New Jersey, USA) is a multimedia artist who developed various generative modular synthesizer pieces and other works of ‘sound art’ & sculptural composition. As a pioneer of creative developments in electronic sound and environmental art over the past 30 years, she is a prime example of a woman who is still working and massively underrepresented in art. Even a brief scan of her work online reveals not only her importance in these areas but also, unfortunately, how obvious it is that there is still a patriarchal bias when it comes to proper recognition and balance in the written academic histories of these areas of the arts.

Author of the bio: Jez Riley French

Teresa Rampazzi

"There is neither male nor female music. There are pieces composed by men which seem to be composed by a woman and vice versa, if by ‘feminine’ you think of something sweet, elegant, delicate. But a woman can be as vigorous as a man, or even more!"

Teresa Rampazzi (1914, Vicenza) has been a very inspiring figure for many generations of Electronic Music students in Italy and all around the world. She was a composer, pedagogue and pioneer of electroacoustic music in Italy. She has been furiously researching avante-garde music, having a central role also in the NPS Group (Nuove Proposte Sonore), an experimental collective to research sound generation with analogue devices. In 1972 she became the first professor of electronic music at the Padova Conservatory, initiating an internationally well known school on Sound and Music Computing.

Author of the bio: Amalia de Götzen

Teresa Rampazzi

"Just as there are many women who have a demanding profession, the same is true in music […]. Unwittingly I risked compromising my musical interests when I got married. But they were much too important for me."

Teresa Rampazzi (1914–2001) was a composer, pedagogue and pioneer of electroacoustic music in Italy. A former avant-garde pianist, she decided to devote herself to electronic analogue music at the age of 50. She founded the N.P.S. Group (Nuove Proposte Sonore), one of the main Italian Studios. Rampazzi approached Computer Music in the early Seventies and produced her pieces at the CSC (Centro di Sonologia Computazionale).

Author of the bio: Laura Zattra

Laurie Spiegel

“The emotional level is the level at which I am primarily motivated and always have been. I’m still the teenage girl who, after a fight with my father, would take my guitar out on the porch and just play to make myself feel better. That’s who I am musically.”

Laurie Spiegel (born 1945 in Chicago, USA), is an unknown name for many, but here we’re talking about one of the great pioneers within the field of electronic music. She also contributes on the Golden Record that was attached to the Voyager spacecraft that left our solar system in 2012. Spiegel has worked with interactive and algorithmic logics as a part of the composition process, especially through the computer program Music Mouse, which she developed in the early eighties. The program automates processes in chords, scales and stylistic limitations and made it possible for the performer to concentrate on other aspects through the performance. Some of her most considerable releases is “The Expanding Universe” (1977) and “Unseen Worlds” (1991). The first one was recorded on one of the first digital synths and is characterised by minimalistic structures, while the last one was recorded with Music Mouse and features darker, more ambient moods.

Spiegel didn’t invent digital sequencing, but she pushed it towards something more expressive and human.

Author of the bio: Trond Gjellum

Delia Derbyshire

“People weren’t generally allowed to work at the Workshop for more than three months at a time. They thought it would send people crazy. Well, it’s a beautiful way to be crazy, I can tell you.”

Delia Derbyshire (1937 - 2001) born in Coventry, England, is best known for her pioneering work at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop during the 1960s. After graduating with a BA in mathematics and music, she initially faced difficulties pursuing a career in her field, but eventually joined the Radiophonic Workshop, where for eleven years she created music and sound for radio and television. Her arrangement of the Doctor Who theme song is considered an iconic piece of electronic music, created during a technologically hybrid period in which she combined conventional tape-splicing and multi-track techniques with synthesized sounds, initially using a laborious process of additive synthesis with valve oscillators, later using the EMS VCS3. Though she failed to gain widespread recognition during her lifetime, her work has inspired many musicians – such as Aphex Twin, Orbital, the Chemical Brothers and Sonic Boom – and her music has been sampled by artists like Pink Floyd and The Timelords.

Author of the bio: Maarten de Boer

Hilde Marie Holsen

“It’s not all about notes to be put in a special system, it’s actually about the melody that means something and expresses something for me. That’s also the case with electronics.”

Hilde Marie Holsen was born in 1989 in Jølster, Norway, and has developed an unique musical style with the mixture of an improvising trumpet style, contemporary music and drones. She released her first album “Ask” in 2015 on Hubro Records, and the same year she graduated from the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo. She was instantly recognised in the international music press, and was for instance compared with composers such as Arne Nordheim, Arvo Pärt and Miles Davis. In 2018, her second album, “Lazuli” was released, again received with outstandingly good critics from the music press.

Holsen has been performing on a number of festivals, and as a composer, Holsen has been doing commissions both for music festivals and for art films. With her good example of combining technology and aesthetics, Holsen is representing a new generation of young up and coming artists in the Norwegian scene of electronic contemporary music.

Author of the bio: Mari Lesteberg

Holly Herndon

“My laptop mediates so much of my life [...] it’s actually a hyper-emotional instrument; it has more emotional content than a violin could ever dream of.”

Holly Herndon (1980, Tennessee, USA) is a composer, performer and sound artist. At Mills Collage and Standford University she expanded her media laptop and voice as generative instruments towards each other. The dense, rhythmic sound carpeting she developed are constantly reflecting human-computer interaction, like in the track ‘Home’ were Herndon reveals her owns intimate relation to the computer. Herndon’s compositional techniques experiment with her socio-technological visions. “Being a lone genius is definitely more marketable, but I don’t think art works in that way,” Together with her partner they created an ‘AI baby’, an artificial neural network that was trained to mimic the voices of the parents and the voices of the Ensemble Holly works currently with. Her constant struggle with her tools (she is always expressing herself politically in the field of digital civil rights) makes her an outstanding and progressive artist.

Author of the bio: Karolina Jawad

(*) This entry was updated on March 22, 2019.